Coach Nielsen's Ice Hockey Drills

Pre-Practice Skating Drills

Here are a few pre-practice skating drills I like to use to get the players and goaltenders warmed up. Each drill has the goaltenders doing goaltender specific skating drills instead of skating with the team. As we all know goaltenders very rarely need to skate the length of the ice or do transition moves, so I keep them out of the team skating drills and give them specific goaltender skating drills to work on.

The entire set of four skating drills should take five to seven minutes at the top of your practice ice time and give the players a good warm-up. The fourth skating drill is a high speed drill and the goaltenders can use that time to get ready for shooting drills that are likely to come next.

Hope these help and give you ideas to work around. Remember, there are thousands of skating drills you can use, these are just a few I have had success with over the years.

2 Pattern Pre-Practice Warm-Up

2 Pattern Pre-Practice Warm-Up

Backward to Forward with Stops

Backward to Forward with Stops

Backward to Forward Crossover

Backward to Forward Crossover

BC Box Skate

BC Box Skate

Filed under: Drills, Skating, , ,

Forechecking Drills to Develop Skills and Technique

One area of the game that is very important but often overlooked is the forecheck. Teams use different systems based on a coaches likes and dislikes, but many coaches just have a “go and get them” attitude to the forechecking system they employ.

Some coaches use the 1-2-2, some the 2-1-2, some will run an aggressive 1-2-2 while others will run a passive 1-2-2. We saw Tampa Bay run a 1-1-3 in last year’s playoffs. We’ve watched the Devils bog down the neutral zone with their 1-2-2 trap for years. Whatever system works for you as a coach based on your teams talent and skating ability is up to you. One problem that many coaches face is how to teach the forechecking system and how to practice it. Sometimes it’s as easy as running 5 on 5 full ice dump and breakout drills to have the players practice your system, but you also need the drills that can break down the skills needed to be an effective forechecker as a player and a team.

One of the aspects of a good forecheck is angling. You can have a super fast skater on your team but if he doesn’t understand proper angling techniques then more times than not he will overrun the play and find himself out of position. Next is what do you do after you angle the opponent properly. Some coaches believe in the stick-hands-elbow-body approach. Some coaches believe that you should attack full speed and try to drive your opponent through the glass. Whatever your approach is, you still need some drills to work on individual and team skills to help your players become better forecheckers.

With the help of some college coaches I work with we’ve put together a few drills that you can use to help your players become better forecheckers. These drills are designed to work on angling a player off to the wall while at the same time limiting his ability to cut back to the middle lane. Another works on teaching your players to keep their sticks in the passing lanes and not using it to slow down a faster skater. As we all know as soon as the stick comes up to the opponents waist, the official is likely to call hooking or obstruction type of penalties. We finish off with a few team oriented drills to work on what the first forechecker does and how the offense can read and react to what he does. Finally a five man drill that works on the first forward forcing the play and the second forward supporting the forecheck.

We hope that this set of drills gives you the groundwork to build from when teaching your team the forechecking system you choose to employ. Always remember that you should make corrections to things you see a player doing incorrectly during any of these drills. If you want a player to take a certain angle then make sure you explain that to him. The purpose of the drills is to work on the skills and develop a players ability to do it properly in a game situation because he has done it a hundred times in practice, so if he is doing it wrong make sure to stop the drill and explain how you want it done. Good luck and success with your teams this upcoming season.

Forechecking Drills

Filed under: coaching, Drills, ,

Coaching to Develop Players

I have received numerous questions lately asking me about ways to improve a team, or how to “make my team better” in certain areas. I thought I would publish this article to reinforce my belief that every player becomes better when the core ability of a player is developed properly. This is something you can keep in mind when next season comes around and you need to build a plan for the upcoming season.

Hockey is a game of high speed problem solving and the players who have developed the best skills usually are the best problem solvers and dominate. Coaches can have a great impact on their player’s ability to solve problems like 1 on 1 or 2 on 1, but to do so a coach needs to understand the basic idea of teaching players to solve problems. As you plan your season and practices remember you are coaching individual players rather than a team. Each player has slightly different needs and by addressing those needs the team will improve.

In North America we are very anxious to teach even our youngest players all about offsides, breakouts and forechecks. These positional drills all to often make up the bulk of the practices. This is deemed necessary to prepare for the upcoming games which parents and coaches feel need to be won. Unfortunately this short sighted approach robs the players of the opportunity to develop the necessary skills required to play at a high level in their later years.

I would like to suggest that there is a higher level of coaching that should be practiced. Since the game is about problem solving, the coaching staff should focus on helping the players find solutions to specific situations. You might also refer to this as learning to react to common reoccurring situations. Either way, a new approach to coaching youth players is needed.

