For most youth players, warm-up time before a game is only 4-5 minutes, and much of that is spent warming up legs or doing a team drill. That doesn’t leave extra time for much else, so what can you do to get your mind, body and skills “game ready” in advance?

For most players, preparation starts by shooting pucks at home. Someone who shoots pucks regularly outside of practice builds the necessary confidence to know that given the chance, they can rip a high-quality shot and have an excellent chance at beating the goalie. Whether your home shooting area is a shooting tarp, open net, or targets, find a way to spend 15-20 minutes a day to shoot at home. Practice different types of shots (wrist shots, backhands, in-tight, toe drag to shots), and from different angles. Then start honing in on your accuracy by identifying and aiming at targets, and before long you’ll be shooting with your head up and hitting the spot you’re looking at. Committing to proper preparation builds both confidence and muscle memory so that when the puck finds you in the slot you can simply react and execute.

Same goes for stickhandling practice at home. There’s just not enough time with the puck on during practices to really elevate your stickhandling skills, so those who put in the work in advance will have greater confidence with the puck next time they’re carrying up the ice through traffic. Whether you have dryland tiles or a slick concrete garage floor, spend 10-15 minutes per day or more with a puck, biscuit, stickhandling ball or even tennis ball, moving around and feeling the puck. Pretend you have to go out wide around a defenseman, backhand toe drag to protect puck from a pokechecker, forehand toe drag back into a shot, or set up figure 8s in a side-to-side or front-to-back pattern. 10-15 minutes sessions is enough for 200-500 puck touches for most players, and after a while you’ll start to feel the puck and, once again, when the puck finds you on a rush in a game you can just read and react. There are many great resources online for specific drill ideas, but our favorites are the drills and instruction provided via onlinehockeytraining.com.

The next phase of game preparation occurs after you arrive at the rink but before you take the ice. If you watch professional players before they take the ice, often times they are doing non-hockey exercises like kicking soccer balls, bouncing tennis balls, training with BlazePods, or playing ping pong. Yes they are keeping it light and having fun, but they are also working on a wide variety of hand-eye skills to help sharpen and prepare the mind. As other examples, consider keeping a stickhandling ball in your bag to dangle in locker room or hallways before gameplan discussion begins, either with and without a stick weight.

Lastly, when you do hit the ice before the game, take the warm-up time seriously. Shoot with a purpose and aim for those top corners you’ve been practicing at home (and perhaps save those upstairs practice shots for empty net sessions during warm-ups, lest he/she take a shot to the mask). Don’t just stickhandle aimlessly, but consider going around/through a cluster of pucks, OR envision yourself needing to make a deceptive move to get around an opposing defenseman, just like you’ve practiced at home. Even 30-60 seconds of focused puck touches is enough to activate the muscle memory. If time allows, practice some other skills as well like flipping pucks off the board with your backhand, practice some saucer passes with a partner, and get legs warm so you're ready to sprint from the first whistle.

Coach Lance liked to reference the six “P’s: Proper, Prior, Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. The player that puts in the work at home in advance of the game, and then warms up with purpose, will be the one that elevates his or her performance after the puck drops.

 

Edited in June 2024 from original article written by Lance Pitlick in 2015. Based in the Minneapolis area, Lance is a former NHL player with Ottawa Senators and Florida Panthers, played collegiate hockey with the Minnesota Golden Gophers, is a foremost training professional with stickhandling and shooting both in-person and through onlinehockeytraining.com, and is the founder and former owner of Snipers Edge Hockey.

June 24, 2024 — Sniper Sam

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