Work Smarter, Not Harder, on Your Backyard Drills
Wayne Gretzky once said that he spent all day playing on the pond or backyard rink when he was a kid. I read this when I was younger and decided I needed to do the same thing. But when your friends go home and you’re still tooling around only because that’s what Gretzky would do, you’re wasting your time.
When it comes to practice outside the rink, there should be a reason behind everything you do. Are you shooting pucks from 20 feet out directly in front of the net to improve your accuracy? Your release quickness? Or are you shooting just to shoot because that’s what Brett Hull did?
A solid approach is to work backwards from a specific area at which you want to excel. For example, in a game situation, there are basically five different ways you can get the puck in the slot for a scoring opportunity. You’ll get more out of practicing these specific moves.
1. A pass from the corner on your strong side.
The ideal way to practice this shot is by taking passes on the ice. One option is a training product such as Tape-2-Tape to simulate catching or one-timing a moving puck. Your aim should be the quickest possible release to catch the goalie while he’s moving. Think about how the goalie plays this corner-to-slot pass. Frequently, the goalie is moving side to side and the five hole is open. Work on quick release and shooting specifically to the five-hole area.
2. A pass from the corner on your weak side.
Again, I am thinking about quick release and, optimally, getting passes from the corner to simulate game opportunities. In this instance, I have to work on my feet and body control to turn and get into a shooting position.
3. Skating across the slot on your forehand.
Here you have to shoot back across your body. The goalie is moving with the puck and the shooter, so the five hole again will be open as is the post he is moving away from. Practice shooting across your body and off the near post.
4. Skating across the slot on your backhand.
In this instance, practice turning and pulling the puck into your body away from the defenseman’s stick while changing the shooting angle on the goalie to shot release (Pavel Datsyuk is a master). Because this is hard to control, I would concentrate on pure shot velocity. You can use a shooting pad and position it diagonally so you have room to pull the puck into your body.
5. Moving north to south into the slot on a rush.
Again, practice changing the angle and imagine shooting through a defenseman’s legs as a screen. Ryan Kesler is the best in the league at this.
Most of your on-ice moves—tight rebounds, breakaways, tip-ins, backhands, passing, stickhandling—can be broken down into smaller pieces and practiced in this way.
- Choose an aspect of the game.
- Decide what type of player you want to be.
- Analyze the types of game situations that player gets into.
- Work backwards from there to develop specific training exercises, and you will get much more out of your practice time.
Editor’s Note: Thank you to Brett Henning of Score100Goals.com for this story. Henning is the author of 7 Pre-Game Habits of Pro Hockey Players, and was a member of the Inaugural National Team Development Program and 2000 World Junior Team with USA Hockey. He played Junior Hockey in Canada and at the collegiate level for the University of Notre Dame. He was drafted by the New York Islanders before a back injury ended his on-ice career.
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