Puck Acquisition: Strategies for More & Better Puck Touches
The best hockey advice my dad ever gave me. Strategies to get more passes via great routes
When watching a hockey game, it’s easy to focus on what happens when a player has the puck. We can make all sorts of deductions: how is the player’s playmaking ability, how fast are his/her hands, etc. Yet, it’s often easy to overlook a key element … receiving the puck in the first place!
The best hockey advice my dad ever gave me was, “Make it so when they look up to pass you’re the first person they see”
Understanding how to get pucks is a key ingredient in any player’s success. If a player constantly is getting the puck in traffic or in other bad spots, it will limit his/her puck skills and overall playmaking ability.
Current Buffalo Sabres Assistant Coach Don Granato was talking at the 2015 High-Performance Symposium and brought up NTDP tryout camp footage:
“Watch #12 in Blue. Really doesn’t know how to position himself to get a puck. His back is to the play and spinning around. He’s a great player, but doesn’t know how to get the puck. Doesn’t know where to go on the ice, doesn’t know how to support, doesn’t know how to read, doesn’t know how to react.”
Who was he talking about?… Toronto Maple Leaf’s superstar Auston Matthews.
Keys For Success
Right place - Location, location, location. Becoming available in a support position with an open passing lane.
Right time - Becoming available when the pass can be made. Elongating the passing window and giving your teammate a support valve is key.
Right speed - Creating speed advantages, especially for availability and being able to create an advantage once the puck has been received. It’s better to be late than arrive early. Arriving slightly late gives players the ability to pick up speed. Arriving early creates a multitude of issues that domino.
The goal is to elongate the pass reception window while accounting for the three elements above. An elite puck acquisition skill is a pass-catcher who can prolong the amount of time in which the passer can deliver a pass to him/her.
Success Factor 1: Distance
In general, the shorter the pass, the easier it is to complete. The fewer opponents in the picture lead to cleaner passing lanes (and frankly less passing skill required).
Avoid skating two zones away from the puck carrier and expecting them to give you a perfect pass.
Avoid getting so close that you can take a handoff from your teammate. If you’re that close, one defender can guard both players.
Success Factor 2: Pass Angle
The more horizontal the pass (east/west), rather than vertical (north/south), the easier it is to complete. These passing lanes are often much cleaner and easier to pass through than a steep, vertical pass.
Avoid skating up the ice with your back to the play. Often these routes turn into hard hits against or poor quality pucks.
Success Factor 3: Consistent Routes
Much of elite-level hockey is about routes. Higher-level hockey for high hockey IQ players is much easier as there is an expectation of where teammates and opponents will be. This consistency allows for quick, accurate decision making with execution.
Creating large pass availability windows requires multiple times in which a teammate can pass the puck to you. Having consistent, quality routes is often what separates good from great.
Facing the Play
As Granato suggested earlier, players should avoid turning their back to the play. Often that means using transitions/pivots to open up to the puck carrier. When done properly, this also allows players to keep their momentum while keeping vision.
Taking back ice
Skating temporarily away from the play allows players to properly time the play they are skating into. When done properly, players pick the appropriate time and speed. The best part is that taking back ice gives players the ability to control speed and accelerate into a pass reception.
Skating in straight lines is very predictable from a speed and direction standpoint. If you’ve ever heard someone say “they are sneaky fast”, it’s likely because that player is using linear crossovers and deceptive skating.
Another reason to skate on arcs is that you can constantly change the angle of attack for the defenders to worry about while also building (or at least keeping) momentum.
Rolling speed (Going horizontal to go vertical)
Going horizontally (east/west) across the rink allows for the rolling of speed into the play. Passing windows last longer and it’s easier to build/maintain proper speed for the situation.
This is a great way to carry momentum or build speed in order to roll that speed from one passing window to the next. Staying in those parallel areas often allow for a cleaner passing lane, as well.
This type of route isn’t limited to forwards. Defensemen can use this in many situations as well. Take a look at this example along the blueline. Defenseman #56 (Erik Gustafsson) gains momentum before the pass is made and is able to immediately roll that speed into attacking space.
A common situation you’ll see in youth hockey is players having to stop at the offensive blueline when they get too far ahead of the play. Rather, they should be rolling that speed across the blueline and then flowing into the offensive zone once their team is on-side.
This is a simple concept but is rarely seen outside of high-level hockey… moving behind the player with the puck in order to create an easy, clean passing lane.
While this makes it easier on the goalie as they don’t have to move as much, folding under allows for a simple passing lane. At worst, this type of play elongates the possession. At best, it can regularly lead to scoring opportunities.
Speed behind the puck
Often, players get too far ahead of the play and kill any opportunity before they even receive the puck. By getting too far ahead of the play, they eliminated the element of acquiring the puck at the right time, the right place, and the right speed. The below video highlights skating on arcs, gaining speed behind the puck, and becoming available at the right time.
The first offensive players up the ice create the initial gap with the defense (very tight and little room to create) as the opposing team’s defense is forced back. When players come from behind that initial gap, there is greater space available. That space allows players to build a speed differential and have more room to create when they do receive the puck. This concept is known as “speed behind the puck.”
In this situation, the most dangerous player becomes not the player with the puck or furthest up the puck (often a decoy), but rather the player building speed behind the play. Once this player receives the puck, he/she is often in a dangerous position to create.
That’s all for today… in the not-so-distant future, we will be doing a post on puck acquisition in the offensive zone. You can check out that series now:
What skills players should actually acquire… Transferable skills, skills the last
Why Point shots suck
Looking at the skating technique of elite offensive players, linear crossovers
Digging into the offensive genius of Crosby & Guentzel to break down their rush reads
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