HOW TO GET MORE ICE TIME IN ICE HOCKEY - 10 TIPS
Whether you’re playing hockey for fun or competitively, you’ll want to have the most ice-time you can get. For some reason or another, your coach might not feel you deserve more ice-time. Maybe he doesn’t trust you defensively or he doesn’t believe in your offensive capabilities. It might even be a personality conflict for that matter.
If you’re playing pickup league with the boys, this can still apply to you. If you’re up or down a goal with a few minutes in the third and you’re not on the ice, there’s a reason. Your buddies don’t believe that you’ll get the job done.
Here are the top 10 ways that you can get more ice-time.
10. Be Positive – There’s nothing more motivating than hearing a guy who hasn’t played much all game stand up on the bench and let his teammates know they made a good play. A good coach will notice this. He knows that you haven’t played much and that still you keep a positive attitude.
On the flip side, there’s nothing worse than a player who complains and bitches about his ice-time and makes it noticeable to the others. This is distracting for the others and disrespectful towards the coach. You want the coach on your side, not against you.
If you stay positive, the coach will reward you.
9. Play Your Game – This one is really important. Don’t try and play like someone you’re not. If you’re a grinder, grind. If you’re a scorer, score some goals. If you’re a physical player, flatten some people. Play in your strengths and don’t try to be a hero by doing other people’s jobs.
I’m not saying to dump the puck into the corner on a breakaway if you’re a grinder, but I think you get the picture. I had a slow start in Junior because when I showed up to camp I decided to try and be a finesse player. One day, coach calls me into his office and says ” Why did you get drafted?” I told him because I was a physical player who was always first on the puck, played great defensively and wasn’t scared to play physical. All he said was “I want to see THAT player on the ice.” I finally started having success, playing on the top lines as a shutdown player against the other team’s best players.
I’m not saying to limit yourself, but be realistic. If you’re not known for your hands, don’t start toe-dragging everyone left right and center. This will only get you benched after you create a few turnovers. Put everything on your side by doing what you’re good at over and over again.
8. Finish Your Checks – I can’t stress this enough. Even if you’re 5’4 and weigh 140lbs, finish your checks! You have no idea how annoying it can be for the other team when you have a guy finishing all his checks. It wears them down. When they’re worn down they make mistakes, they get tired faster and they create turnovers. Coaches love guys that finish their checks. It shows you have grit and aren’t afraid to sacrifice your body for the team.
Some players are playing pro because they finish all their checks night after night. It’s not easy to do, let me tell you. These are guys that have complete respect from their coaches and teammates.
7. Back-check Harder and With a Purpose – Everybody back-checks. Some at full speed, some not so much. Coaches really rely on players who give it their all on back-checks. If you want your coach to trust you on the ice, back-checking harder is a great place to start. Even if you’re tired, back-check full speed. Put your head down and give it your all to get back in time. If you have to dive to stop someone from taking a shot, do it.
More importantly, back-check with a purpose. Back-check in a straight line down the middle towards your net and look for an open man on the other team and neutralize his stick. Stay close and make sure he can’t get a pass. If he does, poke the puck away or lift his stick. And always stop in front of the net. Curling in the corner or doing huge turns just creates room for opposing players resulting in scoring chances against.
6. Keep The Shifts Short – Coach’s don’t like payers who stay on for a whole minute, just to not have enough energy to back-check. This is just bad. Your coach won’t like you and your teammates won’t either. If you’re in a pickup league, your teammates want to play too. If they see you staying on forever and making errors because you’re tired, they won’t like you. Soon enough they’ll be staying on longer too, and it’s just downhill from there.
Furthermore, if you keep your shifts short you’re less prone to get tired. It’s the long shifts that kill you. They start to add up, and by the middle of the second period you will start to feel it in your legs and your lungs.