So let’s take this to the next step and assume that in order for individual players to be able to solve problems they need resources. Those resources include skating power, speed, fitness, and puck handling skills. The players also need to be able to use these resources in tight areas from behind the net or in the corners where there is lots of traffic.

Understanding that player’s need resources, coaches may proceed with exercises and training that will help their players strengthen their resources. At the elite levels of the game it is recognized by most coaches that “puck handling and skating are the key to player success”. In order to improve the skating and puck handling of the players the coach needs to spend a considerable amount of time working on these skill sets.

Fundamental skating comes first with the younger players and as the players get older more advanced skating with pucks that incorporates lots of lateral movement, spins, cut backs and escape moves are all part of the development process. Practices need to be customized to meet the needs of the individual players. Even individual drills or exercises may need to be modified for each player on the ice.

The objective is to achieve skill mastery at which point the players have the freedom to create. The ability to be creative is determined by the level of skill mastery each player possesses. How often have we heard coaches talk about being creative and yet they do not provide the necessary resources to the players so they can play in a creative environment?

Skill mastery is achieved by using creative individual skating and puck handling drills that simulate game like situations. These drills will allow players to develop coordination of their arms and legs as each part works together. With ongoing attention to these concepts, drills and exercises the players will develop instinctive moves because they have done them thousands of times and developed the muscle memory required to execute them instinctively. This allows them to free up their mind to be creative.

To start on this process I suggest that youth coaches spend the first month of the season working on fundamental skating and puck handling skills. As the season progresses reduce emphasis a bit depending on age level. In order to take your players to new levels design drills that force your players to move laterally four to five feet and then accelerate to the next problem that needs solving. Hockey nets positioned in small areas make great problems that need to be solved.

Minnesota Hockey provides skills videos on that you can download onto your computer that demonstrate how to teach skating, puck handling skills and checking. USA Hockey offers a skills DVD available at

Remember, play-offs do not start until February. The teams that are the best prepared and possess the best skills will advance. If you want to put your team into the best position at play-off time, spend most of season working on skill mastery concepts and encouraging your players to use their imagination as they play the game.

Filed under: 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, , ,

Dynamic Pre-Game Warm-Up

Courtesy of Peter Twist

Many players aim to be game ready where they feel athletic and skillful, fast and strong but also fluid and mobile. A player needs to enter the first shift ready to move with explosive power and rapid agility right from the puck drop. The pre-ice (and pre-workout) routine plays an important role in readying the player’s mind and body to exert best efforts skillfully. Historically, players would do a few brief on-ice stretches, however, the result is little more than a pre-skate ritual. Stretches are held in a static position like a statue. How can stretching like a statue prepare the mind and body to move explosively? It can’t. Research shows that in workouts following static stretching, strength and speed are actually lower.

To be game ready, static stretching is no longer the way to go. The goal of pre-ice exercise is to wake up the mind, warm the muscles, and link the mind and muscles to have a responsive body that is prepared to react quickly. A dynamic warm up is recommended pre-game, leaving static stretching for post-ice, when the muscles are tired and need recovery, the mind is also fatigued, and is ready to shut down and relax.

The more than 600 muscles in our body are the ‘hard drive’ with the brain and all of the nerves that connect the mind to the muscles acting like the body’s ‘software’. To prepare to move explosively and skillfully, both the software and the hard drive need to be turned on and warmed up. This is best achieved through balance, movement and strength exercises in a planned dynamic warm up that follows a number of progressive steps.

Use the dressing room, lobby, hallway, Zamboni bay, or any other location you can secure that provides space for movement. Players can warm up half dressed to minimize the time delay between warming up and stepping on the ice. A useful dynamic warm up should last at least 12 minutes and could be as long as 30 minutes. The end goal is for the player to be warm, a little sweaty, mind pumped up and ready to go. The whole body should feel awake and athletic but not fatigued.

The program starts with balance drills for a low impact method to activate many muscles and turn on the mind. These drills safely challenge the small stabilizer muscles key to reaction and physical confrontations. Balance brings focus. Players must think and concentrate to coordinate their bodies through each drill.

Next players go through specific movement skills where they move large muscle groups through slow, linear movements and progress toward faster, more dynamic multidirectional movements that require more thought. My athletes begin by walking up on their toes to wake up the calf muscles and ankles. Exercises move up the body until each muscle group has been worked. Add straight line movements, and then progress through angled patterns, lateral movement, and crossovers before advancing to multidirectional agility drills. This adds quick feet, stop and starts and reactive demands.

