Protecting the puck is one of the most important skills a young hockey player needs to learn. But many make the mistake of focusing their practice time on advanced stickhandling moves rather than learning basic puck protection.
Protecting the puck is all about putting the puck in a position that makes it difficult for the defender to make a play. Usually, this involves carrying the puck as far away from the defender as possible and positioning your body between the puck and the defender.
Sidney Crosby is arguably the best player in the NHL at protecting the puck. He is a master at using his body positioning with a combination of quick turns, stickhandling and pure strength to control the puck in what seem like impossible situations.
The video below is a 10-minute compilation of his ability to protect the puck. You can get a sense of his amazing skill by watching even a minute or two.
There are three major components to effective puck protection:
You need to get stronger. A stronger hockey player will have the lower- and upper-body strength to stand up to a defenseman who will try to knock you out of your protective position.
You need to improve your skating and edge work. Speed, stop-and-start quickness and turning all play a huge role in helping you get to a position where you can protect the puck. Apex Skating produced a great series of power skating drills that will help improve your skating and edge work.
You need to learn effective puck protection techniques. You actually need to know and practice the basic techniques that help you protect the puck. This is what we're going to cover below.
Puck Protection Drills and Techniques
Backhand puck protection
This is my personal favorite technique for protecting the puck and one that's essential if you play on your off-hand wing. It allows you to use your natural single-handed stick hold to carry the puck far from a defenseman and use your bottom hand to prevent the player from making a play on the puck.
Coach Jeremy Rupke from HowToHockey.com provides a few key points for mastering this puck protection move:
- Skate for open ice and move the puck away from the defender rather than carrying it out in front where it has a risk of being poked away.
- Lean into your defender so they can't knock you out of position. Ideally, you can use speed and your lean to get past the defender.
- Stick your inside leg out in front for extra protection if needed.
- Use your bottom hand to knock away poke checks.
You can use this technique anytime you have an opponent challenging you on your dominant-hand side, not only when you're one-on-one in open ice. You can also keep both hands on your stick in situations where top speed isn't critical or you don't have lots of space.
Forehand puck protection
Protecting the puck on your forehand follows the same fundamentals as with your backhand. It's a bit easier to keep both hands on your stick and carry the puck far enough away from a defender so this may be your preferred option. For situations that require max protection, hold the stick with only your bottom hand and use your top hand to fend off poke check.
Protecting the puck in the corners and along the boards
Crosby is exceptionally talented at protecting the puck in tight spaces in the corners and along the boards. Of course, he is an exceptional skater but he frequently employs basic fundamentals to keep defenders at bay.
The coaches at ProSmart Hockey provide the following critical tips to help improve your puck protection in tight spaces.
- Use an exaggerated stance with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width.
- Stick your butt out to create separation and improve balance.
- Extend your top hand so the defender can't reach around for a poke check when extra separation is needed.
- Keep your body moving and use the defender's momentum to your advantage by quickly turning away to create separation.
Scoring off puck protection moves
What good would all of this talk about puck protection be if you couldn't score off these moves. Vancouver Canucks skills coach Glenn Carnegie breaks down a few highly effective moves in the video below:
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