Deceptive stick skills are not only fun to execute – they help your team possess the puck, create offense, and simply put … win games.
“When you come into a rink and see a practice or game going on, that’s the first thing you notice,” said University of Central Oklahoma head coach Craig McAlister, a two-time ACHA Division 1 Coach of the Year. “From mini-mites to college and the professional level, you’re able to see how stickhandling and passing allow you to control the puck – and to control the game.”
A former two-time All-Midwest hockey player at Ohio University, McAlister has coached in the ACHA since 2003. Following the end of his playing career, he morphed into a program builder and started both the University of Oklahoma and UCO hockey programs.
Over the years, he’s helped hundreds of skaters sharpen the stick and puckhandling facets of their game. Here are McAlister’s five tips for silkier hands.
1. Hand Grip
Your best grip is one in which your hands are loose and able to rotate on the stick.
“If you grip too tightly, your movements become choppy as you slide the puck back and forth,” McAlister said. “If your grip is too light, you risk chasing the puck and taking longer movements than necessary.”
This is something that’s easy to overlook, but essential to your game, McAlister said.
“Keep your knees bent, and your eyes up on the target as part of an athletic posture that lets you transfer your weight towards your target,” he said. “If you’re too straight-legged as a player, you’ll feel top-heavy and could lose your balance quite easily as you shift and move around with the puck.”
3. Body Positioning
When skating, always position your hands away from your body and follow through to your target after passing. Above all, don’t forget to keep your head up so you can see what’s around you while moving the puck.
“Don’t look down. This is a must-learn situation,” McAlister said. “Practice with your head up, stickhandling the puck while keeping them in your peripheral vision.”
This is something any skater can learn, no matter their age, experience or skill level, McAlister said. Recently, he watched a YouTube video of a 7-year-old skater standing on a board that was balanced on top of a round cylinder, which only helped proved this point.
“She was stickhandling with her head up and smiling,” he said. “It was incredible, and just goes to show you that you can achieve anything and have a great time doing it.”
4. Receiving a Pass
This is one of the sport’s most essential skills to master, yet many players haven’t been able to do so. If you’re able to receive a pass well, you’ll find a lot more success on the ice – and look better doing it.
“A lot of players don’t realize how to receive a pass – the puck will come to them and bounce down the ice, causing them to have to chase it,” McAlister said. “Having soft hands that give or recoil when the puck hits your stick will allow you to cradle the puck into your possession.”
5. Being Ready
One aspect of the game that often gets overlooked is the ability to move intelligently and position yourself in ways that allow your teammates to get you the puck.
“When we say that a player always seems to have the puck follow him or her, we’re really talking about their ability to get open in spaces where the other players want to give them the puck back,” McAlister said. “Some people call that hockey sense, but it’s a skill that can be learned. Anticipating the movement of the puck and preparing to receive the pass is critical to this learned maneuver.”
6. Practice, Practice, Practice!
If you really want to boost your stickhandling skills, get out on the ice or the driveway with a stick and puck (or ball) and work on your movements as often as possible.
Try some of these stickhandling drills: https://www.usahockey.com/stickhandling
Even just 15-minute sessions a couple times each week will see improvement. Get creative, use your feet, get out of your comfort zone. Your teammates will notice the difference.
“These are simple ways that get you invested in your improvement without costing you anything or relying on others,” he said. “You’re only stopped by your imagination in the kinds of drills you can come up with.”