Finish with whole body strength exercises to help link the body together, activate muscles from toes to fingertips, and sequence the muscles in the order they will need to fire for shooting and body checking. It is valuable to step on the ice feeling strong and durable. Exercises could include wide body weight squats, standing partner stick pushes, standing stick pulls and standing partner ward offs. Initiate each rep from the legs and follow through with the upper body, engaging the trunk so the core is ready to be strong.

Coaches and athletes are encouraged to develop a dynamic warm up and use it before a practice to determine its effectiveness. A dynamic warm up routine gives players the confidence to jump into a game with a winning attitude.

Peter Twist, 11-year NHL Conditioning Coach, is now President of Twist Conditioning Inc., a company that provides franchised Sport Conditioning Centres, hockey training products and home study coach education. Check out

Filed under: coaching, Conditioning, General, , , ,

The wrong way to raise a hockey player

Courtesy of Ryan Kennedy

There are certain people who I hope will read this column, though by nature they probably won’t know it’s about them.

I’m talking about the dads who stand at the back of the rink purple-faced, banging on the aluminum walls when a goal is scored, screeching at their kids. I’m talking about the moms who incessantly shake plastic jugs full of pennies and, yes, screech at their kids.

You may think this behavior stops once the players leave their teens (Guh. How odious is it that the bulk of it is aimed at children?). But there are, in fact, NHLers tortured and haunted by overwrought parents living their failed dreams vicariously through their sons.

Yes, professional athletes make millions of dollars, but remember your early 20s? Not exactly a great time to be emotionally rattled.

The most well known case of psycho parenting is that of Patrick O’Sullivan, the Kings left winger whose father was criminally abusive towards him, even in major junior.

John O’Sullivan seemed to think he knew something about high-caliber hockey because he played 35 games in the Atlantic Coast League between 1981 and 1986.

There are others like him who still harangue their kids to this day (Patrick got a restraining order against his dad), even though they have no professional (or even major junior/NCAA) experience in hockey. And they are actually affecting these players’ NHL careers with their stupidity.

Can you imagine the embarrassment of an NHLer having their dad tell a Stanley Cup-winning coach their son deserves more ice time, or a spot on the power play unit? It happens!

It seems so simple, but here’s the rule: If you didn’t play to your child’s level, shut up. You have no idea what you are talking about. Whether you spend your day putting up drywall or doing complex accounting procedures, the one thing you are not doing is coaching a major hockey team. So shut up and stop ruining your children’s life.

Even retired NHLers who have young gun sons or daughters playing the game know better.

You won’t find a nicer person out there than J-P Parise, who played almost 900 games for the Isles and North Stars, among others. Parise learned long ago that yelling at children over hockey is a mistake. While raising New Jersey Devils star Zach and goalie prospect Jordan, Parise realized the following:

“I was hard on them at first and I felt terrible,” Parise said during an interview for Hockey’s Young Guns, a book I co-authored with Ryan Dixon. “I went home (one day) and thought, ‘Why the heck am I doing this? This is supposed to be fun. I always had fun playing hockey.’ From then on I would never yell at them. Players should look forward to the next game or practice.”

Sage advice. Should an NHL coach yell at a player? If they think the player needs it, then sure. That is a professional relationship and the player doesn’t have to see the coach at every Christmas or birthday for the next 40 years. And the coach has earned the right to voice his opinion through years of experience and hard work, running professional practices and watching hours upon hours of game tape. Not because they once scored a hat trick in a high school game 25 years ago.

Now, I’m not saying a parent shouldn’t push their child to be the best they can. Motivation can be a tricky thing, especially for teenagers who would rather play drums in a punk band (which was my downfall. No, wait, lack of talent was my downfall). And in the sleazy world of minor hockey politics, having your kid switch teams, leagues, whatever, may be a necessary step.

Obviously there is a balancing act. Get your kid that tryout with the rep squad, but remember there are too many teams out there for your child to be overlooked for too long.

In the meantime: support, support, support.

As Parise noted, hockey is supposed to be fun. Waking up before dawn and driving to a frigid rink an hour away means you have two hours of bonding time with your son or daughter, so use it well. And use it to talk about other things.

“We would never talk about hockey to or from games,” Parise noted.

This sport can change lives; make sure it’s for the better.

