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Handling the Puck

Presented by:   Ron Chisholm - a dedicated hockey fan, parent of four players, and past player and coach of many years.

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Handling the Puck

 Throughout the course of the Advanced Coaching Clinic that I attended on May 11 - 13, 2001, several discussions concerning stick handling and puck movement emphasized the strengths of several European programs compared to the North American programs and why this has occurred.  It was noted that the Europeans had many teaching methods and continual emphasis on these skills.  We seem to be asking ourselves where we have gone astray and what can be done about it.

These European players with the strong skills tend to come from certain countries, but not from others.  Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic, and Russia are large producers, while Norway, Germany, France, Switzerland, and several others are relatively silent.  It seems that the countries that put a lot of emphasis on the sport at a national level are the ones that produce the talent.  There are considerably more individuals playing hockey in the United States and Canada than there are in these talent producing countries.  Perhaps the numbers do not tell the story.  In the old Soviet Block, when a person was found to exhibit rare talent in a sport, he/she was taken aside and developed specifically for that purpose.  This probably still takes place and could offset the sheer number theory.  Putting these thoughts aside, what has happened and what can be done about it?

In the summer of 2000, my son met Sergei Samsonov and his one question to him was how he got so good at his puck handling skills.  Interestingly enough, Samsonov said that stick handling was his weakest area when he was growing up.  For him, it was hard work and constant practice which allowed him to improve this facet of his game.  This is definitely the first clue.  A person must be dedicated and willing to work long hours in order to develop the skills.

Years ago, pond hockey was the way that kids honed their skills.  They would come home from school and head for the ice.  They would stay till after dark.  On the weekend, it might be for eight to ten hours a day.  On the wide open surfaces, stick handling and puck control skills were required and there was plenty of room to practice these things.  The emphasis was on stick handling not hitting.  Rule changes also affected the style of play in the US.  During this same era, checking was only permitted in the defensive zone in High School and College.  Another thing that was not yet available was the curved stick blade.  This blade also changed the way the game was played.  The backhand ability was forgotten and avoided.  When you watch many of the players today, they will do anything to receive, pass or shoot on the forehand.  The feared backhand shot has become a thing of the past!

It is obvious from watching the Europeans that they must be emphasizing skill development in these areas.  In Game Two of the Pittsburgh - New Jersey 2001 Stanley Cup series a couple of plays illustrated the importance of the skills.  On one play, Straka took the puck along the wall, stick handled through two opponents, and got the puck into the offensive zone.  It was then picked up by Kovalev who made a perfect, apparently blind, backhand pass from the corner to Lang who scored the goal.  Another time it was Jagr who made the perfect backhand pass to send Lang in alone, even though he did not score.

From this discussion, we should see that raw talent is not enough.  The skills must be taught and reinforced.  Drills must be designed to force the players to use these moves, but more importantly, the individual must exhibit the desire and the will to improve.  The player must put the time and effort into his/her development.  Insufficient available ice time also mandates that dry land training is absolutely necessary.  The stick handling and shooting skills can be highly developed without the need to be on the ice.

 Ron Chisholm

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The information on this site has been collected from official scoresheets and from on ice observations.  As such, the final statistics are not to be construed as official or sanctioned by the Salem High School Athletic Department or by the NHIAA.  However, much of this information is not available from any other sources.

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