Monday, February 28, 2011

Improve Puck Control- Off- Ice

One of the first things that I try to teach all my athletes, in particular my high school kids, is that you do not need ice to improve your hockey skills.
I am going to challenge my players this off-season to make their puck handling abilities the best they have ever been without even stepping onto the ice.
Make a goal of taking 10-15 minutes, 3-4 times per week to practice the following

Exercise 1: Very simply lay down two bricks and lay the broomstick or a piece of wood across the bricks forming a tunnel. Only one rule, be creative. Move the ball around the bricks, under the wood or over the wood. Jump over the wood on two feet or one foot, to improve total body training. Try to move as fast as you can and try to move the ball as fast as you can. Be sure to use your forehand, backhand, toe drag and more. Remember be creative and have fun. Start with sets of 30 seconds and work your way up.
Exercise 2: This exercise will require a partner. You will need the broomstick, ball and hockey stick for this drill. Your partner starts by dragging the far end of the broomstick across the ground. Drag the stick in a half circle trying to keep the same pace. As your partner moves this stick your job is to move the ball around the broomstick without letting the broomstick touch the ball. You can do this by moving the ball under the broomstick, by using the toe drag to pull the ball back towards you out of the reach of the broomstick or even by lifting the ball up and over the broomstick. Once again practice using your forehand, backhand and toe drag. Keep your head up and practicing being quick. To make the exercise more difficult allow your partner to move the broomstick as he/she wishes instead of at a set pace.
Exercise 3: The Obstacle Course. You can use pucks or cones or any type of obstacle you like for this drill. Set the obstacles up in any fashion you like but I would recommend that you start with a straight line. Practice moving the pucks through the obstacles while moving as fast as possible. You can practice going around the obstacles with your whole body or practice keeping your body in between the obstacles and just moving the ball around the obstacles. Practicing on forcing the puck as wide as possible. Work outside your comfort zone. Practice using only one hand when going wide on your backhand. Be sure to keep your head up and work on moving as fast as possible.

In addition to being creative and utilizing different drills, there are an amazing amount of tools to help you improve your puck control skills off the ice.  Some of these include-
1) Golf Balls- improves fast-twitch muscles and reflexes.
2) Puck Socks- You can purchase these online or in pro-shops.  They are a sleeve that fits over the shaft of your stick and allows your to add weight to your stick.  Great way to build up strength.
3) Tennis Balls- Improve athleticism, hand-eye coordination, and reaction time, by dribbling a tennis ball up and/ or down with your stick.
4) Wrist Rollers-   Great for strengthening your forearms, and a very easy tool to make.  All it requires is a rope, 24' stick or bar, and a weight (5-10lbs).  Roll it up and back down to develop forearm and hand strength.

If you work 10-15 minutes, 3-4 times per week from now till next season, you will greatly develop your puck skills, and in the process never even have to pay for a lesson, ice time, or entry fee.  All the tools are at your disposal. Give it a try and see what happens.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Out of Comfort Zone Skating- Part 1

Dynamic Edge Control-

Whether you are an experienced skater or not, you are aware that a strong grip against the ice is necessary for balance, speed and power.  You get this grip by using the edges of your blade, shifting your weight onto the outside or inside.  Dynamic edge control is vital to achieve quick starts, explosive turns, puck possession mastery, and rock-steady balance.  This article will explore some of the basic mechanics and technical aspects of edge control, and give some unique drills that explore C-Cuts and balance in ways that many coaches have never tried.

