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Learn to Use the Boards
By Shawn Killian

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BOARD WORK: With oncoming pressure outside the photo frame, keep your options open, and eyes broadly focused, knowing you can use the boards as an extra teammate.
There are so many variables in team sports that the outcome of any given game is quite uncertain. A hot goaltender can nullify an opponent’s lopsided number of shots on net. A few body checks can neutralize a speedy forward, and a couple of bad penalties can alter the final score of the game. Good teams and players make the most of each advantage they have over their opponent, turning those advantages into victories. But one constant that few players take advantage of is the boards. The boards are always there (unless you’re playing pond hockey) and can act as another player on the ice. In fact, the boards are a teammate who when passed to, will always return the pass.

Clearing the Zone
In watching both youth and pro hockey games, I am always amazed by the number of times the defensive team has the puck within 10 feet of the blueline, but fails to clear the zone. This is a result of the defensive team holding the blueline or standing their ground and making it more difficult for teams to break out of the defensive zone. Oftentimes an alert defenseman will “step up” and intercept a weak pass, causing a costly turnover. To advance the puck safely out of your defensive zone, “dump” the puck into the neutral or offensive zone, using the boards.

The advantages to using the boards are numerous. First, you don’t have to worry about whether the boards are going to be able to handle the pass. Some boards may be “livelier” than others, but they will always send the puck back into play. Second, you don’t have to worry about putting the pass “right on the tape.” If you are off by a few inches, or even feet, the boards will still be there. The angle at which the puck makes contact with the boards will certainly affect its outcome, but it is difficult to miss the boards entirely.

And third, depending on the arena and the height of the boards, you have approximately four feet of boards to play with as opposed to four inches of stick blade. When in “traffic,” you no longer have to make the perfect pass directly onto your teammate’s stick. Instead of trying a miracle pass through traffic, bank the puck off the boards out of reach of your opponents and have it meet your teammate on the other side of the commotion, in wide open ice.

Beating a Defender
One-on-ones can be the most exhausting situation in hockey. It takes skill and energy to win such battles consistently. When you find yourself close to the boards with a defender to beat, using a “bounce pass” off the boards can be an effective option. Make a convincing fake towards the boards, then pass the puck off the boards as you accelerate back towards the middle of the ice. With practice, the return pass from the boards will be waiting for you.

The key is to overtake your opponent with speed and continue around them without losing a stride. This move is especially useful if you play at a level or in a league that does not allow checking. Here again you can vary the height and strength with which you play the puck off the boards to get the desired end result.

Bad Passing Lanes
There are times in a game when your “weak” or “off” side winger streaks down the boards but you can’t possibly get the puck to them through all the traffic. A clear passing lane is simply not available. This is a perfect opportunity to make a pass off the boards behind your winger so that the puck comes off the boards and onto his or her stick. Many times the defenseman on that side of the ice will try to step up, thinking you have thrown the puck too far behind your winger, only to realize that they have fallen into your trap. This type of play will also work when your teammate is directly in front of you. Play the puck off the boards allowing your teammate to skate into the pass keeping his or her head up.

So next time you hit the ice remember that you have a teammate who is always ready for a pass and who has no choice but to pass it back to you. Different arenas have different boards. Practice using the boards and learn the different characteristics of each arena you play in. Aside from the occasional weird hop, soon you will be playing each shift with an extra teammate, one who promises to get the puck back to you!

Shawn Killian is director of Planet Hockey Skills Training, which conducts skills training camps throughout the United States and produces instructional training videos.



This first appeared in the 03/1998 issue of Hockey Player Magazine®
© Copyright 1991-2003, Hockey Player® LLC and Hockey Player Magazine®
Posted: Jan 7, 2003, 16:03
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