Filed under: General, , ,

Stickhandling with Shoulder/Head Fake

Many players have great hands and a tremendous reach while stickhandling. This no doubt is from 100’s of hours of practice on the ice, driveway, and basement. It’s unbelievable what players can do now from pulling the Michigan at full speed to toe dragging the puck like it’s on a string. This is great and I’m constantly amazed by the stickhandling talent of young players.   But something that can easily be integrated and will propel your stickhandling to the next level is using a head/shoulder fake. This provides the elusiveness that you find in all world class stickhandlers.   If you only move the puck laterally while keeping your shoulders square then you’ll rarely fool an opposing player. While growing up in Long Island I learned from Aleksey Nikiforov, a former Russian pro for Dinamo Riga, that the basis for any stickhandling movement is to rotate your upper body.   A good defenseman will focus on the puck carrier’s chest. So the puck carrier must essentially make his “chest disappear.” This creates what we call shiftiness and makes the D man commit to one side and then the player explodes in the other direction around him. Aleksey taught players to constantly move your upper body and head when you have the puck in any situation remotely near an opposing player. It keeps them off balance and provides you, the puck carrier with more space.   The movment consists of stickhandling quickly just outside one foot(either right or left) then pulling the puck across the body along with a shoulder/head fake to get the defenseman leaning to that side –The more you exaggerate the fake, the more the opposing player will bite on it–and then pushing the puck all the way to the extreme outside of the other foot. Now you have a step on the defenseman and can use your speed to bust wide around him.

It’s a little tough to explain so I made a video that will help.  Practice this movement and you will elevate your game to the next level.

Courtesy of Brett Henning

Filed under: Drills, Stick Handling, , ,

Building Puck Support Concepts

Let’s discuss one of the most important skills you can perform early in the season to quickly
(and consistently) help put your team on top. It’s called puck support.

Puck support is your team’s ability to maintain control of the puck while
moving it into a scoring opportunity. Puck support has both individual and team
components. From a team perspective, it requires a collective effort to move
the puck into your offensive zone and into a scoring position. From an individual
perspective, it requires each non-puck-carrying player (supporting) to provide
options for the puck carrier.

To be effective in this support role, players must anticipate the puck carrier’s
intentions, read the defensive pressure being applied on the puck carrier, and
adjust his or her position in relation to the puck carrier. Positioning of support
players with respect to the puck carrier is important because movement by all
players creates an attack that is always more difficult for the opposition to

Three options that each supporting player needs to work on include getting
open for a pass, clearing an area to allow space for the puck carrier to skate,
and supporting a shot on net. These three options require supporting players
to be able to read, react, and anticipate quickly, both individually and as
a team.

For a Pass
When one of your teammates has the puck, it is generally the responsibility
of at least one defenseman and one forward, as supporting players, to get open
for a pass. Supporting players should maneuver themselves into an open position
to create options for the puck carrier, and should base their movements on the
puck carrier, the defenders, and the open playing surface available. An example
of poor support by a puck carrier’s teammates is shown in Figure 1 while good
puck support is shown in Figure 2.

Figure 1 & 2

Notice in Figure 1 that all offensive support players (circled) are covered,
while in Figure 2, LD and RF have moved enough to become passing options for
LF and can provide the offensive team time and space to maintain puck control
until a scoring opportunity is created. In tight quarters, a give-and-go play
works well, providing the puck carrier an opportunity to quickly get past a

Figure 3

Clear the Way

The second way support players can help the puck carrier (and the team) is to
maneuver so that the puck carrier has room to skate with the puck. This involves
players spreading out and away from the puck carrier, creating space for that

If an opponent is close to the puck carrier, a supporting teammate can cross
in the path of a defender (employing a legal screen or pick). This will give
the puck carrier an added second or two to skate toward an open area and be
able to set up a scoring opportunity. Figure 3 shows an example of a pick, set
by LF on the opponent’s center (XC). This creates some open space for the offensive
center (C) to skate with the puck to the outside of the defenseman and into
the offensive zone.

Figure 4

Support the Shot

Supporting the puck carrier can turn into supporting a shot, if the puck carrier
decides to shoot. When in the offensive zone, support players have to be prepared
for a shot (and a rebound) at any time. Two important factors are positioning
and quickness. Proper positioning for a shot means getting into a location near
the slot for a screen, deflection or rebound.

If a defenseman is shooting (as shown in Figure 4), then the three forwards
can position themselves to get a rebound, whether it comes out to the center
or off to one of the forwards. Timing, quickness, and strength to move into
position in the slot are essential factors in obtaining rebounds.

By providing the puck carrier with various levels of support (passing, skating,
shooting) you can individually contribute for a successful team effort.

Filed under: coaching, Offense, Systems, , , ,

Leadership in Coaching – Red Gendron – UMASS

Red Gendron Assistant Hockey coach at the University of Massachusetts has given me this PowerPoint presentation to share with all the coaches that read this website. It has some very informative information on the role of the coach in a leadership position. Red has given this same presentation at many of the USA Hockey coaching clinics.

