What Are the Best Hockey Practice Drills to Learn?

What Are the Best Hockey Practice Drills to Learn?

Ice Hockey Drills

Ice hockey can be a rather tricky sport to get the hang of, even for those who’ve been skating from an early age. As with all team sports that call for skill, technique, teamwork, and quick thinking, a lot can be gained through good practice. The use of drills and other training activities are essential to effective practice that bears tangible results.

The best hockey practice drills to learn should help improve skating, stick-handling, passing, shooting, and there should always be some added drills for fun. These specific specialized routines serve to increase the players’ skill levels and are effectively used to improve a team’s offence, defence, goalkeeping, teamwork, and more.

The idea behind these endeavours is to become so good at these skills during practice sessions that you will execute them without thinking during game time. Whether you’re a complete novice, a seasoned veteran, or in a coaching position, there is always plenty to be gained by learning new ways to improve the game of hockey. Let’s get right into it.

Mite Hockey Drills

The youngest categories of hockey players are referred to as the Mite class. These will usually be those below the age of around 8, but you might expand this definition to include anyone who’s just getting into the game of hockey, no matter how old they are. They are still getting their hockey legs, and figuring their way around the rink is what binds them.

For this beginner category, individual drills will help them establish a solid understanding of hockey’s fundamental principles and motions. These include skating, stick-handling, passing, and shooting the puck. We shall begin by looking at some of the drills that work best when developing these capabilities.

Usually, a practice for mites players will only involve half of the ice rink. Because of this, we’ve put together an article describing five half-ice drills for mites, which is worth looking at for this age group.

Skating Drills

Let’s start by assuming that a novice to hockey will have a bare minimum of ice skating experience, even if they are still getting themselves used to it. As long as they can hold steady on the ice and get themselves in motion without winding up falling over a hundred percent of the time, they will be ready for hockey training.

Part of the game, especially for beginners, will be falling. Now, falling is not a crime in hockey, but for the sake of the game and your teammates, it is crucial that a player gets up and moves again as soon as possible. The Superman drill teaches them this particular skill.

Start by skating from the goal line straight towards the closest face-off circle to you and, while in motion, throw yourself onto the ice in the flying Superman pose we’re sure you know so well (belly to the ice with your hands stretched forward and legs straight behind you).

Proceed to right yourself as quickly as possible by bringing yourself to your knees and then straightening up into a standing position. Start again and skate towards the following marker on the ice, the blue or red centerline, and repeat the falling and rising process.

Keep repeating the sequence all through the length of the ice until you reach the opposite end. Start without your stick in hand until you find that you can right yourself reasonably quickly, and then practice with your stick held in hand.

Obstacle Course Maneuvers

Hockey players require a good deal of agility and maneuverability to execute all the twists and turns it takes to bypass their opponents and get themselves in an excellent position to help your team win. Hockey pucks can be very unpredictable in their motion, and opponents will be hoping to catch you off balance with quick fake-outs, wall passes, and other tactics.

Create an obstacle course using pucks, gloves, cones, or whatever comes to mind. What matters will be that you design it so that a skater will have to make turns towards each side and have to reverse course. You can make the turns as hard or as soft as you want, as long as you challenge the skater’s skill level.

Skaters should start slowly and gradually increase the speed with which they go through the course as they get better. The complexity or difficulty in terms of corner tightness should also be progressively increased as the skater becomes more adept and agile on the ice.

With time, the necessary physical movements that fast-paced hockey calls for will come naturally to the player, allowing them to maneuver while keeping an eye on the rest of the ice, their teammates, opponents, and the back of the net.

Back-and-Forth Transitions

For effective and efficient presence on the ice, with eyes on the puck and where the action is, players must learn how to skate backward and forwards. They must be able to make the change from either orientation as smoothly and quickly as possible.

