In 2002, USA Hockey put together a study of how long the best players on the ice actually handle the puck. The results of the study, which was done at the Salt Lake Olympics and at USA Hockey National Championships, showed that players touch the puck for a little more than one minute during a 60-minute game. That means how well you play away from the puck will make a big difference in winning or losing a hockey game.
The key to playing away from the puck is anticipation and having good hockey sense. You need to find the open ice to support the puck carrier. That means putting yourself in a position to do one of two things: free up ice for the puck carrier to move, or make yourself an attractive target and give your teammate an outlet to pass the puck.
Especially at the youth level, you see a lot of kids spending too much time watching the play instead of moving to help create a play. It can be tough when you have a teammate who maybe carries the puck a little too much, but you can help him by moving into an opening on the ice and being ready for a pass.
You should always know where the puck is. Never turn your back to the play. If you turn your back for even a split second a pass or loose puck can come your way, and you won’t be ready for it.
Keep your stick on the ice at all times. You want to present a good target to your teammates, and if you’re skating around with your stick up high you’re not doing that.
Remember This …
You have to know where the puck is and have the ability to anticipate the play. That’s a talent learned by playing. It doesn’t happen overnight so don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t come to you right away. Skate to the open ice and be ready for a pass.
photo by Getty Images • Illustrations by Mike Curti