The old adage in hockey is “you can’t give a good player a bad pass.”
As in, if a teammate moves the puck anywhere in your vicinity, you should be able to corral it. It’s similar to what you hear about wide receivers: if you can touch it, you should catch it.
That includes pucks that come at you waist high, in your triangle, and in your feet. Behind you? Well, that’s asking a little much.
Below are some tips for collecting tough passes.
On the backhand
This is one of those the things my Dad taught me when I was a young kid – if you’re someone who has trouble taking passes on the backhand, try using just one hand on the stick and letting the blade deaden the puck.
The biggest mistake a lot of rec league guys make is squeezing the stick too firmly which allows no give, so the puck either hits the toe part of their curve and shoots forward out of their reach, or goes off the heel and ends up behind them. Either way it’s a turnover, and a bad one at that.
You rarely need perfect possession of the puck immediately while moving through the neutral zone, you just need it to slow down/stop it somewhere within reach. So, you hold out the stick with your top hand, and just let the puck thunk the blade. The weight of the blade (even with new sticks) will keep it near you, and you can deal with it from there.
The one-hand method also helps when the pass to your backhand is too close to your skates (in your triangle). You can swing the stick out wider (to your left, if you’re a righty), pull your arm back and take it over there.
Abandon hockey school pass-catching techniques (and Mighty Duck methods – remember the eggs?). Let that thing thunk your blade.
In your/off your skates
My dad used to skate up and down the ice “stick-handling” (okay, dribbling) the puck back and forth between his skate blades for practice.
You have to be able to control the puck with your skates to play at a high level.
Consider this: your blades/holders aren’t that bouncy. If you take a rocket pass square to the side of the blade, it’ll basically just sit there after contact, and it certainly doesn’t hurt. So again, you’re in a situation where you took a hard pass, and stopped it somewhere in your stick-range. From there, it’s just about adjusting the angle of the blade to make sure the puck hits it square, and doesn’t carom off in another direction.
As you get better at it, you’ll get used to the feel of how much “push-back” you need to give the puck to get it away from your body and onto your stick. Once you find that feeling, it’s all about repetition. For rec players who only play once a week and don’t practice, I understand that it can be tough. But you’ll get there over the years.
The more you’re unafraid to use your skates as extra stick blades, the more you’ll get used to pulling the puck up off the inside of your wheels in stride. Once you get that down, you’re an easy person to pass to.
On the forehand
You know all that hockey school “cushion the puck” stuff? I say it’s garbage. (Sorry about the unsolicited attacks, hockey schools – I worked at one for years and taught the same stuff.)
Pass the puck hard, receive it firmly. Your stick will naturally move back from the force of the pass. Ever seen an NHLer provide “cushion?” There’s no time. If you’ve been to an NHL game, you know the sound it makes makes when a hard pass is collected. *SMACK*
The only time I say provide some extra cradle is right before firing a quick wrist shot off a pass, because it keeps the puck touching the blade, which allows you to get it in the right position quicker.
If the pass is in your forehand triangle, don’t pull in your stick or push out a skate blade – adjust where you accept the pass. Like I said about the backhand, get that stick out wide (hold it almost where you’d take a shot from), close the blade and use some muscle.
Catch the damn thing. You’re an athlete.
It’s understandable to struggle with passes on your backhand and in your skates, but I assure you, not being able to corral errant passes is not acceptable at the higher levels. Practice is full of guys shouting (teasing, usually) “handle it!” at guys after they miss some grenade pass. (Note: this isn’t a license to make bad passes.)
The general idea is just to stop the puck so it stays within your range – after that you can pull it together and figure it out. That’s why you see guys slapping at bouncing pucks as opposed to keeping their stick still and hoping the bounce goes their way and settles perfectly on their blade – they just want to get a piece of it to ensure they can do something with it after.
With practice and repetition, this stuff gets easier and easier.