Coach Nielsen's Ice Hockey Drills

Visualization for Hockey Success

Courtesy of
Brett Henning

Today’s players spend over 500 hours every season practicing on the ice, training off the ice, and doing whatever it takes on top of that to be the best physically prepared player they can. The game has become so competitive that it’s hard to separate yourself from the pack as you move up to better and better competition.

I truly believe that the mental part of the game is often neglected and affects a player’s performance just as much, if not more then, the physical preparation above. In my book the       7 Pre-Game Habits of Pro Hockey Players I devote a whole chapter to Visualization. Researching the book I found that every star performer in any area, such as Navy Seals, bodybuilders, CEO’s, etc. use visualization to consistently attain that high level of performance.

Without getting too technical, every situation on the ice creates experiences that your brain can recall back whether positively or negatively in the future. By visualizing correctly your brain can’t tell the difference that you’re not on the ice and has the same experiences. Except with visualization you can control the experiences in your favor to bring up positive emotions such as confidence and eliminate negative emotions such as anxiety.

Visualizing before the game will allow a player to get the most out of their physical training.

I created a webpage to give you full access to the Visualization chapter. With a quick read you can implement visualization in your next game to eliminate the emotions that are holding you back and reinforce the positive emotions to help your team.

Here’s the link:

“Amateur players have excellent games. Pro players have

game excellence.”

—–Pat Riley


I am not asking anyone to purchase the book, that is your decision. I just think that the chapter on visualization is worth the 30 minutes it will take to read it. I hope you enjoy and learn something from the chapter.

Coach NIelsen

Filed under: Conditioning, General

Checking for Success

Step #1 – Positioning and Angling

The first step in teaching Checking is to learn how to control skating and establish position to approach the opponent from an angle minimizing time and space for the opponent.
Positioning of a player is accomplished by:
– controlled skating (have solid stance, keep knees bent)
– skates shoulder width apart- keep your head always up
– always keep your stick on the ice- always protect middle of the ice
– defensive side positioning (stay between your man and the net)
– keep active stick
– keep feet moving
– proper forechecking (know different roles)
– proper backchecking (know different roles,tracking, picking up trailer)


– is a checking technic
– does not require contact
– use stick and body to steer opponents
In positioning/angling, players need to read the degree of puck control and control skating speed to force the puck carrier in the desired direction.

Step #2 – Stick Checks

The second step is to effectively use the stick in order to “check” your opponent.

Poke Check

– often used in 1 on 1 situations or with forechecking forwards
– elbow of the arm holding the stick is bent and close to your side (other arm used to maintain balance)
– one hand on the stick and your head up looking at opponents chest, NOT the puck
– do not lung at your opponent (throw yourself at him), rather you should extend your stick and try to knock the puck off your opponents blade

Hook Check

– the hook check is the most difficult stick check to perform because not only are you knocking the offensive player off the puck but also gaining control of the puck
– this checking maneuver is most successful when the offensive player is unaware of your presence around the puck
– using the curved part of the stick between the shaft and the blade, quickly slide the puck away from the stick handler
– place only your top hand on the stick
– with one knee bent, bring the shaft of the stick down so that it is almost flat on the ice

Sweep Check

– the sweep check is most effective when attacking the puck carrier from the front
– this check combines the skills of the poke and hook checks
– the sweep check should be used when you are defending against a good puck-handler
– your objective is to simply separate him/her from the puck just like with the poke check. But instead of poking at the puck, you are sweeping your stick along the ice using the curve between the shaft and the stick blade, forcing the offensive player to get rid of the puck
– keep only the top hand on the stick
– bend one knee, in order to get your stick blade along the ice.

