Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby skates with the puck through the neutral zone. Back-checkers attempt to create a turnover.
Against Crosby, they usually fail.
A puck control artist, Crosby is a 15-year veteran and continues to refine his technique of maintaining possession long enough to make a play.
By keeping his feet moving and utilizing his body and reach, Crosby is constructing a Hall-of-Fame career by creating enough time and space to manufacture quality scoring chances.
To learn the basic techniques for protecting the puck, young players need to refine skills in three areas of the game:
- Paying attention to detail
- Improving skating on the edges
- Building muscle mass
How to Skate With the Puck
Having eclipsed the 450-goal plateau this season, Crosby has a reputation as one of the NHL’s players most skilled at protecting the puck. He earned the reputation by consistently outmuscling opponents, mastering basic stickhandling moves, and deploying deft skating turns.
To earn ice time at any level, players must learn how to skate with the puck and react quickly to the arsenal of moves defenders attempt to pry the puck away—on the forehand and backhand.
1. Paying Attention to Detail
Protecting the puck begins with keeping it out of the defenders’ reach just long enough to make a play. Reading the play, that means shielding the puck with your body while skating through traffic.
Deceptive skating moves can bait defenders into making the wrong move and gaining separation.
2. Improving Skating on the Edges
A quick burst of speed, followed by a turn. Stop. And go. Creating unique skating patterns forces defenders to guess which direction the puck will go next.
Eventually, the defender will guess wrong, creating a cushion.
The cut-back is a popular misdirection tactic. Utilizing balance, leg strength, and a C-cut in the ice, puck-carriers change direction and often create a safe zone to potentially move the puck forward.
3. Building Muscle Mass
When the on-ice practice is complete, it’s time to hit the weight room. Enhancing leg, arm, and core strength becomes more important for youth hockey players as they grow into their teens.
Being stronger makes it more difficult for opponents to knock offensive players off balance and force a turnover.
How to Control a Hockey Puck
Coaches invest plenty of practice time working on puck protection drills: In most matches, it’s a key between winning and losing.
Learning how to control a hockey puck creates time and space to make plays such as weaving through the neutral zone or connecting on outlet passes.
A basic approach to protecting the puck involves holding the stick with two hands, top and bottom, and stickhandling out of the opposition’s reach. If the defender closes in, the puckhandler’s hips can be extended to create additional space to skate out of danger.
Here are additional puck handling tips:
- When maintaining possession along the boards in the corners, execute a stout stance, sliding your feet a bit wider than your shoulders and sticking out your butt to establish distance with a defender.
- When near the boards, use both of your hands to push off the wall and use its leverage to create time and space.
- When skating, utilize sharp turns to create space by using the defenders’ momentum against themselves.
- When speed and the room to operate are limited, keep both hands on the stick.
- When practicing, focus on basic puck protection moves and master them over advanced stickhandling maneuvers.
- Use your body- legs and hips- to shield your stick and the puck from the defender.
Puck Protection Drills
The Royal Puck Protection Drill has proven to be one of the most effective drills.
This half-ice exercise urges skaters to keep moving their feet, protect the puck, and fire a shot on goal.
The drill setup includes a line of forwards along each sidewall. Two players are placed at the top and bottom of the face-off circles. The skater at the beginning of the line skates a figure-8 and stickhandles the puck around the two stationary defenders before releasing a shot on goal.
Other exercises such as 1-on-1 hockey drills and 3-on-2 hockey drills emphasize the importance of puck control.
Focusing on drills such as 1-on-2s and 2-on-3s will help coaches prepare players for moments when they’ll be forced to maintain possession of the puck against pressuring defenders in key situations.