            As you can see from the video above, to get the most out of your edges it is vital that you work on being able to roll your ankles each way to an angle of 45 degrees.
Believe it or not, when attempting to improve your skating, falling down is an extremely beneficial tool.  It shows you exactly when you have gone too far and where you have lost control.  This is commonly known as out of comfort zone training.
Thus, it is very important that you begin to use your edges the way they were intended.  To do this, you will definitely need to have an understanding of what I like to call Counterbalance.
            Counterbalance, in skating terms, means to shift your upper bodyweight in the opposite the direction of your edges.  For example, when edges roll properly in one direction, you must counter this action by shifting your upper bodyweight in the opposite direction (still keeping your shoulders level and parallel with the ice).
If you lean too much of your upper bodyweight in the same direction as your edge and the angle of the edge becomes too extreme, it will almost certainly slip out from under you and cause you to lose power or fall down.
Most important for dynamic edge control is where you place your bodyweight over an edge that holds the key to how it will perform for you.  And, quite often it is the upper part of the body that is creating the most problems for you …especially when it comes to the outside edge.
Of the two edges, the outside edge, rolled halfway to the ice at the proper 45 degree angle (or more), is a more difficult edge to lay down in the ice.  In order to get on an outside edge, you must have the confidence to be able to roll your ankle outward…and turning the ankle out is a much less natural movement than turning the ankle in.
Body Positioning:
Is your ankle going to cave in?  If you feel like this, then it is more likely than not that you are forcing too much weight on one side of the edge.
            Instead, when you put the outside edge down in the ice, it is important that you have your hips and knees move past the edge and toward the ice.  But at the same time you will want to counter that push in with the lower body, by maintaining your upper body as parallel with the ice as you possibly can.
            As you gain more confidence and improve using the outside edge, you will be able to push the edge harder and with more consistency, and the way you adjust your body will become more natural.  When you get to this point, you know that your muscles are beginning to learn the lessons that you are teaching them… this is called
“muscle memory.”
Placement of the Blade on the Ice:
How you place any edge on the ice is a vital factor in your ability to use it efficiently.  This is especially true in regards to the outside edge, where you have less margin for error than on the inside edge.
To help you better understand where and how to put the skate properly down on the ice, it is good to think of the blade as three separate parts:  Front-Middle, Middle-Middle and Back-Middle.  Given these terms, think of the blade divided into 3 sections.
You will use all these parts of the blade depending on what skating maneuver you are doing.  For example, a quick start comes from the front-middle of your blade.  As well, a quick turn in a short area (especially at lower speeds) can come from the back-middle or back third of the blade.
But for the best success in improving and holding an outside edge, you will want to use the middle-middle of your blade.  This gives you the most stability, strength and control.
Try this by building up speed around a circle and then glide only on your outside edge (one foot).  Place the skate down incorrectly, with too much weight toward the toe, and you will see how this will cause you to come off the edge and lose your balance forward.Then, skate around the circle again and this time land the outside edge correctly in the middle of the blade getting as much of it as possible in contact with the ice and it should be clear to you where the most stability will come from…. directly in the middle of the blade.

1) Puck C-Cuts-  To develop dynamic balance after learning the basics, try this drill. Gain a slight amount of momentum heading up ice, then step on a puck, using the middle of your blade, with one leg.  Assert your balance and stabilize yourself.  Then to propel yourself, use the forward C-Cut with the opposite leg to power yourself down the length of the ice.  After trying with one-leg, try again with the other.  At first this drill will feel impossible, but as you gain confidence, you will be able to GAIN a tremendous amount of speed and also develop the stability muscles within your legs that allow elite players to maintain control of the puck at top speed while dekeing and/ or being checked.
2) Horsepower Circles- Tell your kids to look a thoroughbred, and ask them why they think the horse is so fast?  I'm sure you will get some strange answers, but once the kids realize its the gigantic muscles located in the horses rear thighs and butt, they will be able to visualize the horses power.  To focus on developing these muscles, make the kids do all 5 circles, starting out of the corner, with no sticks and with their gloves constantly touching the ice.  This drill focuses on perfect inside and outside edge control, leg drive and placement, and dynamic power pushes.
3) 1-Legged C-Cut Propulsions- Have your players start at the goalline and instruct them to (with one leg) propel themselves down the ice without ever taking a stride.  Can't be done?  With one leg you can C-Cut inside, then outside, then back to inside, then back to outside and so on... propelling yourself down the length of the ice and gaining a tremendous amount of speed and momentum.  Oftentimes I call this the ballerina drill.  It takes balance, power, form and technique to sustain the movement, and will drastically improve confidence.