Lift the Stick

– lifting the stick of your opponent is a very effective technique when you are coming from behind or slightly to the side of your opponent
– slide your lower hand down the shaft of the stick to gain leverage on your opponent
– skate slightly in front of your opponent
– slide your stick under that of your opponent’s
– where the blade meets the shaft
– making a quick, hard thrust upward, lift the stick of your check· Once the stick of your opponent is off the ice, bring your stick down to take the puck away
– as soon as the puck is recovered, skate away from your opponent
– it is very important to continue to skate through the check. It will be very difficult to maintain your position in front of your opponent if you stop skating and your opponent continues striding.

Stick Press

– just like the lifting the stick technique, the stick press is a good maneuver for a defensive player to use when in a tight one on one battle with a forward, especially in front of your net
– your goal with this technique is to prevent your check from receiving or executing a pass, shooting or picking up a loose puck
– once again, slide your bottom hand down the shaft of the stick to gain leverage on your opponent
– using the lower half of your stick, press down hard on the shaft of your opponent’s stick. This will prevent him/her from moving their stick
– your ability to execute this skill depends on the positioning of your stick on your opponent’s and how much pressure you can apply on the stick of your check.
– you will see many NHL defensemen using this technique when offensive players are parked in front of the net. One of the only ways to legally score goals is by a player using their stick to shoot or deflect the puck into the net. If you have their stick tied up, you are limiting their chances of success

Hit the Stick

– hitting the stick is a good technique for offensive players to use when skating parallel with their check
– your objective is to hit the heel or the back half of your opponent’s stick blade, forcing them to lose control of the puck

Step #3 – Body Contact & Contact Confidence

The third step is to use the body to block the opponent’s way or take away the skating lanes of another player. The correct stance and effective use of leg strength are important parts of these techniques.

Step #4 – Body Checking

The fourth and final step is actual body checking. This step includes teaching techniques to check and receive a body check as well as safety and rules.
– never hit opponents from behind and keep your arms, elbows and sticks down
– keep your head up at ALL times and eyes on opponents chest area
– with proper stance, balance, and speed you will be able to knock any player down no matter how big they are

Shoulder Check

– be sure you can give shoulder checks with either shoulder
– explode the point of your shoulder into the opponents chest
– knees are bent and extend on contact – need powerfull legs
– keep low stance
– skates are turned outward and dig into a shoulders width apart
– keep only one hand on the stick with the other flexed to the side
– keep hand close to the body to prevent injury
– whenever you see a puck carrier skating with his head down, this is a great opportunity to use a shoulder check

Hip Checks

– used mainly by defenseman along the boards
– can also be used mid ice when mastered
– keep one hand on stick, knees bent, lower stance
– as you are skating backwards, you pivot, swing your hips 90-degrees and drive your hip into your opponent
– timing is very important

Open Ice Hitting

– proper gap control, good positioning
– lign your outside shoulder with opponents inside shoulder (protect midlane)
– always keep knees bent and your head up


– when pinning an opponent along the boards, always place one of your legs between the opponents legs and pin him into the glass
– keep your arm and shoulder under the opponents outside arm

Filed under: Checking, coaching, General

Fundamentals of the Wrist Shot

Courtesy of
Brett Henning

Fundamentals of the Wrist Shot

Many players overlook the wrist shot. You grow up practicing it in your back yard, raising your hands when you actually raise the puck over the net for the first time. Then you put it on the back burner as you slice at the puck in your first attempts at a slapshot. But the wrist shot is your bread and butter, especially as a forward. You can catch the goalie off guard with a quick release and also hide the angle of your shot.

Players take this shot for granted but a few minor tweaks can add 5 to 10 mph to your top end speed. I created a Youtube video that highlights specific things (one of them I didn’t consciously realize until I was out of the game):

Drive Forward to your Target off the Back Foot: This isn’t basketball where you can have a fade away shot, totally off balance. You need to push/drive yourself off the back foot toward the net at the start of the shot.

Really create a torque by rotating your midsection: In golf, baseball, tennis, boxing, hockey, and many other sports the speed of the punch, ball, puck is largely based on how much torque you can create through the midsection/core of your body. The stronger your core muscles are the more balance and power you create.

