Stick handling is one of the most important fundamental skills in hockey. You need good stick handling skills to play heads up hockey, to take and maintain possession of the puck, to win face-offs, to receive and make passes and to shoot the puck.
All the great puck carriers, great passers and great shooters can stick handle, position and shoot or pass the puck with their head up; this requires a lot of focused repetitive training. Because stick handling is such an integral part of hockey, stick handling should be one of the first things that a player learns and practices.
Hockey players can practice stick handling both on and off the ice. The important thing, especially for young players, is simply to have a stick in their hands and play with a puck. Street hockey games are a great way to develop stick handling skills but a player should also practice stick handling alone to focus on his technique and to learn new skills.
Stick handling can be practiced off the ice in your basement, garage or in your driveway. You can use a ball (tennis, golf or roller hockey) but a puck provides a better simulation. The more the puck and stick slide on the surface, the better it is for stick handling.
Learning stick handling
First, stick handle with your eyes fixed on the puck. Move the puck within a 12 to 18 inch span using a back and forth soft sweeping motion. Develop a comfortable rhythm, do not over handle the puck There should be very little impact and almost no sound.
Practice side-to-side dribble, forward-to-backward dribble and diagonal dribbling. Master stick handling in a stationary position and then practice stick handling while moving forward, sideways and backwards.
Improving Stick Handling
Gradually take your eyes off the puck and fix them on your target or simply stick handle with your eyes closed. Master stick handling in a stationary position and then practice stick handling while moving forward, sideways and backwards. Develop a feel for the position of the dribbled puck. Stick handle the puck close to your feet and with full arm extension. Practice all the stick handling drills taught by your coach on the ice such as the forehand shift, the backhand shift and puck protection.
Set up cones (use 2 liter pop plastic bottles half filled with water) and stick handle through them. Try not to look at the puck and keep count of the number of times you can stick handle through the cones without losing control of the puck. As you make the move around the cones, practice the fake motion for deking players.