Download PDF File of the Presentation

Download PowerPoint Presentation File

For more coaching information from Coach Gendron check out his “Coaching Hockey Successfully” book

Click Image to go to and Purchase

Filed under: coaching, , ,

Psycho parents ruin the game for kids

Courtesy of Justin Bourne

Sports parents, in general, have a tendency to take their child’s sporting life too seriously. These hyper-involved “helicopter parents” (a term used to describe the constant hovering) frequently suck the fun out of kicking a ball, chasing a puck or eating dandelions and picking your nose while wearing a jersey.

Hockey is awful for this.

Having played the sport myself, I thought I saw the worst of the worst. Then I got a job working at a sports store owned by the president of minor hockey in my home town and was witness to the backdoor-campaign attempts of parents with children younger than 10.

There was the Dad who, between summer and winter hockey, had his kid on the skating treadmill down at our city’s new training facility. For those of you who haven’t seen one, a skating treadmill is a huge plastic-floored version of a normal treadmill they pulled from the depths of hell, put on an incline and loaded with harness straps. It’s used for improving cardio and building strength, both goals it easily achieves.

What it also does, is suck gigantic eggs.

It sucks in every conceivable way and in my own opinion (and, from what I’ve heard, the opinion of every person who isn’t selling them), it isn’t great for your stride.

The kid loves it, he just can’t get enough,” the Dad would tell me when I’d ask some questions.

Then there’s the Dad who comes in around close, with a case of beer and “just wants to BS.” Before a top can be popped, the idle chitchat is on the upcoming tryouts. And he wants to know where his kid fits in.

“But he’s better than that Smith kid, right? That kid doesn’t know which way he’s going half the time.”

Then there’s the burning mad Dad, who just bought his son top-of-the-line skates and a couple Easton Synergies, looking for the “president” to straighten out the latest slight his son has received from what, in his opinion, appears to be an intentional campaign to keep the man’s family down.

“F*** him and his personal agenda…”

And it’s not just Dads anymore. Moms would flood into the store around hockey season, looking to buy the best skates possible for their little Gretzkys. We didn’t carry Bauer the first year the store opened, as another dealer in town had the exclusive rights to sell their lines. Parents of kids without full sets of adult teeth were furious that we had the audacity to run a hockey shop without Bauer skates. What kind of a sham were we trying to pull, anyway? We couldn’t fool them with our silly RBK witchcraft.

One Mom brought in her very own skate-measuring tool, the same one we used to make sure the edges on the blades were of equal height. We did a premier sharpening job, of course, but the Mom felt inclined to purchase her own tool and measure the edges before paying for the sharpening, just to be sure.

Eight-year-old kids are worried about the hollow in their blades? I’m skeptical. I’m skeptical because Jarome Iginla brought his skates in for me to sharpen that same summer and didn’t know what hollow his skates were done to.

Me: “How do you want them done?”

Him: “Um, I dunno, regular?”

Me, slightly flummoxed: “Hmm.”

I’m sure it was just that his trainer knows his needs better than he knew his own, but still, he genuinely didn’t know.

What this means is, one of the greatest players in the world isn’t sure, but the eight-year-old’s Mom needs to measure her son’s edges. Got it.

So what does this create?


It creates pure, awful, misery, for a kid who just likes to play some puck.

Nobody likes being told what to do and most people feel the need to rebel against something their parents pushed. I can’t think of a quicker way to get your kid to quit at 13 than by making his on-ice performance directly related to the type of off-ice relationship he has with his parents.

I never had a clue when I played well or not, because my parents told me I did every single game. Honesty is probably the best policy, but what the crap did they care if I sucked at hockey? They were paying a fortune (as all hockey parents do) in gear and fees so I could play, so they wanted me to enjoy it.

And so, I grew to love the game in my own right. I liked scoring goals. I liked getting assists. I just liked hockey.

Not once in my life was I worried about my parent’s reaction to how I played. I wanted to impress them, but knew I didn’t have to.

For parents, sports are a fertile ground for teaching points. You can use them to explain to your child “what you did to that kid was wrong and here’s why.” Or “it was great that you shared the puck on that play. Teamwork is effective.” Passing the puck doesn’t emasculate your son, Dads. It makes them better.

We’ve all heard horror stories about the kids afraid to get in the car with their Dad after the game; how the Dad always yelled and got upset when his child screwed up. I’d quit in a heartbeat if playing the game made my life that miserable.

No kid whose age is in the single digits should be playing hockey in the summer. Kids need well-rounded life experiences to learn to think creatively, play effectively and appreciate the game.

They’re still kids, remember? Let’s let them have a childhood.

Filed under: General, , , ,



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