When Mike Carroll was a freshman in college at then-Mankato State University, he was a fourth-line player. But he was pretty good at faceoffs and would get a little extra playing time taking important draws in the defensive zone. “It was a niche, a way to get in the lineup,” he said.
Now in his 21st season as the head coach of the Gustavus Adolphus women’s team, Carroll has won more than 400 games and is the second winningest coach in NCAA Division III women’s hockey history. He still stresses the importance of faceoffs.
“Faceoffs are a very underrated part of hockey,” he said. “But every every drop of the puck is a possession.”
Carroll, who also played college and professional baseball, compared taking draws to hitting baseballs or softballs. The key is to keep your eye on the puck, just as you would a ball out of a pitcher’s hand.
“It’s a timing thing,” Carroll said. “The No. 1 thing is, when you get into the area and get ready for your faceoff, get your eyes on the puck. Follow the referee’s hand, whatever he's doing, so that you can time that drop. And every ref drops it differently.”
While you need your hands and stick to move the puck, you can’t forget about your lower body.
“It’s very important to use your hips and the inside edges of your skates,” he said. “Whether you're going to your forehand or going to your backhand, you’ve got to either get your hips out of the way or use your hips to try to turn and get that faceoff back. So use your inside edges. Bend your knees almost over your skates and set a wide base, a little wider base than you normally skate. Put all your pressure on the inside edges of your skates. And then that'll allow your upper body to win the draw.”
“(The low stance) also allows you to block out after you've made the draw because your job, a lot of times as a center, is to make sure the other center doesn't go through you after the draw. It also keeps your body in position so that you can't get knocked down.”
Carroll says its important to hold your stick in your fingers, not in your palms. “That allows your wrist to have a little bit more to do with the draw,” he said.
But once your stick is in place, make sure your opponent can’t figure out how you’re going to play the draw.
“There's some gamesmanship. If you're going to draw the puck back on your backhand, don't let the other team know that's what you're going to do. If you're going to flip your glove over, don't do it until the last minute. All those telltale signs ahead of time will give the other center an advantage over you.”
On the flip side, try to see if your opponent is showing signs on how he or she is going to take the faceoff. “When you get into the faceoff circle, before you even get ready for the ref to drop it, you’ve got to see what that other center’s up to,” Carroll said.