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.
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.
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
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
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.
This first appeared in the 09/1997 issue of Hockey