From hockey, to basketball, to soccer or lacrosse, athletes with the ability to create their own shot by maneuvering around their opponents, have a leg up on the competition and often emerge as true difference makers on their field of play.
Standing out in one-on-one situations is what can separate the good from the great. For some, clever moves or dekes to get around a defensive player come naturally. For others, it takes hours of practice. The best hockey players need a little of both to “dangle” their way past an opponent and into scoring position.
“When we talk about the best players in the history of the game, the best players are all stickhandlers, the ones who can handle the puck,” said Sean Skinner, also known as the “Stickhandling Guru,” who has taught ice hockey skills for coaches and players in more than 40 countries over his career. “If you can improve your stickhandling, you improve your options. Instead of coming down the ice and dumping it, you can make a good pass or all kinds of moves, fakes or dekes to get to the net. It can totally change the game for you.”
Skinner, who has worked with USA Hockey, the U.S. Olympic Women’s Hockey Team, as well as several National Hockey League and international organizations, produced “Stickhandling Beyond Belief,” an instructional skills Video-On-Demand and DVD series, which includes a chapter titled “The Moves, Fakes or Dekes.”
Skinner shared the following five moves to get by your opponent:
1. Skating Move – Just because you have stickhandling skills doesn’t mean it’s always going to work. When it comes down to it, the best way to win one-on-one battles is a series of one, two or three crossovers. Just skating can work because the defender has to skate backwards. Before you can beat a defender with a stickhandling move, there has to be a skating move.
2. Side Fake – The number one mistake a player coming down the ice with the puck can make is to have the puck in front of their body. The goalie loves it, because they can see it all the way and with the puck in front and the stick pointed at them, you can’t shoot. On a side fake, you switch the puck to the forehand side of your body, and from there you fake like you’re going to shoot the puck, stop it on the back of your stick blade, take it across the body to your backhand. From there you can go around the defender, pass or shoot a backhand roof shot if you’re in close.
3. Front Fake – Most hockey moves or dekes are comprised of four basic steps: a dribble, a fake, a move wide and an acceleration or burst of speed. The front fake is a power move because while you make a fake to make the defender hesitate for a split second, you still have to make a bold move around the player. One fake won’t cut it. It’s a fake, then a pull in, then a side fake down the ice.
4. Toe Drag – This is the move with the most names. First it was called the Gordie Howe move, then the Poland move and finally the toe drag. It not only helps you get around a defender, but it’s often combined with a shot that makes the goalie slide. It’s a great move to learn because of its multiple uses. In this move, the player uses the toe of their stick to drag the puck back towards themselves, away from the defender. It can be a side-to-side toe drag, or a front-to-back toe drag. It also leads to another move called the toe drag backhand spin.
5. The Datsyuk Move – This is interesting because it was actually a Swedish player who first used this move. They came in on the goalie, stopped the puck with their backhand and then pulled the puck backwards, which made the goalie fall down and flip over. When the goalie was down, they flipped a shot from the forehand up off the crossbar and in. A week later, the great Pavel Datsyuk did the same move. It’s a common movement pattern in Russia and you see it in their line drills and practices. It’s easier to pull off than the toe drag because the toe drag is at full speed and it can’t be off by even a centimeter or it will slip off the stick. With the Datsyuk move, you’re pulling back with the whole stick blade, which makes it safer.
BONUS MOVE – There are moves that originate from the front or side of the body, but there can be an added component at the end – the spin. There’s the Denis Savard Spinorama or the Bobby Orr spin. The difference is that Orr’s has a two-foot, hard hockey stop, while Savard’s has minimal or no stopping. The spin move means you have two opportunities to beat every defender. If the D doesn’t fall for the other fakes, and steps up and tries to take you wide, the spins become an escape or a way out. If you’re battling the D shoulder to shoulder, you can spin them and come back in. It’s a second chance to beat them that creates time and space and opens up even more opportunities.
According to Skinner, in addition to opening up options and allowing for decision-making scenarios, being able to get around a defenseman can add another valuable element to anyone’s game: fun.
“One way for the adult hockey player to have more fun is to win the game, but another way is to develop their skills,” he said. “When you have a go-to move or 10 core moves, you’ll build confidence on the ice. But it takes work. It’s a cool feeling to do a move in a game that you’ve practiced, get around a defenseman and put your team in a position to score.