Applying a lot of pressure to your Bottom Hand: This is the one that I didn’t realize was so important until catching Kovalev or maybe Kovalchuck mention it briefly in a mid-game interview. The more pressure you put on that bottom hand, the more work your stick does by flexing and snapping through on release. You’re paying 200 dollars for it so it might as well help you shoot faster. Shoot like you mean it. This is why, when you see a picture of a player releasing a wrist shot that he/she has that gritted teeth expression on their face. They’re putting everything they have into that bottom hand pressure.

Open your Front Foot: I have never seen a young player shoot a slapshot without opening their front foot to allow their hips to clear through. But many young players will keep that front foot closed when they shoot a wrist shot. This doesn’t allow you to fully employ the midsection torque noted above.

Snap your Bottom Hand at Release Point: Near the front foot at your release point you want to be snapping the bottom hand over.

Point Your Toe to the Target: For accuracy purposes you want to point the toe of your stick at the target. This should be stressed on low shots. Players that shoot high are already following through toward the top areas of the net. But when you tell them to shoot low they take 20% off the shot and baby it in there. The follow through is still high. You need to have the exact same motion, grit, and speed on the shot, only with a low follow through.

All of these above points must happen in fluid motion in a fraction of a second. You can see all of this on a new Youtube video I made that may clear up some questions.

Filed under: Shooting, , ,

Team Play Principles

Offensive Zone Play

The objective of offensive team play is to move the puck as quickly as possible toward the opponents net to attempt to score a goal.  Hockey Canada outlines 4 basic principles to achieve this objective:

Principle # 1 Pressure
Principle # 2 Puck Control
Principle # 3 Support
Principle # 4 Transition

Principle # 1 Pressure

The principle of pressure means that all offensive team play is based on quick player or puck movement that forces the defender to react more quickly than they would like.  It creates TIME & SPACE for the attacker.

Pressure is accomplished by:

a) Speed: a quickness to attack that will limit the reaction time of the defender and force defensive error.

b) Concentration of Attack: any action or movement in a confined area which creates an offensive numerical advantage.

Principle # 2 Puck Control

A team which is able to maintain possesion of the puck will be able to create scoring opportunities.

Puck Protection is accomplished by:

a) Puck Protection: any action or movement that keeps the puck from the defender through the use of one’s body. (Example, driving to the net)

b) Individual Skills: the individual who develops quick skating strides, acceleration with the puck, drive skating, sculling, crossing over to cut in, and cutting to the net, will contribute to a teams ability to execute puck control.

Principle # 3 Support

Players away from the puck must involve themselves as a passing option and as part of the attack.  This requires that players are able to read the checking intentions and anticipate the movements of the puck carrier in order to react accordingly.

Support is accomplished by:

a) Triangulation: any offensive formation which creates offensive triangles, thus providing the puck carrier with two passing optionsand enabling the offensive team to create width and depth in the attack

b) Mid Lane: this applies to the offensive attack through the neutral zone which by passing to a teammate in the midlane or by carrying the puck from an outside lane to the midlane, the puck carrier is in position to initiate a play to either side.  In the offensive zone, teh attackers will also attempt to penetrate the slot (midlane) for a good scoring opportunity.

c) Numerical Advantage : good support can contribute to the pressure applied on the defense by creating numerical advantage and outnumbering the defenders in a confined area.

d) Movement: players away from the puck must be active in order to be involved in the attack.

e) Balance: although it is desirable to outnumber the opponent in the area of the puck, it is equally desirable to have balance in your attack by filling all three lanes.  This will assist in stretching the defense which increases the space and time available to the attacking team.

Principle # 4 Transition

This is defined as the ability of a team to quickly move from defense to offense and vice versa.

Transition is accomplished by the Counter Attack: this can be done quickly by a fast break (pressure) or in a controlled manner with puck control.