Starting from the goal line, head off towards the first marker (blue line), then switch to skating backward as soon as you reach it. Move in this orientation until you reach the next marker (next blue line), then switch back to a forward bearing and clear the length of the ice with a sprint to the opposing goal line.

Start yourself off as slowly as you’re comfortable with and gradually increase the speed you execute this drill as you grow in ability and confidence. Once you feel you’ve got the hang of it, switch things up by setting different markers that cause you to change directions.

Move on to set up obstacle courses that incorporate these transitions to master the hockey transition and increase the difficulty level as you go.

Stick-Handling Drills

As you work on your skating, it will also be necessary for your game to know how to handle your stick as you move along the ice. This doesn’t come very naturally to most hockey beginners. Even those with previous skating experience might find the stick unwieldy and hard to balance with. Here are some drills to get your stick game to the next level.

Basic Stick-Handling

One of the best things about honing your hockey skills is that you don’t need to be on the ice to get some quality practice time in. From the comfort of your home driveway, you can work with a puck or ball to simulate what you’ll be experiencing out on the ice. Stick-handling needs to be polished to a high shine so that the puck sticks to your stick like magnets are at work. You’ll need a significant time investment to attain this level of prowess.

Start in a standing position, motionless, and with your feet spread apart to about the width of your shoulders. Your stick should be held in your hands in the standard position out in front of you. Using the stick, push your puck or ball backward and forwards ten times right in front of you.

Move the ball to the right side of your body, remaining as you stand, so that it rests a couple of inches beside your right foot. Move your stick to this side of your body and proceed to perform the same back and forth motion you just did in front of you for another count of ten repetitions.

Move the ball back for another round of ten repetitions in front of you before moving it again to repeat this process with the left side of your body. Take note that your stick’s blade should always be lying flush horizontally to the ground. The ball or puck should only be maneuvered with the center part of the blade, rather than the heel or toe regions.

Your hands should be positioned in the appropriate regions of your stick, with your top hand (higher up on the shaft) being the one in control of the blade and your lower hand taking on the responsibility of guiding the stick itself along. Usually, right-handed players will have their dominant hand on the shaft and their weaker hand at the top.

As you get used to the drill, increase the speed you execute until you feel comfortable enough to try and carry it out successfully with your head up rather than looking at what’s going on at your feet. We also offer a stickhandling training product to help train you to stickhandle with your head up while at home by playing an interactive video game.

During game action, you will have to keep an eye out for opposing players, teammates, the boards, the goalpost, and a host of other details, so you should work at getting your skills up to this point. It takes time, though, so don’t push it too hard or feel frustrated if you don’t manage it for a while.

Circle-Skating While Handling the Puck

The next level after learning the basics of stick-handling the puck will be to master moving on the ice with the puck at your feet. This is a whole other magnitude of complexity, skill-wise, since you will have to be aware of your entire body’s movements and position in relation to the puck, how you’re working with your stick, and where you intend all these moving parts to go next.

Start at one of the face-off circles on the ice. While controlling the puck, start skating along the circle’s rim and circle back the other way round after each complete circuit. Where possible, you can make things more interesting by incorporating the face-off circle next to it and making figure-eights using the two of them to guide you.

As you get accustomed to this, increase your speed gradually as far as you can without losing control of the puck or your legs, all the while remembering to keep your head up and eyes forward as much as possible.

Obstacle Course

If you’re feeling good about your figure-eights, turn things up a notch once again by setting up an obstacle course to test and sharpen your skills. As you progress in the complexity of your courses and the speed with which you go through them, you’ll soon find yourself skating rings around your opponents – unless they’ve been training harder, of course.

Passing Drills

You can’t do it all alone, unfortunately, so you will need to have excellent passing skills to get your puck to the back of the other team’s net. Here’s how you’ll make sure your passes get to where you need them to go.

Basic Passing

You want to remember making effective passes because you have to keep the blade of your stick firmly on the ice and sort of ‘cupping’ the puck. That is, it will be leaning over it, almost covering it completely. The logic behind this is to ensure that the puck will not fly into the air and wind up who knows where.

