Coach Nielsen's Ice Hockey Drills

ACHA Select Team Practice Part II

The other day I posted a few drills the select team used in the warm-up phase of their practice. Here are a few of the drills they used during the skill assessment portion of the practice over the three days. As I said in the earlier post, the coaches also ran a number of 3×3 small area games and standard 2×1 or 3×2 type of drills that I will not include because they are similar to drills already included on the site. I did get the chance to run a few of these at my practice on Monday night and they work really well.

ACHA-Continuous 1v1 With Support Or Backcheck

ACHA-Continuous 2v0

ACHA-Continuous 2v1 And 3v2

ACHA-Four Part Transition

ACHA-Strongside Turn-Up

ACHA-Transition Strongside Weakside

Click to Download the Drills

Click to Download the Drills

Filed under: coaching, Defensemen, Drills, Forwards, Goaltender, Practice

Cornell University Goalie Drills

These drills work on some of the fundamental puck handling skills a goaltender needs to be able to master. It is extremely important to have a goaltender that can handle the puck, especially at the older age groups.

These drills can be used while working with the defensemen so that both the goaltender and defensemen can work on these fundamental skills.

Goalie Pressure

Goalie Sets

Goalie Wraps


Filed under: coaching, Defensemen, Goaltender, , ,

DIII Head Coach Jack Arena of Amherst College Offers 4 Small Area Half Ice Drills

Coach Arena has been the head coach at Amherst University for over 30 years. In 2008-09 he won Coach of the Year honors for NESCAC and New England hockey writers ECAC East. In 2011-12 he won National Coach of the Year honors from the AHCA. I contacted Coach Arena and asked him if he would be interested in contributing a few drills to our site and he agreed. I told him I’ve been receiving many requests for half ice drills because so many teams now share ice to save on cost. Coach Arena supplied us with four very nice half ice drills that go beyond just small ice games. Take a look and see what you think.

I will add these drills to the Half-Ice section and also an Amherst College section for future use if Coach Arena would like to contribute additional drills.

4v4 Back-To-Back

4v4 Transition

Plattsburg 2v1

3v3 Forecheck/Breakout


Filed under: coaching, Defensemen, Drills, Forwards, Goaltender, HalfIce, Passing, Practice, Shooting, Small Area Games, Transition

Half Ice Drills Section Added to Site

With more and more teams going to shared ice practices to save money, the need for solid half ice drills has become more and more in demand. Those of you who follow my site know that I try very hard not to post drills that I haven’t already run myself with one of my teams. Before I post a drill I want to be sure it serves a purpose. With that being said, I have spent a good deal of time since September trying different half ice drills so I could be sure I was giving you good drills to work with. Here is a collection of 40 drills to start with and I will continue to add more as I go along the remainder of the season. Remember to also add small area games to your half ice practices (even full ice when you can) because they are a great way to incorporate game type situations into a fun drill.


Half Ice Drills

Small Area Games






Filed under: Checking, coaching, Cycling, Defensemen, Drills, Forwards, Goaltender, Passing, Shooting, Skating, Small Area Games, Stick Handling

Evaluation/Tryout Season is here

I’ve been asked by a number of coaches for drills that they can use during the evaluation process. Each age group is different but for me the first thing I look for is an ability to skate well. I feel that if a player is a good skater, then a good coach can teach that player how to play hockey, but a poor skater is working from a disadvantage that is hard to overcome without specialized attention and skill development camps.

I’ve put together a page of drills that I find helpful in the evaluation process I go through each year. I hope you find them useful and if you have any of your own personal favorites please send them along and I will share them on this site.

Visit the Evaluation Page




Filed under: coaching, Goaltender, Passing, Shooting, Skating, Small Area Games, Stick Handling

Goaltender Training Drills

Jeremy Weiss of  WeissTech Hockey is running goalie training videos over on his site, you can go directly there by clicking this link or you can use the below links to see individual drills. Jeremy has teamed up with Dennis Hans (sorry if I misspelled your name Dennis) to create a training program to help coaches work with their goaltenders. I think it’s worth your time to check it out.

