Hockey is a series of one-on-one battles, and oftentimes you find yourself
battling along the boards. A lot of players can perform in open ice with a little
speed, but how well do you do trapped along the boards with limited space to
maneuver? To be a great hockey player you have to play big and do what it takes
to win every one-on-one battle. Regardless of where you are on the ice, you’ve
got to learn to “create space,” even along the boards. To improve your play
along the boards, consider mastering the following four key points.
To a hockey player, physical strength is as important as having your skates
on the correct feet. When it comes to battling along the boards, muscle is often
the best trump card. In many instances along the boards, your primary source
of power shifts from your legs to your upper body. This occurs as a result of
being tied up by an opponent and having your feet obstructed by your opponent’s
body contact or by trying to control the puck with your feet.
If you want to be effective in confined areas on the ice, you need to develop
the lean muscle mass to power your way through tight spots. Use the boards to
your advantage as leverage. While along the boards, control the puck with your
feet and push against the boards or Plexiglas with your arms and hands to move
your opponent away from you and off the puck.
Establishing superior body position begins with balance and body control
and will produce confidence and power in any situation along the boards. When
an attacker is approaching and you have the puck on or near the boards, try
to use the boards to your advantage. Position yourself against the boards with
good knee bend, so that one shoulder is actually making
contact with the boards and the other will take the impact of the contact.
I suggest positioning yourself up against the boards for two primary reasons.
First, this will eliminate the Danger Zone, which is a stick-length distance
from the boards. Getting hit in the Danger Zone produces a high percentage of
the injuries in hockey today. There is just enough room to lose your balance
and to go into the boards with your arms, shoulder, legs, back, neck or head.
Being up against the boards and positioned correctly will not only increase
your chances of maintaining control of the puck, but significantly decrease
your risk of injury.
Quick foot work
Against the boards, your feet assume the responsibility of your stick blade.
As your hands are tied up pushing off the boards and using the boards for leverage,
your feet must battle for control of the puck. Protect the puck with your feet
until you can break loose, until a teammate arrives to help out, or until you
can kick the puck to an open teammate.
A common strategy is to make a quick fake in one direction, then push yourself
and the puck out the other direction. This takes a lot of strength, balance
and quickness and can be extremely effective. Remember, in your defensive zone, try not to direct the puck toward your own net. You
really have only one direction to go in your defensive zone and that is OUT.
Vision and awareness
The hockey term is to “keep your head on a swivel.” You must watch behind
you, control the puck with your feet and know where the other players are on
the ice. Take quick peeks all around you while trying to feel the puck in your
skates. The more time you have your head up and planning your escape, the better.
Establish great visual awareness on the ice by keeping your head up and on a
swivel. Give the following play a try to improve your game along the boards.
BOARD DRILL: 1) Offensive player leaves on whistle, goes around cone
and to the boards. He/she turns TOWARDS the passer (to the inside of the ice)
and continues to the boards, rear end first stopping the puck with skate. With
shoulder against the boards take the contact from the defensive player. Battle
for 5 seconds, push the opponent off the puck and continue out of the zone,
around the cones then back towards the net finishing with a shot.
BOARD DRILL: 2) Defensive player releases at whistle and follows offensive
player towards boards. The defensive player must wait until the offensive player
stops the puck with their skate, then ties up the offensive player against the
boards. Battle for 5 seconds, then release and let them go. The
join the other line.
Note: The defensive player can even go to the front of the net for a one–on–one.
Based in Plymouth, MA,
Tony DiRito is the national director of New
England Edge Hockey Clinics, which trains amateur ice hockey
players throughout North America.