2013 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Three

With the return of summer, so returns “Rec Hockey Tips.” You can read more of them by clicking on that category, or checking out specifics like forwards coming back to the puck, communication, proper slapshots, blowout etiquette and five sneaky in-game tricks.

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You can’t score unless you have the puck, so everyone knows you have to have the puck, only…not everyone seems aware of what actually “getting possession of the puck” means. “Possession” in hockey, to me, indicates that you’re in a position to dictate what happens with the puck next, if only for a jiffy. Possession is good.

Instead, some rec leaguers only seem aware of the fact that you should get somewhere you can get the puck in theory. Players get open for passes, they get in positions to forecheck, they do many, many right things. Until you pass it to them, or it comes loose in a scrum, or it is delivered to them on a silver platter. Then it all goes to hell.

Handle it, as you so often hear at the higher levels. Just handle it.

Easier said than done maybe, but that’s where going to work to get better comes in. Everyone needs to work on something.

All due respect to rec hockey players who play once a week or so here – it’s hard to be consistently sharp in your semi-occasional outing, and we all make mistakes. It’s kind of like not golfing often – you lose your short game, your hands, first. So listen to me: if you ever get the chance to practice, have someone stand at center facing the boards, and you skate from blueline to blueline while they lob grenades at you. (That’s hockey terminology for bad passes, of course. Lobbing actual grenades would make for a short training session.) Hell, you can do laps around them and have them throw butterflying sauce passes at your ankles while you work on getting them up to your stick blade as quick as possible.

It’s remarkable how often a turnover is caused by players trying to do something with the puck before they get it, or just simply being not able to get a handle on the thing. Ice is slippery and all that, but sometimes I’m baffled that people can’t just…..just…..IT’S RIGHT THERE JUST GRAB IT. It’s like watching someone try to pick up a wet watermelon seed off linoleum. Sometimes you’ll have a line of players ready to go on a rush when a simple pass throws the whole operation to pot.

You have to think about how rare is it to see an NHL player mishandle a pass, less alone do the world’s most amateur thing, miss a pass that hits you in the blade by letting it go under their stick. Quick puck acquisition is an essential skill that often gets bypassed at places like hockey schools, where they show you how to roll a pass from heel-to-toe, which is a thing you basically never do.

I heard some mic’d up clip this year where Jarome Iginla asked a Penguins’ defenseman just to shoot it at him next time he’s flying the zone, like, waist high, and he’ll just grab it and put it down. You see Sidney Crosby pick up passes that are feet behind him in his skates…

…in stride (thanks to @RyanCYYC for the video). I’m not saying you need to be at that level, but there has to be a level between there and being unable to handle a hard puck to your tape.

The saying is that you can’t give a good player a bad pass. Well, sometimes it feels like you can’t give a bad player a good one.

Handle it.

If you consider yourself an amateur, go through the following checklist when the puck comes your way:

1) Safely acquire puck

2) Do whatever you want with said puck

There is no step two without step one.

Comments (7)

  1. here is a drill I do with my squirts. I stand long the boards and they stand in pretty much the same place across the ice. I fire pucks at them-sauce, high, low, bouncing, slap passes. we do this for about 5 minutes during warm-ups. The ones that do this with me can pick-up just about any pass now. When I say I fire pucks, I take nothing off it. I f they can get used to it at 9-10 they will be better for it as they get older.

  2. One thing that separates good players from bad is how their blade interacts with the ice. I notice that good players often have the right blade lie, rocker, and stick length for their style of play. Often these guys are skating with their stick blade near the ice, and when the puck is on their blade, the blade is in great contact with the ice.

    On the other hand, bad players will often have their blade toe or heel way off the ice which leads to flubbed shots and passes. Their sticks are too long or short or they don’t know how to carry the puck properly.

    Another crazy thing is how good players can make passes. Last night at pickup there were a couple guys that played a high level of hockey compared to the rest of us schlubs. Many, many times I would be in the passing lane, the good player would see me and pass it right through my legs or the gap between skates and stick. Even when I saw it coming and tried to block or deflect it, which is no problem with other crappy rec leaguers, I just couldn’t stop them.

    Basically, we don’t understand just how good high level players are until we try and play with them.

    • Oh yeah, the stick/ice interaction thing makes a big difference all around. A buddy of mine watched my game and bet me $20 that if I cut 1″ off my stick, I’d score a hatty in the next game.

      Best $20 I ever lost.

      And yeah, good players make good hard passes, but it’s like JB said – you just gotta handle it. The more you take, the better you get at it.

  3. For dryland, I made a rebounder out of a bungie cord and some 2×4 scraps [design via youtube videos] and just practiced slamming a green biscuit into the rebounder as hard as possible and got used to handling a hard puck smacking into the stick without it bouncing off. It doesn’t do anything for in-your-feet or behind-the-back issues, but the next time one of those ex-junior players fired a rocket straight to my tape from 15 feet away I managed to corral it.

  4. Good advice. As new once per week adult rec player (with limited ice hockey experience as a kid) I find controlling the puck on passes the biggest challenge. I can get my stick on it, but often it bounces off. I should try some of these passing drills during warmup to get my hands used to the puck. It’s getting better with time as I learn to corral the puck, but I still lose a lot of good passes because of this. September should be interesting once the season picks back up!

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