The wine of youth does not always clear with advancing years; sometimes it grows turbid.
Carl Jung
Tuesday, February 20, 2018 4:21am

skills section at the hockey source


Individual skills are associated with a player’s physical movements on the ice.  There are 3 basic skills which will aid or impede the performance of players and goalies.

  • Skating
  • Shooting
  • Passing
Players should also be concerned with puck handling skills and goalies should be concerned with goalie skills.

Basic Skill # 1 - Skating 
Skating is the most important skill in hockey.  If you cannot skate, then you cannot play. 

Skating can be either:

  • in motion:   
    • forward
    • backward
  • stationary
    • starts
    • stops

Skating forward is critical because 80% of the game is played with the players skating in the forward direction.  The other 20% involves backward skating (for example, when a goalie moves back to protect his net, when a defenseman is attacked or when a player moves into position).

How to Teach Skating   
The simplest way to teach forward skating is to compare the movement to that of a runner.  When a person runs, his body, legs and arms move in the same linear direction as if following an imaginary line.  While one leg is always under him as a support, the other kicks back to propel him forward.  That makes up one portion of his stride.  The other portion consists of the arm movements. 

In skating, the movement is similar to the leg motion of the runner.  One leg is under the body to act as a support while the other kicks to the side to propel him forward.  It is impossible for a skater to kick straight back as there is no traction because of the skate blade.  The support leg is important.  To understand if you are skating effectively, try this exercise:

  • Stand straight with your feet side by side.
  • Bend knees slightly over toes (you will feel a slight tightening of the leg).
  • Lift one leg towards the back so that your whole body rests on the other leg.

This is how it feels when you are on the ice taking a forward skating stride.  The support leg helps you to maximize your power and speed in your stride.  The diagrams below illustrate the proper positioning of the leg.

Note:  The difference between the runner and the hockey player is the leg on the kick back.  The runner kicks the leg back in a straight line while the skater pushes it out to the side.

Backward skating involves moving in the direction that your back is facing.  It uses a different technique to move.  Where forward skating requires a linear outward push, backward skating requires a semi-circular inward push.  Defensemen and goalies must master the skill of backward skating. 

For both forward and backward skating, balance and body positioning are important. 

Skating Techniques


To turn, glide or move smoothly along on the ice, there are several techniques you can use.
Pivots are used to go from forward skating to backward skating and vice versa.  The secret to effective pivots is:
Your feet will follow your shoulders.

These movements are made by leaning on a leg, opening the shoulder of that same side and rotating the upper body 180° so that your legs follow and change direction and you continue skating.  A defenseman must learn to master this skill at an early age since he is frequently in the situation of skating backwards and then turning forwards.  Young players will usually develop the habit of pivoting one way (left or right) more than another.  To be a mobile defenseman, it is imperative to pivot both ways.

Turns are used to change direction, like a car or bicycle.  The secret to effective turns is:

Lean into the direction you want to go.

If a player is skating straight and wants to turn, he will turn his shoulders, head and hips while leaning in the direction that he wants to go.  There are two types of turns – the wide lazy turn and the quick sharp turn.  The wide lazy turn is used to create space or to take away space (for example, fore checking when he does not have the puck or drawing an opponent to him when he has the puck).  The quick sharp turn is used for a transitional play (for example, your team loses the puck and the players need to go from an offensive play to a defensive one).

The crossover technique is used to turn.  The secret to crossovers is:

Falling to the side.

The feet and legs cross over each other while the head and shoulders turn in the direction that you want to go.  For example, if you want to turn left, move your right leg over to the left side of your body.  When you skate forwards, the leg that remains under your body to hold your balance (in this case, the left) is the direction in which you will go. 


In addition to mastering skating, players also need to excel at starting and stopping.  Most coaches include some starting and stopping exercises in their practices.  Regardless of age, becoming adept at starts and stops will make a skater more effective. 