Defensive Team Play

Defense is the basic phase of the game during which your team does not have possession of the puck.  The purpose is to recover possession of the puck and/or prevent the opposition from scoring.  In order for any team to be successful, they need play well defensively.  Defensive team play has two basic objectives :

1.  Deny or restrict the use of time and space by the offensive team
2.  Regain possession of the puck or atleast limit puck possession by the opponent

Hockey Canada outlines 4 basic principles to achieve this objective:

Principle # 1 Pressure
Principle # 2 Stall/Contain
Principle # 3 Support
Principle # 4 Transition

Principle # 1 Pressure

Pressure reduces time and space.  Pressure is accomplished by:

a) Speed – quickness to defend – limit offensive options – force errors
b) Pursuit – involves immediate and correct angling to limit opponent’s options
c) Concentration – grouping of defensive players to restrict space
d) Commit – determines whether the defensive player commits or contain the offensive player with the puck

Principle # 2 Stall/Contain

Force the opponent to stop or slow down the speed of the attack.  Allow time for better defensive coverage.  The defensive player pressures directly or steers the opponent to the outside lane.  This is accomplished by holding the ice (as ub a two on one), keeping defensive side positioning, and forcing to the outside.

Principle # 3 Support

Support means that the defensive player must be active away from the puck by reducing the passing options and reading and reacting to the movement of the offensive players.  This is usually accomplished by man to man or zone coverage.  It also requires that the defensive team is not outnumbered in the defensive zone.

Principle # 4 Transition

The defensive team must be alert to change quickly from defense to offense when possession of the puck is gained from your opponent’s.

Basic Hockey Guidelines

Defensive Zone
–  Think defense first and offense only when in full control of the puck
–  Keep your head up and take the man first and then the puck.  Take the offensive man out after he has passed the puck to eliminate a return pass.
–  Cover the slot at all times.  Move to a man coming from behind the net only when he is a direct threat to score.
–  One defenseman should always be in front of the net and control any player in the low slot area.  The defenseman should face up ice and be aware of players in front of the net.  To watch the play in the corner, the defenseman should turn his head but keep his body squared up ice.  The defenseman should not turn his back from the slot area unless a player is coming from behind the net and is a direct threat to score.
–  When the defenseman has the puck just inside the blue line and is being pressured, he should dump the puck out over the blue line on the board side.
–  When experiencing difficulty in moving th epuck out under pressure, freeze or ice the puck to get a face-off.
–  Never pass the puck rink wide or through the center in your own end.
–  Never pass the puck without looking in your own zone.  The man must be there.
–  Don’t shoot the puck arounds the boards unless a man is in position to receive it
–  Never go backward in your own zone unless you are on a Power Play or there is no forechecking pressure.
–  Never allow your team to be putnumbered in the defensive zone (ex. forwards are too high)

Neutral Zone – Offense
– If teammates are covered, dump the puck in or turn back and pass it to the defense, and then regroup and attack again.
–  Never try to stickhandle past the opposition when teammates are with you
–  The forwards without the puck should move to open ice with their stick on the ice, preparing to take a pass.
–  Never go offside, straddle the blue line or cut in front of or behind the puck carrier.

Neutral Zone – Defense
–  Backcheck by picking up the offside forward.  Take the man to the net if he stays outside the defenseman.  If the player cuts to the middle in front of the defense, stay in the lane.  The backchecker should be on the inside of the offensive man, and slightly ahead of him.
–  If the backchecker is trailing the play, pick up the high slot area.

Offensive Zone
–  One man always drives to the net (drive for the rebounds, you must want to score, release the puck quickly)
–  Shoot the puck when in a key scoring area (slot).  Extra passes can end up in misses opportunities.
–  The defenseman should shoot the puck quickly from the point.  If you are pressured from the point, dump it in the corner.

Filed under: coaching, Defense, Offense, Systems



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