Filed under: coaching, Goaltender, Practice

Golden Rules for Goaltenders

My Golden Rules for defenseman and for forwards began many years ago, al-though each gets some fine tuning occasionally. It didn’t take long to figure out that it was appropriate to have Golden Rules for goaltenders, too.

It is interesting to note that several of the rules are the same or similar to those for defenseman and forwards.

These are items that coaches should be using to teach goalies and to monitor their progress. They are things that players should strive to master as they progress up through the youth ranks and on to high school, juniors or college.

1. Stay alert at all times, no matter where the puck is on the ice. Of course, that does not mean you have to be in a crouch at all times, but it does mean that the eyes and the mind have to always follow the play.

2. Learn the basic moves and techniques as soon as possible and work to excel at them. The basic moves and techniques are skate saves, pad stack, V drops, stick or pad saves with puck control, blocker saves, catcher saves, covering the puck, puck movement with the stick (shooting, passing and clearing), slides, glides and skating.

3. Understand and work on angles and distances. This is knowing the distance and angle from the goal to take away the maxi-mum goal opening away from the shooter. This is a matter of constant practice and monitoring.

4. Learn to analyze each situation — especially when being attacked — then act accordingly. There are innumerable possibilities for situations that, by analysis, involve understanding the options of the player with the puck, as well as attackers without the puck, plus the level of support available from teammates.

5. Work on major segments of the goaltender’s arsenal: feet, gloves, pads, stick. Work must be more than just taking shots; it must often be specific isolated segments. Don’t let any segment be dominant because another is weak.

6. Just like other hockey positions, master the skating skills and major arsenal segments so that the thinking portion of the posi-tion can be concentrated on. If you don’t have good mechanical skills, the critical mental portion of the game will not develop.

7. Work, work, work on skating skills. Invariably, the best goaltenders skate very well and have great agility and balance.

8. Learn what it takes for you to prepare yourself to play a good game. Find the appropriate process that gets you focused.

9. Learn to control the puck whenever possible. That means controlling shoot-in pucks behind the net, freezing the puck when-ever it’s loose around the net, deflecting shots or loose pucks to the corners, getting the puck to teammates and controlling rebounds.

10. Play with confidence and shake off goals allowed to maintain focus on upcoming action. Non-emotional, clear thinking is one of the basics of good goaltending.

11. Strive for consistency. The best way to do that is to control emotions and have a good grasp of physical skills.

12. Be aggressive and force the attacker with the puck to shoot when and where you want. Challenge the play any time possible.

13. When you are not involved in a team drill during practice, work on individual skills, such as shooting, handling the puck and skating skills and techniques. Good shooting skills are especially important because they allow you to become part of moving the puck out of your zone.

14. Ask for help from coaches and goaltender teammates if you are having problems.

15. Don’t retaliate from contact around the net — whether legal or not. Retaliation often results in penalties to you and your teammates who feel obligated to defend their goaltender.

16. Communicate with your teammates, especially those defending around the net. It is a critical aspect of successful goaltending. Don’t ever communicate with opposing players; it is seldom of value and exposes your emotions.

17. Look for opportunities to get shots. Every shot is an experience that makes stopping the next puck easier.

Courtesy of John Russo

Filed under: coaching, Goaltender

Questions: Goalie Full-Time | Splitting Ice Time

Brent from Irondale Youth Hockey asks, “At what age is it appropriate for a young player to be solely dedicated to goaltending?  Is there a benefit to making young goaltenders skate out?”

While young players should start focusing strictly on goaltending at the squirt level, a mite who loves the position and only wants to play goal should not be discouraged from doing so provided that the young mite does see time outside of the crease.  Coaches must make sure full time mite goaltenders are getting enough time practicing the fundamentals of skating.  There are benefits for mite goaltenders that take time to skate out.  On mite teams with two goaltenders coaches should have the backup goaltender skate out during the games that he/she is not playing.  This will help him/her develop as a skater and give him/her a feel for how the game is played.

Domenic asks, “What do you think is the best way to deal with two solid goaltenders on the same team, split each game 50/50 or play full games?  Additionally, what would justify pulling a goaltender during a game?”

Goaltenders should play full games, alternating from one game to the next.  A big part of development for a goaltender is learning how to stay focused and sharp for the entire game.  Each game presents a goaltender with a new challenge.  It is the goaltender’s responsibility to be ready for whatever the game presents.  Playing the entire game helps goaltenders develop the mind set they will need as they move from one level to the next.