Out of comfort, players will usually take to one technique over another.  It is best for players to learn many techniques so that they will be confident about going from a standstill to motion in any given situation.  There are 3 different “starts”:

  • T-Push/V: 
  • Used to move forward in a particular direction when speed is not the focus but
    balance and force are important – for example, being held along the boards and
    wanting to push forward.
  • Cross Hop: 
  • Used to move 90° in a hurry – for example, a forward lined up at a face-off wants to
    go into the opponent’s end quickly.
  • Chop-Chop-Chop: 
  • Used when an explosive start is needed from a standstill – for example,wanting to
    go for a loose puck.

    In addition to balance and stability, stops are dependent on using the edge of the skate blades.  By angling the edge of the blade, it will create a sharp edge that will cut into the ice resulting in resistance to the ice surface and causing the player to eventually stop.  A good analogy is driving a car.  If you were to brake suddenly, the car would slowly come to a stop even though the wheels may have locked.  Because of the momentum, it is impossible for skaters to stop on a dime.  Therefore, stopping will be steady and over a distance.  Here are a few examples of “stops”:

  • 2-foot stop
  • Turn skates to either left or right, push down with your knees, lean to left or right
    and dig your edges into the ice.
  • 1-foot or toe drag:
  • Drag your foot or toe behind you and slow down.
  • 1-leg backward stop:
  • Only in backward skating – one leg stays under the body and the other leg
    pushes backward and digs edges into the ice.
  • V-stop:
  • Only in backward skating – toes fan outwards, body leans forward and outside
    edges grip the ice.

    As a player gets older, the power or force exerted will grow and so will the pushing force required to stop and start more quickly.

    John Wooden said, “Perfect practice makes perfect.”  Learn to master the art of balance and footwork.  It will make playing the game of hockey so much easier. 

    As a coach…
    Make sure that you understand the biomechanics of skating in order to correct the techniques appropriately.  There is nothing more detrimental to proper development than improper teaching.

    Basic Skill # 2 - Shooting
    Shooting is the second most important skill.  It requires you to move the puck from your stick blade to the net of the opponent.  The game is played at such a high speed that every player needs to know how to shoot a puck at the net at any given time.  Since the puck can come to you without any notice, knowing where the net is increases your chances of making your shot effective.  It is a useful habit to get into since the natural tendency is to watch the puck and not your target. 

    Types of Shots
    The most successful shooters have learned that the key to shooting is deceptiveness.  When you can hide your intent from the goalie, you will have an advantage over his movement and catch him on his heels.  In order of importance, here are the types of shots used and taught:

  • Wrist shot:
  • With the shoulders perpendicular to the target, do a sweeping motion with the

    stick from the back foot to the front foot while rotating the wrists.
  • Snap shot:
  • With the shoulders perpendicular to the target, do a sweeping motion with the stick from
    the back foot to the front foot while quickly snapping the wrists to release the puck.
  • Backhand shot:
  • This is similar to the wrist shot but in the opposite way.  With the shoulders
    perpendicular to the target, do a sweeping motion with the stick from the front foot
    to the back foot while rotating the wrists.
  • Slap shot:
  • Rotate the upper torso away from the target with a maximum amount of follow-through
    towards the target.  (There is a slapping of the puck at point of impact with the stick to
    the puck.)
  • Flick shot:
  • With shoulders parallel to the target, do a quick snap of the wrist with the toe of the
    stick’s blade under the puck.
  • Lob shot:
  • Similar to the flick shot but with added strength to lob the puck as high as possible
    and as far down the ice as possible.

    The slap shot is the first one that all young players want to learn or improve because they see older players doing it and know that it will make the puck go harder. 

    The most effective shot, which is the wrist shot, is the toughest shot for a goalie to stop because contact with the puck is not instantaneous and the goalie can only tell once the puck is in the air.  Until the puck is released from the blade of the stick, the goalie cannot determine the puck’s direction. 

