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 followingexercises-
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.