Skills and Habits to Play Without the Puck

CALGARY, CANADA – FEBRUARY 9: Matt Stajan #18 of the Calgary Flames skates against Jason Spezza #19 of the Ottawa Senators on February 9, 2011 at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)

It’s not the strongest that survives

Charles Darwin is often attributed with a version of the quote: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, but rather, that which is most adaptable to change”. It’s not survival of the fittest; it’s the people who can adapt, solve problems, and thrive in a volatile environment.

As a player moves up from one level to the next, they need to adapt to new stimuli within the game. The pace of play is faster and the players are stronger, more experienced and skilled.

There are only so many spots in offensive producing roles and the team needs players who can excel at other parts of the game. The ability to recognize ways to provide value and positively impact the team is a valuable asset.

Play without the puck

The higher the level, the more important it is to be effective without the puck. Supporting the puck on offense is a skill that will separate players.

The puck carrier’s responsibility is to protect and improve the position of the puck. Every time you touch the puck you want to give it to your teammate better than you received it. To do so, the puck carrier will read the information on the ice and use their unique set of skills to solve the problems that present.

The role of the players without the puck is to be supportive and predictable, giving the puck carrier the best chance at improving the position of the puck.

From a defensive standpoint, it is important to take away space from the other team. Using your stick effectively and angles are fundamentals to taking away space.

Common ways to use your stick effectively on defense include;

  • “Stick on puck” – using the blade of your stick to take away space by applying pressure to the blade of the stick or puck of the offensive player. Also referred to as “blade on blade, “stick on stick,”, etc.
  • Take away passing lanes – identify and eliminate passing lanes with your stick.
  • Influence direction – use the stick as guide to influence the direction of your opponent.
  • Stick lifts – with two-hands on the stick, getting underneath the opponent’s stick to lift it and take the puck away. Here is an outstanding video on youtube that shows the technique used by Pavel Datsyuk to lift sticks and strip pucks.

Here is a short video showing examples of 4 drills to practice defensive stick skills and angling.

Fundamentals of angling include,

  • Influence the direction of the opponent toward the boards using your stick and skating
  • Take away space, timing your skating to position yourself hip to hip with the puck carrier, preventing a cut back
  • Get “stick on puck”
  • Skate through the puck carrier’s arms to separate them from the puck

Play Fast and Score Goals

Here is a presentation I did for Hockey Eastern Ontario on the skills and habits without the puck that allow teams to play fast and score goals.

1,000 + games in the NHL

When I connected with Matt Stajan for an episode on my Coaching Project Podcast we talked a lot about overcoming adversity and being adaptable. In his remarkable career that spanned over 1000 games in the NHL he played on every line, the power play, and the penalty kill. His ability to play without the puck allowed him to adapt to various roles and find ways to contribute as a trusted player.

Stajan shares incredible insight on the following topics:

-Overcoming adversity
-Resilience, adaptability, & confidence
-Passion and drive
-Leadership in the NHL
-Player development

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