Coaches! There is an infinite amount of ways to help your players improve their on-ice hockey game by working hard and having fun off of the ice. In this article, we are going to dive into 4 concepts and 8 tips to share with your players on how they can improve their on-ice puck control by developing an off-ice stickhandling routine.
All of the exercises listed below can be done anywhere. Only 2 objects are required: a hockey stick and a ball or puck.
4 Concepts to Learn Before You Create an Off-Ice Stickhandling Routine
- Start Slow: Take your time to practice new moves. Do not expect to perform complex dekes or stickhandle with your head up immediately. It is important to focus on the technique first. Start slow. Once you are comfortable with a new move, increase speed and try keeping your head up!
- Have Fun and Be Creative: Make your off-ice practice routine FUN. If you fall in love with practice, great things will happen.
- Practice Keeping Your Head Up: Keeping your head up while you have the puck will allow you to INSTANTLY become a better hockey player because you are able to make better decisions. With your head up, you know where your teammates are, where open space is and where the defense is. Your peripheral vision can be used to help locate obstacles and the puck while keeping your main focus on your surroundings.
- Learn The Art of Deception: When you have the puck, use deceptive fakes to sell a move, pass or shot. This can be done with stickhandling dekes, changing your skating pace, and moving your body (feet, hips, shoulders, head, eyes, etc) in different ways to make the other team think you are going to do something else with the puck. Once you get the opposition moving the other way or freezing up, you have space to make a better shot, pass, or attacking move.
What is the end goal of the concepts above?
The end goal is to be able to control the puck in a variety of ways, while keeping your head up so you can make better decisions. Use deception to create space and better opportunities to pass, shoot or attack!
8 tips that can help improve your off-ice stickhandling routine
Tip 1: Begin at the Basics
Stickhandling is not just handing the puck in front of you. To become skillful at handling the puck, it is important to get comfortable moving the puck all around your body.
Below is a simple progression that works on moving the puck around all sides of your body. Start slow, with little movements, then increase the size of your movements. Work on keeping your head up. Keep your top hand firm to help you control your blade and bottom hand a little loose to help you move your stick freely around your body. One way to remember this is that your bottom hand is the “magician” because it needs to flow up and down your stick to create “magic” on the ice.
Tip 2: HAVE FUN
This is an extremely important reminder to have FUN while you are practicing off of the ice. If you fall in love with training, great things will happen. Make training fun, unique and creative for you. This will help develop your own style and passion for the game.
A couple of tips on what you can do to help you enjoy off-ice training:
- Blast your favorite music.
- Go to a location that you love: It can be in the basement, garage, driveway, or an open park or parking lot with an incredible view.
- Turn on a hockey game.
- Watch highlights of your favorite player or team on YouTube.
- Listen to a hockey-related podcast (or a topic you are interested in).
- Film or document your progress. It is always fun to be able to look back and see how much you have progressed.
- Get creative and brainstorm skills, tricks and games that would be fun for you to work on.
- Practice with a good friend or a group. This will also help you remain accountable.
- Remember why you are off-ice training... So you can get better on the ice!
Below are two examples of NHL superstars, Ryan O'Reilly and Artemi Panarin working on their stickhandling and hand-eye coordination on in their own unique way:
The video above was just a portion of their full videos. Watch the full videos on Instagram by clicking the links on the bottom of this page.
Tip 3: Consistency is Key
Once you get comfortable with the basics and establish a fun practice, it is time to get consistent. Stickhandling once a month for 15 minutes will not improve your skills like a daily routine will. Challenge yourself to stickhandle 15 minutes a day for a week and see what happens. As you see the progress, you will want to incorporate the training into your daily routine.
One of the greatest puck handlers of our time is Pavel Datsyuk. He was known for his incredible skill and creative puckhandling. He was also well known by his teammates for training before and after every practice with his two puck set up. He would set up two pucks and freestyle stickhandle around them.
Watch the video below as we demo his two puck freestyle stickhandling set up (it is the first exercise in the video). Even with only two objects, you can see that it will force you to move your body and allow you to be creative. As you get comfortable with two pucks, try to moving onto the four puck and six puck progressions. The four and six puck progressions will help you get comfortable with stickhandling around your body, and help you work on your peripheral vision.
If you want an extra challenge, try doing these on one leg to work your balance and increase leg and ankle strength. This is demonstrated in the six puck set up (the last video clip shown below).
