The One Skill That Will Make You 10 Times The Hockey Player
Learn To Skate With And Handle The Puck With Your Head Up
Connor McDavid’s recent goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs is already being described as the goal of the year. There are many aspects of this goal that are wonderful, but what stood out most to me was the way McDavid had complete confidence and control of the puck with his head up all the time.
Watch the video and pay particular attention to the replay beginning at the 35 second mark and at the 43 second mark. McDavid crosses the blue line drifting to the right with his head up as if looking for support and a pass back to a teammate. The defense man Rielly is forced to poach to his left to protect against the pass. The fast cut back has Rielly beat. If you watch closely you will see that Reilly is beginning to lift his right foot to start a cross over to the left and that assures that he’ll be beat. (By the way, I used to work with Jason Spezza and this was a move that he would use by drifting to one side and watching the defense man’s feet. As soon as the defense man lifts a foot to begin a cross over; a quick cut back has him beat.)
One thing that always drove me crazy when I was teaching hockey skills was the lack of emphasis on one of the biggest key skills necessary to be a great hockey player; the skill of skating with the puck and handling the puck with your head up.
Skating with the puck while having your head up does not come naturally and is an acquired and learned skill. It can be taught and needs to be practiced until it becomes a habit and second nature.
Think about it. If you’re skating with the puck and your eyes are fixated on the puck; you have little or no clue of some very important things that are going on around you. You won’t know where your teammates are and who might be open for a great pass. You won’t be aware of the big mean defense man stepping up to take you head off. You will playing the game while looking down a 6 inch cardboard tube and good luck with that.
Why Do Players Develop The Habit Of Looking At The Puck?
Unfortunately, the sad truth is that this skill is not often taught or emphasized and it’s even more sad there are systemic issues in the process of learning to play hockey that cause looking down at the puck to become the habit and obstruct the development of the proper skill sets.
One problem is that most start to play hockey at a very young age and they learn to play with a puck that is the same size that is played with by mature adult professional players. They don’t have the strength to move the puck so they separate their hands on the stick to create leverage. This brings the puck in closer to their feet and forces the head down. This is just one of the problems that is created by this.
A second problem is that in hockey schools or in team practices pylons or obstacles are set up to skate around. No player wants to lose the puck and look foolish while doing a drill; so once again the head goes down and the player gets fixated mainly on the puck.
In part 2 I’ll expand upon this and start to deal with how to avoid any pitfalls to developing bad habits and I’ll try my best in writing to describe the elements necessary to develop this skill and good habits.
If you’re new to this blog and reading it from Facebook or Twitter, make sure to click on the BLOG/NEWS link in the menu at the top of the page and scroll down to read previous blogs on this and other subjects. Otherwise you won’t be able to get to previous blogs.