Roger Kemp's Puck Handling Tutorial:
* The whole document is written from the perspective of a right hander.
Front of Blade
Being able to control the puck on the front of the blade in any situation is a fundamental skill that every player should practice.
Some of the benefits of this skill are:
- You can keep your head up and your chest high off the pool bottom, thereby improving your vision. This simple attribute is what distinguishes the top play makers in the game from the rest.
- With the puck on the front of the blade, it is possible to flick the puck immediately when in danger. You don't have the delay associated with moving the puck from the back of the blade to a shooting position.
- You can shield the puck without having to drop your head and upper body. You are also more likely to retain the puck if someone manages to poke check you.
The best way to practices front of the blade work is to do the Figure-8 drill shown in the diagram below.
In the Figure-8 drill, you move the puck in front of your body, from side to side. When practicing the skill, exaggerate the puck movement by moving the puck from the right* of your right shoulder all the way past your left shoulder. Don't rotate your torso in order to get the puck to the extreme left. Keep your shoulders square with the pool bottom.
There are a few elements of the drill that are unfamiliar to many players.
- Then you reach point (A), you'll need to release your grip on your stick somewhat. You'll end up holding your stick by only your thumb and fore-.Finger at this point. It helps if you have your forefinger attached to your stick with an elastic band. This will allow you pivot your stick around your finger without losing it.
- At point (B) you need to "break" your wrist so that your knuckles start to point towards-you. The stick will rest in your fingers and no longer rest in your palm.
- The hardest parts of the drill are the transitions from (A-C) and particularly (B-C). When moving the puck from (B-C), the front of your blade and knuckles end up pointing towards your body.
Some of the important elements to concentrate on in this drill are:
- Keep the puck on the front surface of your blade. Don't turn your stick on edge so that the top face ends up playing the puck.
- Make sure the puck moves all the way past your left shoulder without resorting to rotating your torso. Move it past your right shoulder by relaxing your grip on your stick.
- Adjust your grip on your stick at each extreme.
Once you can do the drill comfortably, speed up the motion and do not look at the puck. Add motion to the drill by swimming diagonally left and right while doing the drill.
Many players already incorporate some amount of puck rolling in their games. There are many different skills that are improved by adding puck rolling to them (curling, checking, puck protection, etc.) The main benefits of using puck rolling as part of your game are:
- It causes opponents to misjudge your intentions.
- It allows you to execute maneuvers quickly and efficiently.
- It allows you to shield the puck.
The simplest motion to practice is to roll the puck from side to side:
Important points to remember when doing this skill:
- The puck should never leave the blade.
- It is important to put a hard spin on the puck. This forces the puck to stick on the pool bottom and prevents it from flipping on its edge as you drag it across.
Practice this motion so that you can execute it quickly without looking at the puck. You can add this skill to your game by rolling the puck from the back of the blade to front while curling, checking opponents by pulling the puck away, and executing quick left and right changes of direction.
A more difficult drill is to execute a "V' with the puck in front of your body while spinning it continuously. The motion of the stick and puck are shown in the diagram below.
Important things to remember when doing this drill:
- Do not lift your stick off the pool bottom. There is a naturally tendency to do so at points (A) and (B). Concentrate on keeping the tip of the stick on the bottom and feel the puck roll around it.
- If you have an extreme hook on your stick you'll have to break your wrist more to keep the puck from spinning away.
- The transition from (B) to the center is the hardest part of the skill. You really need to stretch your arm to reach around the puck and bring it back. If you do not reach far enough you will end up pulling the puck to your left hip instead of back to the center. Also, if you do not spin the puck hard enough in this transition, it will merely sit still and you end simply pivoting around the puck. This leaves you vulnerable to a check. Make sure the puck moves at least 15-20cm in the (B) to center transition.
Practice this drill slowly at first concentrating on your form. Once you can do it without looking at the puck, execute the drill while swimming. Pick a pair of lines on the pool bottom that are about two meters apart. Starting between the lines, swim diagonal cuts back and forth, rolling the puck as you go. Make sure each diagonal cut spans the 2 meter width.
Shooting is the skill that everyone wants to learn but is also the hardest skill to teach. Almost all of the distance on the puck comes from the wrist flick. I believe that the rest of the motion of the shot (shoulders, arms, etc.) contributes to changing the "pitch" of the puck (like an airplane taking off). There are a few key elements to good shooting technique.
- The puck should roll along the length of the blade during the shot such that it is near the end of the stick when you snap your wrist. This seems obvious, yet some experienced players who have trouble shooting do not do this. If the puck leaves the stick from near your knuckle you just end up using your shoulder to shoot the puck.
- Some people find it helpful to concentrate on starting with their elbow high off the bottom. The resulting motion causes the lower end of the forearm to turn upwards.
- It is useful to note that on really long shots the stick ends up pointing forward with the blade facing downward along the pool bottom.
Distance will come if you can become effective at getting the puck off the pool bottom. The best way to practice shooting for height is to use a barrier. Turn a goal trough upside down so that it forms a barrier (start.,with a lower barrier if necessary). For most people there is a "sweet spot", a distance where it is easy to get the puck over the barrier. Usually this distance is about a meter or so. Start by moving the puck closer to the barrier and shooting over it. Eventually you will be just a few centimeters from the barrier with no room for any wind up. Shooting over the barrier from so close emphasizes the wrist flick. When you can shoot the puck over the barrier from very short distances, choose distances farther than the sweet spot. This will concentrate on the arm and shoulder mechanics and add height to your shot. Another difficulty to add to your shooting practice is to start your shot with your arm extended to your side and shoot sideways. It's a flick we often want to use in a game but don't often succeed.
Curling is probably the first skill we learned when we started playing the game. What could possibly be said about curling? Lots. One of the things that we always need to remind people in game situations is "Kick through your curl!" In fact I suggest to players that they chant this mantra as they carry the puck along the pool bottom.
It is worthwhile to practice different curling drills in order to improve your form and efficiency, particularly on reverse curls. A standard curling relay drill involving three players is done is follows. Two of the players start at the wall and the third starts about 5 lanes down the pool. The players carry the puck in a relay fashion executing four 360 degree curls on one breath as they swim to the next player.
Alternate the directions of the curls: forward, reverse, forward, reverse.
There are two variants to this drill: back of the blade and front of the blade curls. Most players carry the puck on the back of the blade while curling. It allows a quicker turn and a tighter curl. However, many players keep the puck on the back of the blade the whole way through the curl. This forces them to re-address the puck once they finish curling, and they are not ready to make an immediate pass. Also, it is necessary to keep your head and chest down to protect the puck at the end of the curl.
To avoid this, practice spinning the puck from the back of the blade to the front, half way through the curl. It will leave you ready to pass the puck and allow you to keep your head up at the end of the curl.
Do this on both your forward and reverse curls.
Curling with the puck on the front of your blade makes for a slightly slower curl but leaves with more options to move the puck or pass to a teammate while curling. This is especially so with reverse curls. Note where your head is when you reverse curl with the puck on the front of your blade as opposed to the back. You should notice that your head and chest are both higher off the pool bottom giving you better vision of potential passing options behind you. You will also find that the puck is in front of your shoulder (rather than to the side), allowing you to make a much better pass.
Some key points to remember when practicing the various curls:
- For a right hander, your right hip should be close to the bottom on regular curls and your left hip on reverse curls.
- On reverse curls many players have the tendency to pivot around the puck. Make sure that the puck traces an arc of 30cm (a foot) or more. This makes curl as an offensive move and makes it possible to move the puck across the pool quickly.