At the youth level a goaltender not competing would justify the decision to be pulled.  Goaltenders need to battle and compete for the entire game no matter what happened on the previous shot.  A next shot mentality needs to be established and goaltenders need to stay competitive no matter what the situation is that they may be facing.

Filed under: Goaltender

Secrets to Success in Goal

The secret to goaltending success isn’t really a secret.  The problem is that the key ingredient to success is very difficult to attain.  That ingredient is consistency.  If you want to be a successful goalie, and by that I mean the best possible goalie you can be, you have to be consistent.  Consistency itself is formed from other components such as, focus, desire to win, good habits, and hard work.
It seems almost pointless to argue over who was or is the best goalie of all time.  When I think of the best, I think of Patrick Roy, Dominic Hasek, Jacques Plante, Glenn Hall, Terry Sawchuk, Ken Dryden, Bernie Parent, Tony Esposito, and Grant Fuhr to name a few.  Each reader will have their own list, but regardless of which goalies you believe to be among the best of all time, look closely at your candidates.  The first thing you may notice is that they all had or have different styles.  None of the above goalies played the position the same way.  Some were butterfly goalies while others were stand up.  They all have different statures, as well.  Some were (are) quicker and played a more reaction style while others played a more solid positional game.   Although all the best goalies have had differences, they all had consistency in common.  Thus, the main ingredient for greatness would have to be consistency.

So how does a goalie become consistent?  Well, as previously stated, there are many components to consistency and we’ll touch on a few of the most important ones here.

HABITS. The first main ingredient is developing positive habits.  We’re all creatures of routine and we have both good and bad habits.  To become consistently good in goal, you must develop positive habits.  That means that you have to perfect the fundamentals of the position so that in games, you respond to shots on goal with flawlessly executed saves as often as humanly possible.  This is what coaches mean when they say the old adage, “perfect practice makes perfect.”  When you consistently perform your saves without a glitch, over and over again, you have taken another step closer to consistency.

WORK ETHIC. Going hand in hand with perfecting your fundamentals is developing a solid work ethic.  Since you will have to perform the fundamentals over and again to perfect them, you must have the desire and work ethic to keep the pace.  Of course, your desire to be consistent is also of the utmost importance.  The desire to improve and to achieve consistency will help your work ethic develop and it will also help make the task seem less daunting.

FOCUS. Lastly, a goalie must be able to maintain focus throughout practice and games in order to reach a successful level of consistency.  Let’s not pull any punches here.  Sometimes, depending on the team you play for, goaltending can actually get boring.  At times, the mind begins to wonder and you catch yourself thinking about pizza and locker combinations rather than the puck.  It as at these times, that the goalie has to bear down and keep his or her mind where it belongs, on the ice, on the puck, and thinking about reacting to make the very next save. At practice, if there is a lull in the action, discipline yourself to do something constructive.  Work on an aspect of your game that you know needs fine tuning.  Or challenge yourself to stay still and keep thinking about the puck and watch the play at the other end and see how long you can stay focused.  The more you do it, the longer you be able to maintain your focus in games.

If you begin practicing toward the perfection of your saves through desire, a good work ethic, and focus, you will start to gain consistency, which is the key to longevity and even greatness as a goalie.  But make no mistake, it isn’t easy.  There are a lot of very good goalies out there who never reached the heights for which they seemed destined and the main reason is consistency.  It is not enough to take the Randy Moss, Vikings’ wide receiver, approach of playing when you want to.  Not if you want to be great.  You have to do it night in and night out to reach the highest levels.  It doesn’t do you any good to have all the tools and not use them.

Contributed by Darren Hern

Filed under: Goaltender, , ,

How to Make the Most of Practice (A Goaltenders Point of View)


Practice time should be productive and fun. However, not all teams have goalie coaches who understand this unique position and who can design good drills for goalies. As a result, goalies may be neglected during practice drills that may be okay for forwards and defensemen, but not for goalies. Goalies need to be proactive when it comes to their approach to practice time, which often calls for self-instruction and self-motivation. This article provides several suggestions and tips on what to think about before, during, and after practices so that these workouts can be more productive for you.