Tip 4: Add Variety: Use Obstacles and Practice Specific Skills
Hockey is the fastest game on earth and it is important to learn how to react quickly and make decisions with the puck. Adding a variety of off-ice obstacles will help you get comfortable with moving the puck around obstacles like skates, sticks and other players on the ice.
Below is a minute mash-up of different skills and setups that will give you ideas of what you can incorporate into your off-ice stickhandling routine. As you can see, all of these can be done anywhere and each set up helps you work on a different technique or skill. Start slowly with each new exercise. Increase your speed and pick your head as you get comfortable.
If you would like to rewatch any of the skills listed below, we have each of these unique exercises listed on our Off-Ice Stickhandling Page.
Tip 5: Work on Moving Hands & Feet Independently
One of the toughest things to do on and off the ice is to stickhandle and move your feet independently. Once your upper body is moving independently from your lower body, it is harder for the opposing defense to predict and track where you are going. It also allows you to skate and cross over while you are stickhandling. This will allow you to create more deception when you have the puck.
Below is a progression that Conor McDavid has used to work on quickness and moving his upper body separately from his lower body. Start slow and then work on keeping your head up. Once you are able to do both of the exercises with your head up, you can add other objects to cross over or jump over while you are stickhandling!
Tip 6: Work on Stickhandling with Top Hand ONLY
One great way to improve your puck possession is to learn how to stickhandle with one hand. This allows you to keep the puck away from a defender as you use your body to protect the puck.
To practice this, go through some of your favorite exercises above but only stickhandle with your top hand. It will be hard at first, but if you learn to control the puck with one hand, it will give you a great advantage on the ice.
Want to see how top hand puck control can translate on the ice? Watch this video montage of NHL stars using one-handed puck control to protect the puck and separate themselves from the opposition: View Video Here
Tip 7: Stickhandle with a Wooden Stick, Weights or a Weighted Puck
Develop forearm and wrist strength by using a wooden stick, weights or a weighted puck. This will allow you to be stronger with the puck and to help prevent the defense from easily knocking the puck away. You can do any of the stickhandling exercises above with a wooden stick, weighted ball or puck, or you can simply tape pucks or weights to the bottom your hockey stick (just above your blade).
Tip 8: Get EXTRA Creative
Having fun and getting creative will improve your hand-eye coordination, reaction time and comfort level with your hockey stick. Below is a video of a pro hockey player displaying stick tricks that are out of this world.
You will never know when you need to bat the puck out of the air or try to settle a puck on a fast-moving breakaway. Improving your reaction time with tricks like this can help your overall puck control game (and the tricks are also a lot of fun to work on).
Off-Ice Stickhandling Recap
With all of the exercises shown above, try to keep these lessons in mind:
- Start Slow: Dial in exercises slowly. It is ok to look down at the beginning and allow your body and hands to get comfortable with the exercise you are performing.
- Have Fun and Be Creative: Make sure you are having fun because if you fall in love with practice, great things will happen!
- Practice Keeping Your Head Up: Once you get comfortable, perform the exercises with your head up. When your head is up, the game of hockey changes. You become a better hockey player INSTANTLY because you will make better decisions with the puck. Looking up allows you to read the game, see where your teammates are, where open space is and where the defense is. Use your peripheral vision to help locate obstacles and the puck while keeping your main focus on your surroundings.
- Learn The Art of Deception: Work on using deceptive fakes with your hands, feet, body, shoulders, head and eyes. When you have the puck, deception can freeze the defense so you have an open lane to pass, shoot or go around them!
Watch NHL pros below in super slow motion for inspiration. Watch the video to see the wide variety of techniques on how you can handle the puck. A few things to look for:
- How players pick their head up and use their peripheral vision up to see their surroundings.
- Players controlling the puck all around their body with a variety of moves.
- Using deception with fakes and weight transfer with all parts of their body to create space or go around another player.
- Players protecting the puck with their body and one-handed puck control.
Create a fun routine with the tips and concepts listed above and it will translate to improved puck control on the ice!
Once you get the puck, it is important to learn how to protect it. Keep possession by skating to open space, or by using your body to protect it. Read 6 Puck Protection Drills that will improve your game.
- Ryan O'Reilly Hand-Eye Coordination Exercise Before a Game
- Artemi Panarin and Mr. Rizzy Practicing Corners at Home
- Mikko Rantanen Stickhandling Outside With Dog
Need the inspiration to get outside and practice?