Passes can come in quite hot and fast, and so to effectively receive a pass coming your way, you will have to ‘cushion’ it, meaning that you shift your blade backward as the puck impacts it to dampen its momentum and keep it on your blade.

You don’t want it bouncing off your blade only to spend a potentially game-changing second scrambling to get it back under your control. These skills need practice for them to become natural.

A good drill entails simply ranging yourself against a training partner, at a distance of about 20 feet on the ice, and trading passes back and forth. Focus on your technique and stick control, as we’ve touched on above.

Increase the challenge by increasing the distance between the two of you and by increasing the force or velocities of your passes so that you build up your power, accuracy, and puck receiving capabilities.

Passing While Skating

To get a feel for what it will be like passing to your teammate during an ongoing game, you will need to practice passing the puck while both of you are in motion.

Start at the goal line spread apart by about 20 feet and skate forwards, all while passing the puck to and fro between yourselves. Once you get to one end of the ice, turn back while remaining in your respective lanes. It should now be that, if you were passing the puck to your left side, you would now be passing it to your right, and vice versa for your training partner.

Shooting Drills

Shooting involves various aspects to consider, with the most important of these being velocity and accuracy. As you might expect, you won’t get many wins racked up if you aren’t scoring many goals, so the final essential skill to learn as a beginner will be how to make sure your shots get to the back of the net every time. Unless the goalie has something to say about it, that is.

Accurate Shooting

Gather several pucks and set yourself up in front of the goal. You should be at a distance equal to the face-off spots on each side of you. Now, imagine the goal’s mouth as divided into five sections: right-high, right-low, left-high; left-low; and center. Imagine placing a big, straightened-out # on it, and you’ll be close to what we’re looking for.

Anyway, what you want to do is see if you can send your shots through each of these five segments or ‘holes’ at will. Practice with each of these spots until you’re confident that you can be accurate when directly in front of the goal.

Move on to one of the circles to your side, repeat the process before moving to the other face-off circle, and get it done once again. With enough practice, you’ll be a sniper on the ice – one shot, one goal.

Shooting in Motion

Fast-paced games and unaccommodating defenders might not extend you the courtesy of letting you take your time with your shots, so you will most often be forced to make your shots while skating. Fast. Don’t worry, though; you’ll have something prepared for just such an occasion.

Set yourself up by first placing some pucks in one corner of the rink you’re practicing in. Take up a puck as you skate by them and move with it under control towards the face-off circle, keeping close to the wall as you do so. Skate around the circle and start making your way back to the goal.

Without interrupting your progress, pick out a spot you want your puck to hit (as we detailed above) and follow through with your shot. Continue to your puck collection and pick up another one to repeat the process.

Also, if you’ve only got half of the ice rink to work with, it might be worth taking a read through our article describing seven half-ice drills for forwards.

Having Fun With Practice Drills

Even for the professionals, drills can become repetitious and tiresome, mainly when carried out day-in and day-out endlessly. For younger players, in particular, the practice may very quickly take the shine away from their budding interest in hockey, which nobody likes to see. The best way to go about things here is to make it as much fun as you can while still getting the benefits of effective training.

One great way of making practice sessions enjoyable and engaging for everybody is through training activities. These are slightly different from drills in that they are more fluid and less rigid than particular drills, allowing for more engagement. We’ve also written an article about fun drills for youth hockey teams and players. Check it out!

Finders Keepers

Have your squad pair up and give each two players a puck and a designated area on the ice to play this game in. The game’s object is for each pair to battle for possession of the puck for each round’s duration. It should last anywhere between 30 to 45 seconds to keep things lively.

At the end of each round, the player with possession of the puck will progress to the next round while the other takes a seat to watch the rest of the players. Each round’s ‘winners’ will pair up with their fellow winners for another round and so on until only two final players remain. They will then play the final round and end the game, having crowned the champion.