5. Stand Up For Your Teammates – If you’re a big guy, make sure no one is picking on the little guys on your team. And if you’re a little guy, still protect the big guys! A coach loves to see players protecting each other. I’m not saying go out and sucker punch a guy because he slashed your teammate after the play; be smart about it. Make sure he knows he won’t be doing that all night. If you get a chance, line him up and make him feel it. Keeping opposing players in check is very important; you don’t want them doing whatever they want against you guys. Don’t be a pushover.
Sometimes, you will have to take a two-minute to get your point across. But oddly enough, these penalties almost always get killed off because your teammates see that you were doing it for the good of the team, and they give it their all on the PK.
Your coach will notice.
4. Learn the PK or PP – Learning the power-play or penalty-kill will drastically improve your time on ice. If you’re not the power-play type, you can do really well on the PK and vice versa. Each and every player, no matter what style, can bring something to either the PP or PK. Ask your coach if he can try you out on either one.
Make sure you listen to what he wants during practice, and make sure you know the plays inside and out. If you’re a go-to guy on the PP or PK, this means you’re getting significantly more ice-time than other players. And if you’re lucky enough to have the skills for both the PP and PK, then you better bring your asthma pump.
3. Block Shots – Blocking shots is an art. Some players are great at it and others just can’t seem to block a shot even when they’re being aimed at. The good thing is, blocking shots can be taught. Anyone can do it. It just takes a little bit of grit and balls. Even the skilled guys need to be able to block shots from time to time.
Speaking of grit and balls, take a look at this amazing video. This is exactly what I’m talking about.
You need to do whatever you can to get in front of that shot. If it means going one knee down, sliding, or even diving in front of the puck to stop it from getting to the net, do it. Players that are exceptionally good at this are rare. Coaches love them and reward them with more ice-time than they can handle.
Just a tip: When you’re going to block a shot, position yourself in front of the opposing player’s STICK, not his body. This is a common misconception and it separates the great shot blockers from the bad ones. What’s worse, when you miss blocking shots regularly, it just looks like you’re scared. Don’t be scared. You’re geared from head to toe.
And chicks love scars.
2. Improve Your Face-Off Skills – Having a face-off percentage of 55% and over is really valuable to a team. If you’re in the 55%-60% range you’re probably the go-to guy on your team for face-offs. This means you’re on the ice for any big moments in a game. If you’re up or down a goal, on the PK, the PP, and whenever there’s a few seconds left in a period you’re probably going to be on the ice. Coaches love having a dependable center who can win face-offs on demand. It can be the difference between winning and losing.
Think about it. If I told you you have a 60% chance to start with the puck, do you like your odds? I think so. And so will the coach. Face-offs are a big part of the game and they have a lot to do with which team controls the game.
Practice your face-offs whenever you can, and get better against lefties and righties. If you’re not a center, it doesn’t mean you can’t take important draws for the team.
A wise coach once told me, “Championships are always won and lost by face-offs and line-changes.” Just some food for thought.
1. Be A Master In Your D-Zone – Lastly, but most importantly, be a master in your own zone. If you’re a winger, you need to be able to get the puck out more often than not. If you’re a defense man, you need to control the front of the net and be first on loose pucks in the corners. If you’re a center, you need to support your wingers and defense and help break the puck out of the zone, picking up a man in front whenever you need to.
Block shots, finish checks in the corners, and take away sticks in the slot. These key tips will help you become a go-to defensive player for your team. Coaches need to be able to really on certain players when they are up by one in the third with a few minutes left. Yes, goals are pretty. But preventing goals can be just as pretty, if not more pretty.
If you can become a go-to defensive player, you will see a lot more ice.
And if you can put together just a few of these tips, your time on ice will drastically improve. You won’t get better at these things overnight, but with a little practice and some focus, they are attainable.
So take matters into your own hands. Don’t blame the coach. Give him no other choice but to reward you. And when he does, make it happen.
REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION FROM DAVID McDONALD HOCKEY FAMILY ADVISOR