8 Important Hockey Habits

8 Important Hockey Habits That Every Player Should Know

In the video below, Topher Scott from The Hockey Think Tank dives deep into 8 Important Hockey Habits That Every Player Should Know. Habits are critical when it comes to individual and team development. Coaches at all levels should familiarize their players with these habits and reinforce them at every. single. practice. 

WHAT IS A HABIT? Habits are rituals, behaviors, or skills that we perform automatically without thinking about them. If players are able to learn the 8 habits below, it will greatly increase their chances of on-ice success. 

The video was first recorded as a webinar and is now relaunched as a part of the Hockey Think Tank / IHS Partnership. The outline of the video is below, along with timestamps if you would like to skip around in the video.

Hockey Habits Without The Puck

  1. Communication (On-Ice & Bench) (0:47 - 4:02)
  2. Shoulder Checks / Scan Ice (4:03 - 7:24)
  3. Stick On The Ice (Offensively & Defensively) (7:25 - 12:14)
  4. Forwards - Stopping At The Net (12:15 - 13:55)
  5. Defense - Working Hard to Support Partner (13:56 - 18:32)

Hockey Habits With The Puck

  1. Playing With Head Up (19:07 - 26:37)
  2. Shooting / Passing With Purpose (26:38 - 31:52)
  3. Using Deception (31:54 - 35:04)

How To Practice The 8 Habits

At the end of the day, the 8 habits above will only become automatic if coaches constantly reinforce these behaviors, and players are open to working on them. If a coach does not encourage and reward these habits at every practice, it will be easy for players to slip and forget them.

Before teaching these habits, it is important for a player to understand WHY these habits are important, and HOW these habits can benefit them. Depending on the age level of your players, it could be helpful for the players to watch the video above to get a general understanding of the habits. Additionally, it will be beneficial if coaches can have discussions with their players about these habits. Below we will dive into some ideas on how to practice the 8 habits:

