Passing Fundamentals and Awareness

This practice plan is all about awareness and passing fundamentals. The practice starts with a passing series where you can focus on passing fundamentals. The activities that follow are great for awareness, communication, and moving without the puck. It ends with a fun full ice game that requires good passing, communication, and awareness.

**Three quarters of the practice do not require a goalie so it can be a good session if you do not expect to have any goalies, or if you have goalies it is a great time to allow them to work with a coach.

Practice Outline

  • 3 Player passing series (12 minutes)
  • Finnish 5 Puck Progression (15 minutes)
  • Gates of Buffalo (10 minutes)
  • Full Ice 3 zone 3 puck (20 minutes)

3 Player Passing Series Station

3 Player Passing Series Station - Variation #1
3 Player Passing Series Station - Variation #2
3 Player Passing Series Station - Variation #3
Drill Description

There are three variations to this passing station.  The first variation players skate at the player in front of them making one-time passes to each other.  Encourage players to not slap at the puck but have soft hand and receive and pass.  The next variation players do a control turn around the player while receiving hte puck back, then they make give and go passes on their way back to the other player.  The thrid variation has the players make a pass and then open up to receive the pass back.  The animations tell the story much better than the diagrams for this drill.

Finnish 5 Puck Progression

Drill Description

In this video, Ben Eaves explains a hockey activity and progression that is excellent for every age and skill level. The activity can be done with 3, 4 or 5 players at a time. The video above shows two groups going through the progression. Group # 1 consists of 4, U18 players and Group # 2 is made up of 5, U10 & U12 players.

The major concept of the Finnish 5 Puck is to practice dynamic decision making which will help players learn to play with their head up instead of staring at the puck while they work to memorize a drill. The initial activities are set up to warm up your hands and edges. From there, the activities become more complex as more decisions need to be made within the group. Each Activity encourages players to keep their head up, move to open space, and pass the puck by interacting with their teammates through verbal & non-verbal communication.

If you commit to working on activities like this instead of memorization drills for a portion of each practice, you will marvel at how your team begins to work together. It will look extremely messy at first, but players will get better with each repetition. Moving to open space, and moving the puck will eventually become second nature to the team.

SETUP & ACTIVITY VARIABLES

  • Players: great for 3, 4 or 5 players at a time.
  • Time: You can rotate through groups of players in 45 - 60 second shifts. 5 players can be participating in the activity, while another 5 rest. Blow the whistle and the next 5 jump in.
  • Space: can be set up to be within a zone, or half of a zone (station) or a smaller area. The smaller the space, the more challenging it will be for the players as they are forced to make quicker decisions.
  • Added Challenge: add obstacles within the space to challenge the players further. Tires, cones, sticks, etc placed in the space make it harder to pass and skate around. As time goes on the added obstacles will help improve their reaction & decision making.

Activity # 1: Forward Skating

The goal of this activity is to get players warmed up and comfortable with skating forward to open space with the puck. They should be keeping their head up so they do not run into anyone or any obstacles that are out in the playing area. Players can work on their edges, control turns, mohawk turns, dekes, changing pace and whatever their creative minds (and coaches) can think of!

Activity # 2: Backward Skating

The goal of this second activity is to get players comfortable with skating backwards with the puck to open space. Since players are skating backward, it is crucial that all players keep their head up and look over their shoulders at all times.

Activity # 3: Forehand Only Puck Control

In this activity, players can only stickhandle with their forehand. This encourages players to move their body around the puck. This will help with puck protection along with changing passing and shooting angles. Continue to encourage players to keep head up and move to open space!

Activity # 4: Pass 1 Puck

Now that everyone is warmed up, this is where the fun begins. Encourage players to use verbal and non-verbal communication to pass 1 puck around between the group of players in the activity. Do not let players stand still and pass back and forth. Call out for constant movement and to skate to open space. When players receive the puck, they should take a stride or two, have their head up, and make a pass to an open teammate.

