Every coach preaches puck possession, right? We stress the importance of managing the puck, puck recoveries, and winning 50/50 pucks.
But how many of us actually practice puck possession?
If you want to increase your power play efficiency, or defensive zone coverage, you practice those concepts.
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So how do we as coaches program practices that foster puck possession habits? Below are five key components to consider when programming your practices.
1. Start practice with a possession-based drill
To get your players in the mindset of fighting for possession, start practice with a possession-based drill. By doing so adds a competitive element, helps engage players mentally and physically from the start, and reinforces the importance of puck possession.
It’s always best to keep things simple to start practice: playing keep-away in a confined space, either 1v1, 2v2, or 3v3 forces your players to protect the puck, play with their head up, make small-area plays, recover loose pucks, and transition from offence to defence (or vice versa).
2. Integrate puck recoveries into your flow drills and systems work
As coaches, we all have a wide range of drills, and finding ways to add a puck recovery to a drill isn’t hard.
Instead of starting a drill with a direct pass from a player or coach, “spot” a puck that must be recovered. Simple variations can be forcing a defenceman to retrieve a dumped puck or loose puck, to initiate a breakout or transition, spotting a puck in the trapezoid and having a net-front forward release to recover and wrap the puck to the defenceman support.
It may only add 2-3 seconds to the drill, but reinforcing concepts like breakout retrievals and extending IZO will translate to your game play. Examine your common drill set (20-25 drills) and be creative!
3. Tailor your small area games to incentivize puck possession
As coaches, every small area game we use is tailored to teach our players something (transition play, odd-man situations, small area plays, East-West play, etc.). If you want to be a team that possesses the puck more, play games that incentivize it.
Playing games that require the defensive team to “check up” the puck to play offence work very well. In a cross-ice game, placing the “check up” player behind the defensive net simulates re-grouping as a unit, while placing the “check up” player behind the offensive net simulates utilizing the ice below the goal line to extend IZO.
Another strategy can be adding players to the game, when the puck is “checked up” giving the offensive team a numerical advantage, which helps place an emphasis on possessing the puck.
4. Add possession-based skill work into your splits
Utilizing positional (forwards and defencemen) splits is a great time to teach the skills necessary to possess the puck more.
Forwards skills can include a wide-range of abilities, trapezoid recoveries, cutbacks, wall battles, defensive zone wall play, and pulling pucks off the wall.
Defensemen skill work can include breakout retrievals, partner play (slips, reverses, D-D, etc.), IZO activation from the blue, and back-skating with the puck to create time and space. The more you practice these skills the more likely they are to become habits; and habits are what we rely on when there is chaos in the game.
5. Cultivate a one-puck mentality in your practices
Stressing the importance of making every pass, catching every pass, and fighting to win every battle is a must!
Good teams have an “80/20 mentality” when it comes to 50/50 pucks, and forcing your players to recover errant passes or rebounds in practice helps create positive habits for puck possession. Playing out second chance opportunities is a great way to reinforce this concept.
For example, after a line rush shot attempt, allow the drill to continue, forcing the offensive players to “stay in the play” to create IZO, and forcing the defenders to recover loose pucks to initiate a breakout. If you want your players to have good recovery habits, make them practice it.
When it comes to your practice programming always remember that everything you do in practice sends a message. If you want to be a puck possession team, make sure that the message is loud and clear!
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