In today’s game having possession of the puck is very important. The best teams are the ones that have constant possession of the puck – you can’t score if you don’t have the puck. That’s why the ability to maneuver with the puck on your stick in open ice or in traffic is a skill that everyone can improve upon. Keeping control of the puck as you skate across the ice becomes harder to do as you get older and progress in your minor hockey career. This is why learning how to properly protect the puck while you skate for open ice is a key skill to develop.
When a defenseman blocks your pathway to the net, you can’t simply skate with the puck in front of your body; that leaves it in the danger zone, where your opponent can easily knock the puck away or steal it. Instead, you need to move the puck away from the defender as you skate for open ice.
Follow these 5 tips to help you protect the puck.
Hand Movement – When skating with the puck you have to make sure your hands have a full range of motion. Keeping your hands away from defenders when handling the puck will keep it on your stick. Whether it be having your hands in tight to your body or far away from your body, keeping control of the puck is key.
Head Up - Keep your head up and use your peripheral vision to watch the puck and what’s happening around you. If you’re constantly looking down at the puck, you’re not likely to have it long. Keep your head up to survey the ice for teammates, open ice and opponents.
Push the Puck - Less is more when it comes to skating through the neutral zone with the puck. When you’re skating in open ice, push the puck ahead on your forehand. This will allow you to skate faster and be ready to pass or shoot quicker. You don’t need to over-handle the puck; it could slow you down.
Body Position - Use your body to protect the puck. This is especially important in tight areas, such as in the corners or in front of the net where there’s a lot of traffic.
Puck Protection Drills - Some of the best drills to improve your puck handling and puck protection skills are games we’ve all played on the pond, blacktop or rink. Playing 1-on-1 or 1-on-2 keep away will help you learn to maneuver in tight spaces with the puck while keeping your body between the puck and your opponent.