Activity # 5: Pass 2 Pucks

Here we go! With two pucks it is even more critical to keep your head up and communicate. It is important for all players to have an idea of where both pucks are so they can be ready to receive a pass and be ready to make a pass without passing to someone who already has a puck.

Activity # 6: Pass 3 Pucks

With three pucks it is important to read your teammates and anticipate what they are going to do with the puck. If you don't pay attention, you end up receiving a pass you are not ready for, or you pass to someone who isn't looking.  Communicate verbally, pay close attention and read body language! 

Activity # 7: Pass 4 Pucks

This could be the hardest of all of the activities. It is important to stress patience with the puck in this round. If players do not pay attention they end up all passing to the one open player at once.  Keep your head up, be patient and pass when your teammate is ready to receive your pass. Do not rush. If you are the only player without a puck, make it clear with verbal communication who you want the puck from.

Activity # 8: Pass 5 Pucks

With 5 pucks (or 4 pucks with 4 people) it is important to communicate with eye contact and verbal queues. Do not attempt rink-wide or long passes at first. Short and subtle drop passes and slides work excellent in this activity.

Activity # 9: 4 vs 1

Now that everyone has been challenged with passing multiple pucks, it should be extremely easy to pass one puck and keep it away from a defender. Use all of the lessons learned above (moving to space, verbal and non-verbal communication) to make sure that the defender does not have a chance to touch the puck.

Activity # 10: 3 vs 2

3 on 2 will be an increasing challenge to play keep away, but with patience, puck protection and communication, the defenders should still not be able to get the puck.  

Added Competitive Challenge:

  • Group Challenge: After the group gets comfortable with the exercises, you can add a natural element of competition between the groups by counting the number of successful passes made in the passing activities. Or you can count the number of successful passes made in a row. Either of these can be a fun way to get each group to work harder by having them compete with each other and focus on getting open and making a good pass.
  • With a Goalie: when you are playing 4 on 1 or 3 on 2, if the team makes 5 passes in a row you can allow them to shoot on a goalie.

Coaching Points: 

  • Encourage players to always move to open space on the ice. Do not allow them to stand still and pass the puck back and forth.
  • Encourage verbal communication (calling teammate by name, saying you are open, etc).
  • Encourage non-verbal communication (good eye contact, showing a passing target, tapping a stick, etc).
  • Allow players to make mistakes. It will take time to get comfortable with these activities. But as time goes on you will see them picking their head up to make a decision, which is the goal of this progression.

If you are interested in more hockey activities which require more decision making, reading, and reacting then please check out this article which discusses 11 Activities for Youth Hockey Practice.

Related Content

Gates of Buffalo Small Area Game

Gates of Buffalo Small Area Passing Game
Drill Description

The major concept of the Gates of Buffalo Small Area Hockey Game is to practice moving to open space, communicating verbally and non-verbally with teammates, so they can score Goals by passing through Gates. 

This game framework will help players learn to play with their head up, communicate with teammates and move to open space. 

As a coach, If you commit to working on activities like this instead of memorization drills for a portion of each practice, you will marvel at how your team begins to work together. It will look extremely messy at first, but players will get better with each repetition. Moving to open space, and moving the puck will eventually become second nature to the team.

GAME OBJECTIVE

  • Score as many goals as possible by passing through the "Gates."
  • You can not pass through the same gate twice in a row!

