There are several strategies for winning a hockey face-off—we will examine each in future posts—but some important principles apply to all of them. (See our previous post on Hockey Face-Off Rules and Strategies.) Follow these steps to improve the chance that your team ends up with the puck after the draw.
1. Have a Plan
Decide on your strategy for winning the draw—pulling the puck back through your legs, sweeping it toward the boards, or taking out the opponent’s stick, for example—before you approach the face-off circle. There are two reasons for this: first, you need to let your teammates know what to expect, so they can be ready to react; and second, things happen so quickly that you don’t have time to make a decision on the spot. Having a plan will make your actions more decisive and allow you to focus on your moves.
2. Get a Grip
Once you’ve settled on what you’re going to do, get your grip sorted out before you approach the face-off circle. If you’re drawing the puck through your legs or to your backhand side, turn your bottom hand over, so both hands are gripping the stick from the same side. Make sure you choke up on the stick to give yourself better control and to keep your opponent from knocking your stick out of the way. You need to be ready to react the second you’re in position for the puck to drop.
3. Establish a Power Position
When you get into position at the face-off circle, bend your knees and get low to the ice, with your head over the circle. It’s important that you maintain balance, however, so don’t have too much of your weight forward. If you’re off-balance, you can be knocked off the puck more easily. Staying low will allow you to use the quickness of your hands and wrists—since you’ll be choked up on your stick—and gives you enough leverage to keep your stick from being knocked away by your opponent.
Adjust your feet to give yourself more room to the side where you plan to send the puck. For instance, if you’re going to send the puck behind yourself to the right, set your right skate as close to the line as possible and your left foot off the line on the other side. This way, your right skate won’t interfere with the puck or your stick when you make your move.
4. Keep Your Eyes on the Prize
Don’t look at the ice, at your opponent’s stick, or anywhere else but at the puck in the official’s hand. By staying focused on the puck, you can react immediately when you see the dropping motion begin. Those milliseconds can mean the difference between winning and losing a face-off.
5. Be Ready to Use Your Body
A face-off is not always a clean win for either player, which leaves the puck up for grabs after the initial attempts. Use your body to shield the puck or drive the other player off it, after which you can kick the puck to a teammate or allow another player to reach in and scoop it away. There are two basic ways to use your body: you can quickly push off with one skate to rotate around the puck and get between it and your opponent, or you can simply drive into your opponent to push him back. Again, know which tactic you plan to use before you set up for the face-off.
Why is Winning the Face-Off So Important?
The ability to win face-offs is a huge asset in hockey, helping to ensure that your team gains possession of the puck—which means control of the game and less vulnerability at your own goal. When you’re in your own zone, winning the face-off keeps the other team from attacking your goal and gives you a chance to start moving the puck up the ice. If the other team is on a power play, winning the draw in your own end is even more important, giving you a better opportunity to clear the puck.
Of course, at the other end of the ice, winning the face-off is an offensive boon that can lead to a quick shot—which can catch the opposing goalie off guard—or let you set up your offense without having to fight for the puck. A team whose centers consistently win face-offs usually gets more shots and controls the game.
Becoming a consistent face-off winner requires practice, focus, and determination. Having quick hands is important, but proper preparation for each draw is equally important. As you work on specific strategies—a forehand push, sending the puck to the side with a backhand, a spin move, or tying up the puck so another player can skate in and win it—keep in mind these five keys, and you’ll win these minor battles more consistently.