Monday, May 21, 2012

Stickhandling

Stickhandling is the part of the game I would say most young players are impressed with. Kids love to see their favorite player "dangle" an opposing defencemen and they practice the moves themselves. However, as defencemen get better, it becomes increasingly more difficult to make them look silly with a toe drag or between the stick and body type move. For someone who watches quite a bit of hockey, I don't often see a jaw-dropping flashy move beating a defenseman too often. What I want to touch on is some basic stickhandling moves that can be practiced and be very effective, instead of the highlight reel moves you see from NHL All-Stars.
    Nick Bjugstad is someone who I grew up with, and all of my friends and I idolized him. Even though he was socially our equal, he did things with the puck in practice and games that would take us years to perfect. Bjugstad is a college hockey superstar, a natural goal scorer. The thing about him is although sometimes you see him dance around defencemen, but most of the time you see him use his big frame and go wide or cut inside without doing too much with the puck. Even in high school, Nick would dribble the puck a few times and beat his opponent wide, but rarely tried to do a slick pull move. That's one of my favorite moves to see.
Bjugstad using his body to protect the puck. Photo courtesy of
 Western College Hockey Blog
   In my opinion, you're more likely to get around a defenceman using speed with a quick move one way and protection the puck with your body as a shield, rather than try and walk through them. Let's face it, when a player tries a fancy move and a defenceman effortlessly pokes it away, it makes you think "He should have dumped that in", or "he should have gone wide". The move I am talking about is a quick couple dribbles back and forth with the puck and then going either outside around the defenceman, or cutting inside, depending on the situation. This moves needs to be executed at full speed, so the defenceman doesn't have the time to react. Say for instance, a right-handed shooter is coming through neutral ice at full speed in line with the left face-off dot ahead on a 1-on-1. The skater recognizes that they have room around the outside and not much room to cut inside. In such situation an appropriate move would be a quick backhand to forehand dribble, then back to the backhand, but when the puck returns to the backhand the player releases their bottom hand. Using just the top hand on the stick, while reduces strength on the stick and overall puck control, allows the player to control the puck further away from the defenceman, and use their bottom (inside hand in this case) as a shield to keep the defenseman away from the puck side of the body. When done at full speed, the puck carrier should be able to continue towards the net. In the scenario of coming down on the opposite side of the ice, a player could just as much do a forehand-backhand-forehand move, in which case the player could leave their bottom hand on the stick and carry forward, or leave both hands on and turn the inside shoulder to protect the puck from the defenseman.
    These are very simple moves, that may sound ridiculous, but they are effective moves that are more likely to beat a defenceman than a dipsy doodle between the legs dangle. While I am suggesting basic outside/inside moves, it is also very useful to practice other moves, even the fancy ones. There are definitely times where such a move is necessary and effective, just not on every single 1-on-1 you encounter as a player.

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