If you watched the Stanley Cup playoffs, you know the value of stickhandling in hockey.
You also know being good at it doesn’t happen by accident. It takes practice and repetition (and, yes, world-class skill doesn’t hurt, either).
For those looking to work on stickhandling skills, there are plenty of things to do to improve. Whether you’re in a team setting or on your own, whether you’re on the ice or off the ice, here are some ways to step up your game from Sean Cromarty, a former NCAA Division I player at Colorado College and currently the owner of Competitive Advantage Training and the coach of a junior hockey team.
Drills, drills, drills
Cromarty has a few drills you can do on your own or with help on the ice. None of them take particularly long to do.
“A big thing you’ll see NHL and college guys do is under-handle the puck. We’ll do very basic things like have our guys skate a figure-8 pattern under-handling a puck. We’ll put all sorts of different emphases on things like carrying it only on their backhand, only using inside edge or outside edge,” Cromarty said. “We’ll finish it always with a shot. That teaches a couple things – to always be in a shoot-first position and to always keep your feet moving.”
“Whether that means you’re on your forehand side and you just pick the puck up or you have to turn your hips so that, when you handle it, your first touch is on your forehand, that’s what we want,” Cromarty said. “If you have it on your backhand, it’s either going to be a turnover up the middle or a chip up the boards. On your forehand you have more options.”
A few minutes alone
That said, stickhandling is something “that you can always work on, do it anywhere and any time and it translates on the ice for the most part,” Cromarty said. If you’re on the ice, a weighted puck is a good tool to use, while off the ice he recommends a wooden ball or even a golf ball.
“Old-school people would boil an egg and stickhandle with that,” Cromarty says. “That might be the really extreme end of it, but if you can soften up your hands and not make a lot of noise with your stickhandling that’s good. You don’t want to be chopping wood.”
Cromarty has even seen specialized plastic sticks designed to help with stickhandling.
“The hands guys have now are way better than when I played, and I think it’s all the different products and things they can do,” Cromarty added. “Everyone on any team I coach, I recommend they have one of those wooden balls or golf balls, just something to get their hands going before a game and working on hand-eye coordination.”
The end goal
A lot of good stickhandling comes down to repetitive work on hand-eye coordination. That can be as simple as working at batting pucks out at the air.
“If you can touch the puck, you should be able to take the pass,” he says. “Elite players spend time at it. If you can score even three goals a year off deflections, that’s awesome.”
And it’s more important to work on your overall stickhandling than to develop one or two special moves, he says.
“For me, it’s all about being very creative. Give a guy a set of hurdles to stickhandle through and around in 30 seconds,” Cromarty said. “That creates situations in their head that are more likely to occur than just programmed stickhandling moves. Those become predictable. If you see a guy setting up this way, he’s probably going to do X, Y and Z after that.”