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Behind The Bench

Keep those passing lanes open
By Shawn Killian

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Passing lanes are not something for the freeway; they are an integral part of hockey. Simply put, 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—all have developed soft hands and a delicate touch. Each pass they make is “laser guided” with authority and is easy to control when it reaches their teammate’s stick. They take pride in passing, and they use this effective asset to beat their opponents. After all, the puck can travel much faster than we can skate.

Give me the puck!

Every 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 as we battle for it in the corners. We even 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, 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, “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 for someone to give you 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. On the other hand, doing the opposite will not only decrease the likelihood of being passed to, but will make you an attractive target for the other team…ouch!

Passing lane components

Practice creating passing lanes and implement this flow into your game. A passing lane consists of a few key components.

Never skate directly away from the passer looking back over your shoulder. 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.

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 preplan your next move 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.

Without the puck

Good players play well with the puck, but great players play great 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, look for passing lanes, and enjoy! It’s not likely that we’ll someday find that pucks do have eyes and ears after all.


Shawn Killian is the Director of Skills, Development & Training for Planet Hockey.



This first appeared in the 12/1996 issue of Hockey Player Magazine®
© Copyright 1991-2003, Hockey Player® LLC and Hockey Player Magazine®
Posted: Nov 9, 2001, 19:29
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