When you're a beginner learning ice hockey, you have to be competent in ice skating and stick handling (passing, receiving and shooting the puck). Mastering these two skills can take years and years, but as a beginner you can distinguish yourself by learning a few "tricks". These are smaller pieces of skill that add a little style and flash to your game. Whenever you watch experts playing the game (collegiate or pro), you can see these little bits of brilliance from each player when they're warming up and when they're playing. Here are five that your teammates will take notice of.
- Running Onto the Ice – When you're coming out of the locker room, and the gate to the ice is open, try doing a little run on the walkway. Once you reach the gate, jump on the ice and start skating. I like this entrance for that pre-game skate. Smoothly transitioning from "land" to ice demonstrates balance, and a good understanding of skating. Plus, you have just made a dramatic entrance!
- Jumping Over the Boards – When you're changing lines in hockey, the open door is reserved for the people coming off the ice. When you're inserted into the game, you should be standing by the boards, so you can jump over them and start skating to your position. Practice this, so you're used to the feel of the ice as you jump on. You can straddle the boards, but I've seen players hurdle over them, and it looks very dramatic. I've also seen people fall as they jump over the boards, and it's a bit embarrassing, so practice this (though see item 4).
- Picking Up a Puck with your Hand – During a stop in the game action, if you're near the puck, it's considerate to pick it up and then toss it to the nearest referee. This little action of picking up the puck with your hand will demonstrate your balance. Since you're holding a stick, and wearing gloves, you will also have to practice taking off your glove by tucking it under your arm. Bending down to pick up the puck will involve stretching your legs apart and bending at your knees so you can reach down to the ice. When done correctly, it's a smooth move. As your skills grown, you can practice picking up the puck with your stick, but master the hand pick up first.
- Popping Up After Falling Down – As a beginner, you'll fall down plenty of times as you learn and play ice hockey. You should practice getting up from a fall as quickly as you are able. When I see professionals play, they seem to "pop up" on both feet after they fall. This is something you can practice. Wearing your shinguards (with knee pads), skate forward, and then drop to your knees. Can you put a skate down? Do you know how you'll push up to get your other leg under you? For a simpler drill, kneel down on the ice, and then "pop up" and get to your fastest skating speed. Remember, it's not how you fall, it's how you get up.
- Dribbling the Puck with Your Feet – As a beginner, it'll be hard enough manipulating the puck with your stick, but spend some time getting used to bouncing the puck on your skates. In practice, or in warm ups, open your foot and try to "trap" the puck, like in soccer. Then once the puck is at your feet, try to kick it to your skate blade. This is a good skill when you're battling against the boards; it may be easier to kick the puck into open space. One of the most common foot dribbling moves you'll see from expert players is kicking the puck that is somehow well behind them, all the way to their stick. It's a true skill move, and one that is both practical and pretty to see.
Every sport is full of little tricks, and hockey is no exception. I recommend these five to any beginner who's starting to play regularly.