    The player’s follow-through is the movement of the stick after making contact with the puck.  If the player follows through high with his stick, the puck will go high towards the target.  If he follows through low with his stick, the puck will stay low.  This deception is strategic in becoming an excellent shooter. 

    The next most effective shot is the backhand shot.  It requires balance in the legs and feet and an opposite sweeping motion to the wrist shot.  Again, it is deceptive because no one knows where the puck is going until it is released.  As a player develops wrist strength, he will be able to flick and lob the puck in the air more effectively.  It is more about technique in the hands than about strength and proper use of the stick.

    Basic Skill # 3 - Passing
    Passing and receiving a pass are skills that, when done well, will leave your opponents far behind the play or out of position.  The puck on the ice moves faster than a player, so pass it if you want the other team to give you room to skate.  Passing the puck requires precision and timing just as shooting.  Both skills need to hit a target.  In the case of a pass, the target is another stick. 

    Passing is similar to shooting -there will be a snap in the wrist or a sweeping motion.  There can also be a flick or backhand pass.  A pass is only effective if it hits the target and is received by the intended team mate; otherwise, the puck is given up to the opponent.  Quality passing takes two players:  the giver and the receiver. 

    Type of Passes
    Effective puck reception starts with the wrists.  Some techniques include:
    • Sweeping motions which allow for cradling of the puck as it hits the blade.
    • Getting the puck in the feet and aligning the blade so that the puck bounces forward to the blade of your stick.
    • A fundamental skill is being able to read the boards.  Pucks are often bounced off the boards.  Knowing where the puck will go gives a player the upper hand in completing a pass. 
    • Being able to pick the puck out of mid-air and guide it to your stick for control. 

    Improving these skills will improve the quality of any player’s game.  Puck movement is a crucial part of the game.  It may even allow you to skate less since a puck hit hard enough will travel faster than any skater will.

    Equipment Affects Skill Development
    Performing any of these basic skills requires you to be fully geared up on the ice with specific equipment.  If this equipment does not fit correctly, then it can hinder movement and cause injury.  Proper skill development relies on the player’s physical form as well as wearing the proper size of equipment.

    Here are some of the effects of improper equipment on skill development:

    • Skating: Skates that are too big or too small will certainly affect your skating but so can other pieces of equipment such as poorly sized pants, shin pads and athletic supports.  They can cause many injuries and be the result of bad habits.

    Pants that are too big get in the way of shin pads will affect the stride by preventing the legs from coming together for balance and push.  Oversized shin pads result in poor leg flexibility.  Oversized athletic support causes discomfort, rubbing and limited leg motion.  Even more importantly, if any of these items are too small, then injuries are more likely to occur when parts of the body are left unprotected.

    • Shooting and passing:   Improperly sized upper body equipment will affect your shooting and passing skills.  Gloves that are too big prevent a good grip on the stick and offer very little feel for the puck.  Oversized shoulder pads prevent follow-through on shots or passes and expose the body to cuts and bruises.  Elbow pads that are too small or too big will hinder arm flexibility.  If the helmet is too big, it will float over the head and affect vision.  If it is too small, it will cause headaches and leave the face open for injury. 
    Age and Skill Development
    Age is a major factor in skill development.  Some coaches and parents feel the need to yell at their player or child to perform a skill a certain way.  What they don’t realize is that developing a skill takes time – that is why it is called developing.  An 8-year-old cannot possibly have the same dexterity, quick thinking or experience as that of a 12-year-old.  Developing means growing, improving and strengthening.  Individual aptitude can be developed using many resources, such as other players, books, videos or the Internet.

    Developing a player to maximize his skills takes time and patience.  Please allow your player or child the necessary time and space to develop at his own pace.

    Cycle of Development
    Skill development happens in stages for different age groups.  For young players, the first stage is balance and agility.  They begin to understand what they need to do to stand up on skates, move around and hold the stick.  When their strength increases, so does their balance and agility.  This then leads to an increase in confidence and a willingness to try more.

