Photo by Ludovic Burton
Although this post is focused on helping beginners, a lot of experienced players make these same mistakes. I’d love to pretend I’m not guilty of these offenses, but let’s just say it doesn’t hurt to have a friendly reminder.
Keeping the Head Down
Players who aren’t used to the feeling of a puck on the end of their stick have a tendency to look down to make sure it’s still there. While stick-handling is important, it’s still secondary to being able to move the puck well. Think about it: the puck will always be the fastest moving and most maneuverable object on the ice. If a player’s eyes are constantly checking on the puck he will miss what is happening around him. On the other hand, a player with his head up can survey the scene; he can avoid defenders, see open teammates, and take cues from the goalie. A player who can set up passes will be a much better asset to his team than someone who can skate fast and execute fancy toe drags.
Giving Up After Getting Burned
New players are bound to let an opponent slip by at some point, it happens. The real problem occurs when the defender doesn’t pursue the puck after getting beat. Teammates tend to be more understanding if a solid effort is made to retrieve the puck after losing it. It may take time for a player to develop speed and cornering, but he can show hustle from day one. Many times a player’s persistence pays off, and he is able to regain possession of the puck. In addition, a sense of personal pride is felt when a player is able to redeem himself.
Holding the Stick Too High From the Ground
One of the most basic fundamentals of hockey is keeping the stick down on the ice. When it’s there passes are easier to receive, quick shots are easier to execute, and those playing defense are more likely to intercept the puck. Hockey is a fast paced sport where every second counts. Sometimes the time it takes to bring the stick from the knees to the ice is enough to miss an opportunity. A blade on the ice also helps hockey players stay low and maintain proper posture.
Getting Caught Out of Position
Each player on a team has a responsibly and teammates need to be able to count on one another. Part of being dependable means being at the right place at the right time. When defending, sometimes just putting a body on an opponent or hitting his stick up is enough to stop him. Even those who aren’t strong shooters find goal scoring opportunities when camping out in front of the goal; some of the best assists are provided courtesy the goalie’s pads. One of the best ways a player can help his teammates is by always providing a passing option.
Watching Passes to Make Sure They Connect
It is not necessary to wait around to admire a perfect pass or watch nervously to see if a shaky pass connects. Most beginners can skate a lot faster when they don’t have the puck, so cutting to an open area is often a good option immediately after dishing the puck. Remember, when passing to a player who is moving, make sure to lead them. Pass to where he will be, not to where is at present.
Turning Away From the Offense
In most circumstance it is not natural to face an object flying right at you, but this is hockey. Shinguards and a cup are worn to protect the front of the body. When players turn their back to a shot, it leaves their calves and thighs vulnerable to abuse. Most importantly though, their eyes are taken off the play. The best bet is to face the shooter and take a puck to the shins or block it with the stick. A puck bouncing of these surfaces will be the most predictable, and often result in an easy turn over.
Carrying the Puck Too Far From the Body
Players who are still developing their stick handling skills can prevent the puck from being stolen. Keeping the body between the puck and the defender is a great way to maintain possession. By using the body as a shield a defender will be boxed out to the point he is unable to make a steal.. Too many rookies hang the puck a few feet out from their body, making it easy for a defender to slap it away. The only thing a defender should be able to see is the name on the back of the jersey. And remember, body contact is OK!
Clearing the Puck In Front of the Home Goal
A player should never dump the puck in front of his own goal. It is the tendency of some beginners to get nervous and dump the puck without even looking to see who they are passing it to. They may think this is better than the alternative, but often a member of the opposing team is center ice in front of the goal, ready to receive the puck. An assist to the other team is much worse than a turn over.