“Puck protection is one of the most important skills in hockey,” said Andy Blaszak, head coach of the Omaha Junior Lancers Varsity team. “It allows a team to create scoring chances and serves as a great defense.
“If you have the puck more often, you’re going to give the other team less opportunities to score, and more opportunities for your team.”
Here are five tips to ensure you and your team will come up with the puck – and keep it – this season.
1) Hockey Position – The best way to gain puck possession is by putting yourself in the right position.
What does that look like?
“A wide base, nose over the puck and being strong on your skates,” said Blaszak, “It’s the best position you can be in to stay strong and protect the puck.”
Developing lower body strength and skating skills will help you become strong on your skates and comfortable with the body contact that comes with it. By doing so, you’ll create a strong presence on the ice and in the corners. It will put you in a good position to gain puck possession, and ultimately score goals.
2) No Height Requirement – It can be intimidating to join in on a battle in the corners. If you’re on the smaller side, the idea of going up against a bigger player doesn’t look appealing.
But when it comes to puck battles, size isn’t as big of a factor as you think, and it shouldn’t slow you down.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re five feet or six feet,” Blaszak said, “you’re still required to get down in a hockey position in order to give yourself the best chance to get the puck from the corners.”
At 5-foot-11, Parise is one of the shorter players on the Minnesota Wild’s roster. But his ability to move and protect the puck helps him win battles against even the biggest of players.
Quick feet, sticks and puck movement make size irrelevant when protecting the puck. Constantly be on the move and use your teammates to maintain puck possession.
3) Work for It – Like most aspects of hockey, getting the puck isn’t going to come easy. Prepare yourself for the challenge and go for it.
“There’s a lot of heart that goes into getting the puck,” Blaszak said. “(Players) need to have willingness to battle. They need to have a willingness to gain, protect and possess the puck. The team that is made up of those types of players is going to be hard to stop.”
You have to want the puck more than the other team. The team who works to gain puck possession and keep it until the last horn sounds will usually be rewarded on the scoreboard.
4) It Starts with Defense – Good offense requires sound defense. Puck protection is just as important back in the defensive zone as it is skating in toward the net.
“Defensemen should have their heads on a swivel and always be looking for their teammates,” Blaszak said. “They need to always be communicating with their partners. Those are some of the most important things to do so they can get the puck out of their zone.”
Forwards should be cutting and moving for defensemen as they look to pass it up and out of the zone. Talk on the ice and help one another out. The quicker you work the puck down the ice, the sooner your opportunity for a shot on net.
5) Practice Makes Perfect – Puck protection isn’t a skill quickly learned. It requires constant work and attention. Include it in your practices, at home, on the pond or during warm-ups with teammates.
Simple 1-on-1 or 2-on-2 battles or a game of keep-away around the faceoff circles is the easiest way to practice. Move around the ice into the corners and along the boards for a real in-game situation.
“Couple puck protection drills with stickhandling drills,” said Blaszak. “They go hand-in-hand.
”If you work on puck protection every day, you’re only going to improve. It’s a skill that every hockey player needs and one that every player wants to excel at. Practice will help you get there.”