The term “passing lanes” is often used, but not always understood. A passing lane is any area on the ice that provides an opportunity to advance the puck by successfully completing a pass.
Passing, like most other skills in hockey, is an art. The best passers in the game—players like Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Brian Leetch and Paul Kariya—have all developed soft hands and a delicate touch. Each pass they make seems laser guided, with authority, and is easy to control when it reaches a teammate’s stick. They take pride in passing, and use this effective asset to beat their opponents.
The underlying premise behind the success of a great pass is that the puck can travel much faster than a player—even at top speed.
Gimme the puck!
Every hockey player wants the puck. After all, it is the source of every player’s happiness. When we do not have the puck on our stick, we chase it all over the ice like crazed lunatics, sacrifice our body battling for it in the corners, and pound our stick on the ice while screaming in hopes that the puck will hear our plea and find its way to our stick. If only pucks had eyes and ears!
Pucks by themselves, however, do not acknowledge us, so we hope our teammates will see us as we streak up the ice. How often have we heard or thought this: “I was wide open. What’s wrong with you? All you had to do was pass me the puck. Why didn’t you pass me the puck? We would have won the game.”
My philosophy is, “If you want the puck, make it easy to get the puck,” Put yourself in position to not only receive the pass, but to accelerate and make a good play once you have received it.
There are several things we can do that will make our stick blade a more attractive target for the puck. Conversely, doing the wrong things will not only decrease the likelihood of being passed to, but will make you an attractive target for the other team…ouch!
Practice creating passing lanes, and implement this flow into your game. A usable passing lane is created based on a few key elements of the game.
Never skate directly away from the passer while looking back over your shoulder for the puck. A passer may see that you are wide open, but will “look you off,” or ignore you, since passing to you will most likely result in the puck flying by you to the opposing team—or in you getting blind-sided. This extremely dangerous position is called a “Suicide Pass.” Undoubtedly, the defensive player is licking his chops, just waiting for the puck to come to you. You know what happens next, and it’s a dangerous scenario best avoided. Lastly, the angle of your stick blade in this situation makes it almost impossible to control even a perfect pass.
Do the right thing
Develop the habit of skating toward the passer, then turn sharply 90° across the ice. While doing this, make sure your stick blade is flat on the ice, and give the passer a big target by angling the stick blade so that it is parallel to the blade of the passer. Make the passer want to pass to you by showing him your entire stick blade and making it as inviting as possible.
Remember to scan the ice ahead of you, and pre-plan what you are going to do once you receive the puck. To top this all off, tap your stick blade on the ice, give a quick holler and look the passer in the eye to signal you are hungry for the puck and prepared to receive it.
When executed properly, your teammates will read the play and will proceed to fill the vacant lanes or open ice in weaving patterns.
Good players play well with the puck, but great players play well without the puck. Always be aware of possible passing lanes and look to skate through passing lanes in position to receive a pass.
Now more than ever, hockey players must cover the ice with powerful lateral mobility and controlled agility. Plays such as weaving , drop passes, cycling, filling open ice and creating passing lanes have replaced yesterday’s old-time, straight up and down the ice, “stay in your lane” style of hockey.
Keep your head up, read the ice and look for passing lanes. You have to make yourself an inviting target for a passer, because it’s unlikely we’ll ever find that pucks do have eyes and ears of their own.
Shawn Killian is the Director of Skills, Development & Training for Planet Hockey.