Friday, July 2, 2010

Drills and more drills

I went into my Wednesday night clinic hoping to work on some team-oriented drills -- in particular, the basic breakout and anything involving positioning in the offensive zone. You know, the whole "there's no I in team" thing.

Actually, there is. If, for example, you treat the puck like it's a giant suppository and can't do anything useful with it, things become a lot of harder for your team. Because when you suck -- and I know a thing or two about this -- there are times you may as well be playing for the other team. You're just going to give the puck away, almost always at the most inopportune times.

Well, our coaches didn't feel like doing the team thing. They've seen us play and I think in their mind it was time to amp up some of the individual skills all hockey players need to create time and space -- always, always in short supply -- to make an intelligent pass or earn a quality shot.

And so began 60 minutes of sweating our asses off, aided in part by the semi-tropical weather that seems to settle inside the old Pasadena rink this time of year. It took precisely four minutes for my earholes to fill with sweat, something that usually happens when I'm close to redlining.

For those who just can't read enough about hockey drills -- in other words, you're shy about looking at porn on your work computer -- I'll run through our session below. For the reset who want to stop reading here, I'll just say this: use every opportunity you can to get on the ice with a puck and practice 180 and 360 degree turns and sudden stops and changes in direction. Do it over and over and try to do it faster and faster.

Here's the rundown of what we did:

1. Wind sprints from the goal line to center ice and back. Some of them were flat out sprints. In others, we had to stop at the second blue line, skate backward to the first blue line, then back forward to the second blue line and then turn and sprint back to the goal line. This is an outstanding way to break a sweat!

I liked how this drill emphasized the ability to go fast, stop quickly and then get going either backward or in the other direction. I can't tell you how many times I've needed to do that in a game. Slamming on the brakes and suddenly going backward -- you need to do a couple of reverse crossovers to get goiing -- can be very useful when the situation has changed quickly and you need to quickly get your ass in gear going the other way while still facing the play.

2. Skating with the puck at the goal line, maneuvering around one pylone at the blue line and then doing a 180 degree turn around a second pylon and immediately passing it back to the next guy in line. We worked on several varieties -- a 180 forehanded and backhanded turn and then doing complete 360s around both pylons. That requires you to move your feet while turning, which I still find to be a novel and fascinating concept.

A fair number of us can do pretty tight, quick turns -- sans the puck. With the puck, let's just say skaters such as myself become far less elegant. But this is an essential skill. There are times in games when the puck inconveniently comes to you while you're skating the wrong direction. The 180 allows you to keep up your speed and get going toward the goal.

3. Putting a move on a guy without sticks or pucks. We did this drill across the ice. It's simple -- one guy goes into the middle between the goal line and blue line and the other guys line up and one-by-one try to skate past the guy in the middle without being tagged.

There were, not surprisingly, some extremely entertaining falls by all the combatants. Although the guy in the middle -- who is standing still -- was seemingly at a disadvantage, he ended up winning more than half the times.

This probably speaks more to the fact that the guys in the class -- including yours truly -- need to move their feet quicker, work on crossovers at speed and use different gears to either fool or freeze the D-man.

4. Same drill but with sticks and pucks. Lots of lessons here. One involves the ability to comfortably shift weight from one leg to the other while stickhandling -- the way to set up a move.

The other lesson is to use your momentum even if the D-man gets a stick on the puck, your stick or you. Don't give up and fight to push the puck past the D-man. It doesn't matter how you do it or how good or bad you look doing it. It just matters that you still have the puck.

On the defensive side, the lesson is quite the opposite. Don't just take a light stab or poke at the puck. Get your stick in there hard and make sure that little fucker separates from the O-player. One of my many frustrations in games is that I'm often able to poke check the puck, but often I give it a polite love tap -- don't mind me, I'm just a big pussy in $300 of hockey gear! -- and the O guy is able to pick it up and skate on.

5. One-on-ones and two-on-twos. There's nothing that captures the attention like skating around half the ice while some other dude wearing $300 worth of gear is both chasing you and trying to humiliate youin front of your hockey buds and classmates. The bane of my athletic life is that I'm easily prone to distaction, the reason I like this: I'm not thinking about whatever crap I'm supposed to pick up from the grocery on the way home from the rink.

The greatest thing about these drills is that you can't treat the puck like it's a hot potato and just fling it away in hopes a teammate may be closeby and can pick it up. Nope, it's all on you to play keep away and the best way to do that is move your feet and change directions quickly, thereby making the other person guess where you may be going.

This drill, of course, is a profoundly excellent way to quickly empty one's body of all traces of oxygen. Seriously, can you imagine Tiger Woods making a great shot from the fairway doing the equivalent of flat-out running? And of making his shot while a goalie protects the hole?

As many of us gasped for breath and held back the vomit, one of the coaches remarked that's how every guy in the NHL has to skate their shift; balls out to the maximum.

He's right, of course. Positioning is hugely important, of course -- and both my team and I should be obsessed about it. But being in the right position doesn't mean shit if you can't do one positive thing with the puck when it slides your way.

--Steve Hymon

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