Steve Rohlik, head coach of the Ohio State men’s hockey team, often reminds his players how little each one has the puck on his stick during a typical game.
“How long can you keep it?” said Rohlik, a St. Paul native who is in his sixth season as the Buckeyes’ bench boss. “When you think about your game, when you look at your shifts, how long is the puck actually on your stick? For some it might only be 10 seconds.”
That possession time is crucial.
Rohlik says there are three important things to remember when it comes to possessing pucks:
“It’s about puck-handling with your stick, body position and moving your feet,” he said. “If you do those three things, it enhances your ability to keep pucks away from defenders.”
Here are a few tips to improving in those areas.
One of Rohlik’s warm-up drills is a 1-on-1 battle for the puck in a small area, such as one of the rink’s circles. “It’s as simple a drill as there can be,” he said, “but it’s effective.”
“Staying in the small area, body position becomes huge. It’s the No. 1 key to possessing pucks in small areas. Concentrate on hip position. Turn your hip to keep the puck as far away from the defender as possible. Use your feet to continue to move and battle for position. Make sure you’re able to pivot and move your feet.”
Set up cones and think of them as defenders and barriers.
“Put cones out in a corner or small area,” he said. “Play keep-away from the cones, pivoting, turning. Skate at the cone and spin or pivot—all different directions. Carry the puck, do a hockey turn going away, holding the puck, cutting back. Work on footwork. Work on pivoting. Position your arms and stick away from the cones. Position your hips and legs toward the cone. Work on balance.”
Develop the habit of always being in a good hockey position. “The basic skills of hockey never go away,” Rohlik said. “NHL players still maintain those habits. They continue to do it. That’s why they’re called habits.”
“If you’re standing straight up, you’re going to get knocked down,” he said. “Make sure you’re in a good hockey position. Bend your knees and get a comfortable, wide base so you can use your hips. If your hips are turned into the defender, that guy is further away from your hands and stick. If you stay on your skates, it’s harder to get the puck knocked away.”
Puck possession doesn’t just mean keeping the puck to yourself. It means keeping it among your teammates. “It’s not just an individual game but a team game,” Rohlik said. And with your teammates, your eyes, mouth and ears are just as important as your hands, hips and feet.
“No. 1, work on your vision. Keep your head up. Use your vision to anticipate where you’re able to feel the game and see the ice. Get the puck to an area where one of your linemates can get it. No 50-50 passes. Then where are you going without the puck?
“And communicate. We talk to guys all the time about opening their mouths. Communicate. Players come back to the bench and wonder why they didn’t get the puck. That’s because they’re not communicating.”