This is an excellent game for building up a player’s puck protection skills, situational awareness, and reflexes.

Races

These are simple to improvise and formulate so that we won’t get into much detail about them. There are plenty of variations you can pick from, including:

  • Individual races
  • Team relay races
  • Obstacle course races
  • Puck shootout races
  • Side-by-side skills races

These are great for rousing the competitive spirit in players, while the ones that incorporate puck handling, shooting, and skating skills will hone these abilities and train them to get used to operating under pressure.

Skill Challenges

These call for a bit more planning and coordination to pull off successfully, but they can be a great way of building up some individual stats on your players. You may make them ongoing competitions with formalized rankings, awards, records, recognitions for improvement, and other such motivational tools.

Consider some of these ideas:

  • Fastest Skater: Keeping time with a stopwatch or a smartphone, have your players make their way through a course you’ve created as fast as they can. You have plenty of options here. You can have a clear course, one with obstacles, require the carrying of a stick or not, and many other variations just as long as you’re getting your players to put on speed in the actions.

  • Most Accurate Shooting: While there are plenty of targets one can buy online or in sporting goods stores, they can easily be made out of any durable, sturdy materials, such as old tires and wooden boards. For assured safety and durability, foam or plastic hockey targets will give you the best options. This game will involve taking note of which player can hit the most targets with a set number of shots or within a specific time limit.

  • Most Accurate Passing: Have players send the pucks to specific targets through a path with particular challenges such as long distances, passing through hoops, or arcing pucks over sticks laid flat on the ice.

  • Longest Slide: It’s simple. How far can you go sliding along on your belly? It takes a lot more coordination, speed, and timing to be great at this than most players expect. A fair bit of padding in the tummy region helps, though, or so we’ve heard it rumoured.

  • 3-on-3 Matchups: These can be some of the most fun your team has on the ice, and it sharpens all of the right skills and attitudes you want to cultivate in them. Split up your team into groups of 3. If you have free range over the entire ice rink, you can have two games going on simultaneously on each half of the ice.

Three-on-three matchups are usually played in a tournament format, featuring group stages, knockouts, semis, quarter, and finals, but your team might not be deep enough in terms of players to make it such a big affair. It still works with a couple of teams since the goal is to get players used to a more intense type of gameplay, where you can’t afford to slip up, and every shift of the puck counts.

It will also strengthen the bond between players because they will gain a better understanding of each other’s strengths and weaknesses, which will lead to them figuring out the best ways to support each other as a team.

Think Outside the Circle

What? You can’t have everything handed to you on a plate. The beauty of these activities is that you can come up with a new one every day if you choose to. Leave a team out on the ice all on their own for more than five minutes, and you’ll probably find them playing a game or skill challenge of some sort. It’s all good fun, but it’s the best kind of fun – the kind that puts the ‘fun’ in functional.

The types of activities we’ve covered above will challenge and develop the players’ skills and make for a great addition to any practice session. Many youths and top-notch coaches like to start training sessions with some light activity before getting into the challenging drills. They will again finish off with games and loose drills.

It all works out in the end, as players get into a reasonable frame of mind to face the challenging drills and head out to the showers, having had a chance to unwind and blow off some steam after a demanding session. Also, be sure to check out our article covering the best coaching drills for other ideas.

Watching the pros of the NHL do it, it might be tempting to think that skilled hockey play is easy or that you need to be incredibly talented to make it to those levels of graceful ability. The truth could not be farther than this. Thousands of hours spent in drills just as seemingly simple as the ones we’ve covered here lie at the heart of their superpower-like abilities.

Final Thoughts

Should you be willing to put in the time and hard work to master the basics of hockey play, you will eventually be in a position to make moves and execute plays that you would have thought impossible in the beginning. It is a gratifying experience to reach the peak of your abilities, and you’ll learn to love every step along the way. Play on.

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