    As the player gets older, the next stage of skill development is power.  Power requires a maximum force in a short amount of time.  Players may realize that they are becoming stronger and have more balance but they still use their old habits of slow movements.  They need to adopt an explosive quick movement.  This happens by maximizing the amount of force they apply to the skill.  Skills such as skating, passing and shooting are more effective with powerful bursts of energy than slow steady motions.

    Lastly, in the mid-teenage years, the skill development stage is endurance, which is the ability to sustain repetitive movements over longer periods of time.  A good example of this is being able to skate forwards then backwards, receive a body check, make a pass and then take a shot, shift after shift over a period of an 1½ hour game versus only a 50-minute game.

    This cycle continues for every skill (skating, passing, shooting, stickhandling, goaltending) that is taught.

    1) Strengthen the body    Result – better balance and agility
    2) Do the skill quicker with more force Result – increase confidence
    3) Do it more often Result – greater stamina

    It takes time but if the coach is aware of this process and the player knows that it will take time to improve, then the development of a player is wonderful to watch.

    Progression steps occur throughout the development of any skill. 

    1. The player gains confidence by applying the skill in isolated instances
    2. The player applies that same skill under more pressure
    3. Eventually, he applies his skill at game speed
    4. Finally, the player adopts the skill in a game

    Skill is simply a focused and precise body movement.  “Repetition is the mother of skill.” 

    Keep practicing!  Keep practicing!  Keep practicing!

    The Coach’s Role in Skill Development
    Teaching is the coach’s main function.  Part of teaching includes explaining skills and correcting players through proper feedback.  The coach develops a player’s individual skill by bringing the player to a level that is comfortable enough for him to be effective and challenging him to have the desire to improve.

    Demonstration of proper technique is vital.  Evaluating step-by-step progress is essential to every player.  Players want to know how they are doing.  As the coach, you must be clear and concise with what is expected.

    The Parent’s Role in Skill Development
    Show support to your children.  Tell them that their happiness is important.  Playing the game is all about enjoying the game and what they are learning.  Ask them what they have learned during their practice or game.  If they can explain it to you, then they understand it.  This is more effective than telling them that they did not do something a certain way.  Avoid reprimanding them or showing disapproval about their game.  Your children will feel encouraged and loved when you do not pass judgment.

    Biomechanics of Skills
    For each skill, there is a wrong way and a right way to execute that move.  There are five phases of motion as defined by Canada’s National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP).  A skill will be technically wrong if one of the five phases of motion is off but can still be executed suitably.  Here are the five phases:
  • Preliminary movement:
  • the “get ready” stage
  • Backswing: 
  • preparing to apply the force
  • Force: 
  • focusing strength for impact
  • Contact, critical instant: 
  • the instant of making contact (most significant moment)
  • Follow-through: 
  • what happens after the critical instant

    Let’s take the slap shot as an example of how the five phases are applied.

    Preliminary movement:  
      The feet, hips and shoulders are aligned to be perpendicular to the target and the stick is positioned at a comfortable distance from the torso.
      The take-away (wind-up) from the puck with the stick, using the hands, arms, shoulders and rotating the upper body.  The weight transfer is from the front foot (closest to the target) to the back foot (from the smallest muscles to the biggest muscles).
      The hips and shoulders rotate towards the target as the weight is transferred to the front foot.The stick moves in an arc towards the net (from the biggest muscles to the smallest muscles).
    Contact, critical instant:
      The stick makes contact with the puck.
      The force in the body is released towards the target. All the weight is on the front foot. The shoulders and hip continue to rotate towards the target and the arms push towards the net.

    Once you break down a skill in this manner, you are able to adjust the mistakes.  Regardless of the player’s hockey level, skills can always be improved by breaking down the movement into specific motion phases.  There are exact points that can be corrected to master a skill.