Before Practice

How productive a practice is not only depends upon what you do on the ice but also what you do before you even get on the ice. Here are some things to think about before you put on the pads:

(1)   Rest – Getting enough sleep prior to your practice is crucial to maintaining a high intensity level during the workout. If you’re tired during practice, you’re more likely to develop “lazy” or bad habits. You’ll also need to take more breaks, which means less time stopping pucks. Plus, it will be more difficult to concentrate and maintain focus. With plenty of rest, you won’t feel as if you’re fighting an uphill battle during practice, and you’ll have more fun.

(2)   Diet – While you cannot control how many sprints your coach will ask you to skate during practice, you can certainly help yourself immensely with good eating habits before you get to the rink. A smart diet not only involves what you eat but also when you eat. Eating carbohydrates (e.g., pasta) on the day before your practice (or game) will give you energy on the ice. Try to avoid lots of sugar right before practice – sugar can provide a deceptive energy “buzz” but will also deliver a “lull” soon after. (Eating anything immediately before a practice or game is usually a bad idea.) Drinking plenty of water before your workout – not just during it – is one of the best moves you can make.

(3)   Plan – Practice should be more than just putting on your equipment and stopping pucks. You should have an idea about what you’d like to work on, what you’d like to get out of practice. What are some areas in your game in which you’d like to improve? What didn’t go so well last practice? How did the pucks go in last game? How is your stickhandling and shooting? Are there any drills that you’d like to suggest to your coach? To get the most out of practice, you need to be less “reactive” (only doing what the coach asks you to work on) and more “proactive” (stepping on the ice with a plan about what you want to work on). A proactive approach to practice (and your whole game for that matter) is especially important when your team doesn’t have a goalie coach. Also important is having a plan for the “downtime” that arises during practice – the time during which goalies aren’t included in drills or in the instruction (e.g., when the forwards are practicing face-offs). If you get an extra ten minutes during or at the end of practice, how will you use that time?

In the Locker Room

Although it’s not always feasible, it’s a good idea to give yourself a little extra time in the locker room before practice, whenever you can. Here’s why:

(1)   Stretch – Knowing that you’re going to stretch when you get on the ice, why should you stretch in the locker room? There are several reasons. For one thing, you really can’t stretch too much. This is especially true as you get older and you lose a little of your flexibility. Stretching in the locker room with or without your equipment on will also allow you to target certain muscles that you may not be able to hit when you’re on the ice.  Another reason to stretch before practice is because you never know if you’ll get a chance to stretch on the ice: what happens if, for example, you discover an equipment problem right before you step on the ice and by the time you fix it the practice is already underway? Bottom line is that it never hurts to stretch before practice.

(2)   Equipment check – Extra time before practice will allow you to check your equipment and take care of the little things that often make a big difference. For example, you can use this time to tape your sticks, tighten the screws on your mask, sharpen your skates, and put bandages on your blisters. Plus, you never know when it’s time for your skate lace to snap!


The warm-up is one of the most underrated parts of practice, but one of the most important. It is also a time that you don’t want to get caught “going through the motions.” During the warm-up, you’ll want to focus on three things: stretching (again), breaking a sweat, and breaking in your equipment.

(1)   Stretch (again) – Most teams gather at the start of practice to stretch as a group. Ideally, you will have skated a couple of laps so that your muscles are warmed up before this stretch. By all means, do not treat the stretching time as “resting” time. At every session at our camps, we observe many goalies taking this part of the practice seriously, but we see just as many goalies that don’t. Even if you’re tired, force yourself to stretch well. Hold each stretch for at least a six-count, and do not “bounce” or make any sudden movements. You’ll never know when you’re going to push your muscles to the limit during practice (or try-outs, or games).

(2)   Break a sweat – You’ll be more effective in the net once you warm up and get the blood working. And, the best way to avoid cooling off (and catching a chill) during practice is to keep moving!

(3)   Break in your equipment – Not only do you want to take the stiffness out of your equipment, but you also want to use your warm-up to make sure that your equipment is on properly: no straps dragging on the ice, gloves tightened, etc.