SETUP & ACTIVITY VARIABLES

  • Players: great for 3, 4 or 5 players at a time.
  • Time: You can rotate through groups of players in 30, 45 or 60 second shifts and count how many goals are scored.
    • Or you can set a number of goals (let's use 5 for example) and stop the watch after 5 goals are completed.
    • 5 players can be participating in the activity, while another 5 rest. Blow the whistle and the next 5 jump in. It gets fun when the teams compete against each other!
  • Space: can be set up to be within a zone, or half of a zone (station) or a smaller area. The smaller the space, the more challenging it will be for the players as they are forced to make quicker decisions.
  • Added Challenge: add obstacles within the space to challenge the players further.
    • Tires, cones, sticks, defenceman, etc placed in the space will make it harder to pass and skate around. As time goes on the added obstacles will help improve their reaction & decision making.
  • Group Competition: After the group gets comfortable with the exercises, you can add a natural element of competition between the groups by counting the number of successful goals made in the specified amount of time.
    • Or you can time each group and see how fast they can complete 5 (or any other number) goals. You will marvel at how the natural element of competition between groups will make the game more intense, competitive and fun!
  • With a Goalie: You can require the players to make 2 (or more) passes through a gate before they can shoot on net. After they shoot on net, they need to make the required number of passes through the gates again. 
  • Pucks: You can add in 2 or more pucks at a time to make players pay more attention to the game and their surroundings.
  • Gates: You can add 3 or more gates. They can be made of tires, cones, pucks and other materials. Change up the sizes of the gates for an extra challenge. The smaller the gate, the more challenging the game is!
  • 3 vs 3 Game: You can setup gates and make the game 3 v 3, 3 vs 2, or 3 vs 1 so there is another team working to prevent scoring on the gates. Adding additional players for the team to play against will give the game a whole new spin.

Setup Suggestions for Elite Players

  • Make the gates much smaller.
  • Add various obstacles on the ice such as sticks that players must be aware of and pass around or sauce over.
  • For extra fun, add a defenceman. Or play 3 vs 2 or 3 vs 3.  
  • If you have a goalie, require 2 or more passes through the gates before players are allowed to take a shot on net.  

COACHING POINTS 

  • Encourage players to always move to open space on the ice. Do not allow them to stand still and pass the puck back and forth.
  • Encourage players to find "passing lanes" to allow good passes. 
    • This skill is extremely valuable for youth players to work on. Finding passing lanes when you have the puck and jumping to open space when you don't have the puck so your teammate can pass to you is extremely beneficial during games. 
  • Encourage verbal communication (calling teammate by name, saying you are open, etc).
  • Encourage non-verbal communication (good eye contact, showing a passing target, tapping a stick, etc).
  • Allow players to make mistakes. It will take time to get comfortable with these activities. But as time goes on you will see them picking their head up to make a decision, which is the goal of this small area game.

Related Content

Why do we call this small area game "Gates of Buffalo?" The game has been called "gates" in the world of soccer and we decided to add Buffalo to it for two fun reasons: First, IHS has strong ties to Buffalo, NY. Secondly, the imagery of a Buffalo can help drive home to your youth players why you are practicing this game. If you do not pick your head up and use your teammates while playing the game of hockey, you run the risk of getting trampled by the other team. This can feel like getting run over by a Buffalo (physically or on the scoreboard). This game helps prevent both of those situations by forcing players to keep their head up while communicating and working with teammates to score goals. 

3 zone 3 puck

3 zone 3 puck drill
Drill Description

This is an excellent full ice exercise that encourages a team working together to move the puck down the ice. This is not exactly a small area game unless you consider the fact that players are limited to each zone. Each player with the puck must be aware and look to find their teammates. Each player without the puck must be moving to open space. Both teams are working to score a goal while moving the puck up the ice.

Setup:

  • Each team has 8 players on the ice at the same time. 2 defensive players in the defensive zone, 3 forwards & defense in the neutral zone, and 3 forwards in the offensive zone.
  • Players have to stay in their zone.
  • The game starts with one puck.
  • Players have to move the puck up the ice by passing to players in the next zone. 
  • At any time the coach can add a puck to the game so that at any one time there are three pucks in play.

Coaching Points:

  • Players with the puck need to pick their head up to look and find their teammates.
  • Players without the puck need jump to open space to make themselves open to get the puck.
  • Encourage verbal and non-verbal communication.