  1. Communication (On-Ice & Bench)
    • Why it is important: Players can help each other out on the ice by letting them know if they are open and/or there is pressure coming. On the bench, players can learn from each other after each shift by discussing what worked, what didn't work, along with what they saw and/or didn't see. Plus, practices and games are more fun when a team is engaged and communicating with each other!
    • Ideas for practice: As Topher mentioned in the video, he tells his team not to pass the puck to someone who does not call for it in practice. If you reinforce this enough, players will learn to automatically call for the puck in practice. On the bench, coaches should encourage linemates to talk with each other after a shift and support an active bench that cheers for their teammates on the ice. If a coach is encouraging and positive on the bench, players will be reminded to do the same.
  2. Shoulder Checks / Scan Ice
    • Why it is important: This will allow players to know where open ice is, where an outlet pass is, and where the pressure is coming from. Shoulder checking / scanning the ice / keeping your head on a swivel will allow players to make better decisions on the ice because they will know where everything is, plus it is much safer to play with your head up!
    • Ideas for practice: For shoulder checking on a retrieval, coaches should practice puck retrievals along the boards in practice, and can even line up the whole team to do partner wall retrievals. Coaches should also add in dynamic warm-ups like Finnish Five Puck, and Finders Keepers which force players to scan the ice to look for space in the ever-changing environment. Playing small-area hockey games will also be beneficial because players need to look around with and without the puck to be successful.
  3. Stick On The Ice (Offensively & Defensively)
    • Why it is important: For the offense, it is helpful to give your teammate a target to pass to. For defense, it will help with angling and taking away passing options.
    • Ideas for practice: For offensive players, coaches can use any passing drill and remind players to keep their sticks on the ice to give their teammates a target to pass to. Coaches can even tell players in practice that they can only pass to teammates that have their stick on the ice. For defense, you can practice the 1 v 1 Angle Around The Net drill, and view other angling hockey drills. Utilizing battle drills also helps players realize the benefit of keeping their sticks on the ice.
  4. Forwards - Stopping At The Net
    • Why it is important: If forwards stop at the net, it will put them in a position to deflect a puck, score a rebound, distract the goalie, or pull a defenceman away from their teammates.
    • Ideas for practice: For this to become a habit, coaches need to encourage this in every drill. In the video above, Topher explained how Yale's Hockey Team will play out drills until there is a goal or a save. Or they also encourage stopping in front of the net even on warm-up & flow drills. For it to become a habit, it must be practiced constantly. Coaches should keep score during drills and games in practice to encourage players to always try to score.
  5. Defense - Working Hard to Support Partner
    • Why it is important: If defenders work hard to support their partners, it will give both of the defenceman extra time and space to make plays, along with making sure the puck stays out of their zone! Support your partner by communicating and always being an outlet for them. 
    • Ideas for practice: Coaches should always encourage defencemen to support each other in practice by being each other's lifeline (you can listen to Topher talk about being a lifeline at 14:03 in the video above). Coaches can help players practice supporting each other in tight spaces with simple keep-away games such as 7 Pass 2 on 1. A couple of drills that encourage passing to your defensive partner are NEHDA 3 Puck (for point passing), D to D to 1 on 1, Off The Wall - Neutral Zone Exchange (for breakout support), and the 3 Regroup 3 v 2 Drill for regrouping support. View additional defense drills here.
  6. Playing With Head Up
  7. Shooting / Passing With Purpose
    • Why it is important: Shooting and passing with a purpose in practice will help you automatically make the shots and passes count in the game. Don't just go through the motions because it is a practice. Act like it is a game. This habit is more of a mentality than a skill.
    • Ideas for practice: Topher Scott's 3 vs. 3 Corner Drill is a great game to practice having a scoring mentality. You can also add in any shooting drill and encourage players to "shoot to score" on every single shot. Coaches should keep score during drills and games in practice to encourage players to shoot to score.
  8. Using Deception
    • Why it is important: Using your head, body, and eyes to deceive an opponent will help you create more time, space, and opportunities on the ice.
    • Ideas for practice: Coaches can help players see the benefit of deception by teaching kids what deception is (giving your opponent false information to think you are going to do something and you do the opposite). You can see deception being used in soccer, football, and basketball as well. A player will fake like they are going one way to throw off a defender or create time & space to make a play. Once players understand what deception is, coaches can start with a simple 3 vs 1 keep-away game or rondos to get players comfortable with looking one way and passing another way. As players improve, coaches can have them practice the Evasive Passing Drill, or the Swiss 4 vs. 2 to help them practice opening up passing lanes. Players can practice deception on their own by stickhandling at home or during open ice. It takes time to learn how to be deceptive. Very high-end examples of deception can be viewed in the IHS Skill Breakdowns: Stutter Stop Step, and Inside / Outside With Change of Pace.


Habits are not created overnight. But if a coach teaches their players about these habits and works to reinforce them at every practice, these skills will become integrated into the player's practice routine. With enough repetition, these habits will be transferred over to games and give each player a greater chance of on-ice success. 

If you found these habit tips helpful and would like to dive deeper into hockey habits, we would suggest checking out Professional Hockey Habits with Detroit Red Wing's Head Coach Derek Lalonde. Additionally, Hockey Think Tank's Podcast #115 that is solely focused on Hockey Habits. In the discussion, Topher Scott and Jeff LoVecchio dive really deep into 5 Team Offensive Habits, 5 Team Defensive Habits, 5 Individual Forward Habits, 5 Individual Defense Habits, and 5 Attitude Habits. You can listen to episode # 115 here or watch it on YouTube here. We also have an additional Coach Education video

Thank you to Topher for creating and sharing this presentation for the wold to view. Below are additional links to connect further with Topher:

If you are a team, organization, or business interested in hiring Topher to speak in person, or remotely, please connect with him on the links above or click the banner below to hire Topher for remote team building.

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