During Practice

The structure of practice depends upon coaching styles, strategy, schedule, and talent levels, among other things. Generalizations are difficult to make. Nevertheless, no matter how your coach designs the practice, here are some suggested things to work on during practice:

(1)   Have a good attitude – Be willing to work on your weak areas and make mistakes. This is often easier said than done as goalies are often judged by the number of pucks that go in the net rather than by technique and effort. There is often a lot of pressure on the goalie to stop everything sent towards the net, which leaves little time for working on skills and experimenting. This is why goalie coaches can be so important to your development. Take criticism and suggestions with an open mind and an eye towards improvement.

(2)   Maintain a high energy level – Show your coach and, most importantly, your teammates that you’re working as hard as they are. Be a leader by setting a good example for your teammates.

(3)   Communicate – Practice time is a great opportunity to work on your communication with your defensemen and even your forwards. Communication is extremely important, and to avoid getting “crossed-up” with your teammates during games, you want to make sure that you aren’t communicating with them for the first time in game-situations. Some important things to communicate with your teammates: how to handle two-on-one situations, what to do with pucks that you stop behind the net, when to cover the puck and take a whistle, how much pressure the other team is putting on you during their fore checks, etc.

(4)   Recognize drills that aren’t designed for goalies – It’s a fact of life that not all drills are good for goalies. And even if the intention is good, drills that aren’t designed properly can be counterproductive to your development.  It goes without saying that you should always try to do your best even when the drill is lousy. However, it is during these lousy drills that you need to focus more on your technique and less on the number of pucks that go in the net.

(5)   Use “downtime” effectively – As mentioned before, “downtime” often pops-up up over the course of a practice. For example, coaches often exclude goalies from forward-only or defenseman-only drills. You essentially have three options during downtime (at the Goalie Academy, we highly recommend the second and third options.)

The first option is to “relax” by sitting unproductively on the ice or talking to someone.

The second option (always preferred to the first option!) is to pay close attention to the instruction in order to learn as much as possible about breakouts, fore-checks, power plays, etc. At first glance, it might seem silly for a goalie to learn about different fore-checking strategies (how many times during your career are you really going to “dump and chase”?), but your ability to play the puck and make smart decisions behind the net will improve when you have an idea of what the other team may throw at you.

The third option is to stay warm by working on something on your own, if possible. You will go a long way towards showing your teammates that you have a good attitude by turning downtime into productive time. While it is not necessary to skate sprints during downtime, it can be a good opportunity to practice your shots (forehand and backhand), to work on your skate saves, to practice trapping pucks against your blocker, to stop pucks without your stick, or to work on any number of other skills.

For almost all of these suggestions, you can work with the other goalie on your team (your buddy). Furthermore, these ideas are much more fun than sitting around on the ice. We would make one suggestion to you during downtime: make as little disruption as possible as you practice your skills so that your coach doesn’t feel as if your noise is competing with his instruction. (For instance, instead of shooting pucks against the boards, “playing catch” with a buddy will give a quieter landing to your shots.)

(6)   At the end of practice (before you leave the ice) – Often, there is some extra time when practice ends but the Zamboni driver hasn’t kicked you off the ice yet. This is a great opportunity to get together with some shooters and take extra shots, and is also one of the best parts of practice. Make sure your form stays solid if your teammates want to have “contests” (e.g., showdowns, best-of-ten shots, etc.) Use a little caution, too. Make sure you are stretched out well enough (especially if your coach has just put you through sprints) so that you don’t succumb to a groin injury if you are participating in “high-stakes” showdowns.

After practice

Now is the time to relax – usually. However, as you are putting your equipment away, take note of any equipment problems (dull skates, broken straps, etc.) so that you can take care of them before your next practice or game. Also, pay attention to any bumps and bruises you may have gotten during practice and take care of them if possible.

Things to Remember

Practice time is precious and often expensive, so don’t waste it.  Be proactive at practice – challenge yourself to work on weak areas, and make suggestions about drills to your coach. Maintain a high energy level and work hard. Develop good habits both on and off the ice. And, have fun! Remember the old saying (that we also believe at the Goalie Academy): Practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect.

Courtesy of  Tom Sablak

Goalie Academy

Filed under: Goaltender



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