When you watch an NHL game, it looks as if receiving—or “catching”—a pass from a teammate is the easiest thing in the world. One player may zip the puck all the way across the ice, and the little disk stops on the receiver’s stick blade as if both are magnetic. But it’s not that easy: What you’re seeing is the result of great technique and years of practice.
Learning to catch sharp passes like that requires you to be prepared, demonstrate good stick control, and react to both the speed and the direction of the puck. There’s a lot that can go wrong: The puck can bounce off your stick blade, slide off the end of the blade, cause the stick to twist in your hand, slide under the heel of the blade, and so on. Here are three keys to successfully receiving a pass—even a hard one.
1. Keep Your Stick Blade on the Ice
The lie of a hockey stick—the angle between the shaft and the blade—helps to keep the bottom of the blade flush against the ice, but only if the stick is held at the proper angle. When you’re receiving a pass, you must make sure that the entire bottom edge of the stick blade is on the ice. If just the toe of the blade is on the ice, the puck can slide under the heel, and vice versa. Also, if the blade bottom isn’t flush against the ice, you won’t have firm control of the blade, allowing a fast-moving puck to twist the stick in your hands.
2. Adjust Your Hand on the Stick Shaft
Not every pass will be right to your stick blade, so you’ll have to adjust to meet the puck. When you move the stick closer to or farther from your body, that’s when the bottom of the stick blade can lose contact with the ice. To help maintain the proper stick angle as you adjust to the puck, slide your bottom hand up and down the stick shaft. For instance, for a pass that’s close to your feet, slide your bottom hand down the shaft as you move the top of the stick across your body. Alternatively, to reach for a pass far out in front of you, slide your bottom hand up the shaft as you reach for the puck. Practice this technique to get a feel for how sliding your bottom hand affects the contact of the stick blade with the ice.
3. Cradle the Puck
When you’re receiving a pass—especially a sharp one—the puck can have a lot of momentum. If you simply hold your stick blade firmly on the ice, the puck tends to bounce off or twist your stick blade, both of which lead to loss of control. To control this momentum, you need to cradle the puck with your stick blade as you cushion the pass by allowing the puck to decelerate. It’s similar to how you catch a raw egg during an egg toss; you must absorb some of the momentum to keep the egg from breaking.
As the puck meets your stick blade, you need to control any rebound by cupping the puck—curling your stick blade around the puck to keep it on the blade. At the same time, cushion the impact by moving your stick blade in the same direction that puck is traveling, in a rapidly decelerating fashion. Don’t overdo it, though. Your cushioning motion should be just a few inches or a foot; an exaggerated cushioning motion takes longer and brings the puck too far behind you. You want to end up in a natural position from which you can immediately make a pass or take a shot. Learning to receive a sharp pass and maintain control of the puck takes a lot of practice, but if you keep these three keys in mind, you’ll get the hang of it more quickly. While we’ve discussed passes to only your forehand side here, these principles also apply to passes to your backhand. In a future post, we will cover the more specific skills needed to catch a pass on the backhand side.