    Practices are a valuable time to work on individual skills.  They allow you the opportunity to do the skill’s proper motion and repeat it often enough until you can turn it into a habit. 

    Stickhandling Skills
    Stickhandling and puck control fall into a category of their own.  Unlike the other skills, controlling the puck relies on more than just biomechanics.  It is about reading and reacting to a situation on the ice.  With two hands on the shaft of a stick or just one, being able to keep the puck on a 10” to 12” blade can be quite a challenge for some players.  That challenge increases when an opponent comes who also wants that puck and tries to take it away.

    Stick handling is keeping the puck on the blade of your stick while you move and roll your wrists.

    Proper technique involves:

    • Hand distance on the shaft of the stick
    • Head and upper body positioning
    • Puck location and distance from the body

    Puck control with 2 hands requires:

      The distance between a player's hands should be comfortable.  Use this as a guideline to determine your proper distance:

    With one hand on the top of the stick shaft (butt-end), take your other elbow and touch the thumb of the glove gripping stick.  Extend that arm and grip the stick where the hand reaches.

      Keeping your head up and arms loose will allow for flexible movement with the puck.  Your eyes should be focused on the play in front of you and not on the puck.  Bending at the waist rather than being upright will help you see the puck with peripheral vision and see the play.

    The placement of the puck when you have 2 hands on your stick is best when it is off to the side – your forehand.  The side refers to the lower hand on your stick shaft.  This allows for better control and protection from the opponent.

    Puck Control with 1 hand requires:

    That the top hand be on the shaft of the stick with the puck off to the side.  The purpose of one hand stickhandling is to allow you to skate at full speed.   A great example of this is a player on a break away.

    Goalie Skills
    The most important skill for a goalie is skating.  It requires balance and agility on the skates to be able to shuffle from side to side and up and down off the ice.  Exercises to help develop skating skills are: 
    1. Post to post shuffle:
      Goalie stays in his crouch while moving his feet side by side.
    2. T-Push across the top of the crease: 
      With the feet 90 degrees to each other, one foot pushes while the other one glides in a straight line.
    3. Heel cuts around the ice:

    In a crouch position, the goalie only pushes with his heels in a semi circular motion out to the side.

    The following excerpt is reprinted with permission from Francois Allaire’s book, “Hockey Goaltending for Young Players,” P. 56:



    In the basic standing position, the goalie watches the player in a position to shoot.
    When the puck is cleared along the boards, the goalie moves to face the play, opens the skate closest to the boards and pushes with the opposite leg.
    When he is close to the boards, the goalie returns to the basic standing position and positions his stick along the boards to stop the puck.
    When the puck is stopped, the goalie returns to the net as quickly as possible, opening the skate closest to the net and pushing with the opposite leg.
    Once he has returned to his net in the same side as he came out, the goalie adopts a position identical to the one used for harpooning a corner shot.

    The second most important skill is the use of the stick.  It starts with the proper grip in the shaft and paddle.  With the blocker on the hand, this makes for a strong grip that won’t allow the stick to turn in the palm.

    Once the grip is solid, movement of the stick is critical.  Improper stick movement can result in gaps between the ice and the blade.

    Improper stick movement

    The stick should be moved as a part of the extension of the arm.  This will cause a rotation motion of the shoulder while maintaining ice contact for the blade instead of a dropping of the shoulder which would cause the toe to raise or raising of the shoulder which would cause the heel to raise.  The shoulder should move from back to front and NOT up and down.

    Proper stick movement


    Learn more about SKILLS
    This is the Hockey Canada site.
    This is the USA Hockey site.
    A DVD/Video collection series of stickhandling and puck control skills for hockey players.


    The Hockey Handbook by Lloyd Percival

    Laura Stamm’s Power Skating by Laura Stamm & Herb Brooks

    High Performance Skating for Hockey by Steve Cady

    The Hockey Source does not necessarily endorse all the information on the linked pages it provides.

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