Players who put in extra work at home are probably going to have a better chance of reaching their goals than players who don’t (all other things being equal, of course). The problem is that many players don’t know how to really improve their skills in a way that meaningfully impacts game performance. The old coaching adage of “just shoot 100 pucks a day” can be ineffective for many players because this type of practice doesn’t replicate the game environment. If all you do at home is shoot 100 pucks with no pressure into an empty net, your ceiling with that type of training is going to be pretty low.
However, don’t be discouraged. Training at home can be super effective and can be done with limited space and equipment. Obviously, you can build an impressive home training area if you are so inclined and have the means to do so, but many of the drills below only require a few pucks or a tennis ball and a small area (like an empty garage or basement). You just have to focus on doing performance-oriented drills that actually practice a skill in a way that is similar to what you’ll experience in a game. Doing something as simple as adding targets to a net or incorporating a partner to add pressure or reaction will go a long way to making your home training more effective than the old “100 pucks a day” model.
For the sake of this post, I’m assuming you’ve already got a hockey stick and gloves and so the “Necessary Gear” section of each drill includes anything beyond those items that you might need to complete the drill. Keep in mind, it’s always a good idea to train with the gloves on because you’re going to have to play with them on. I haven’t listed synthetic ice tiles or pads as necessary for all drills, but most drills in which the puck is on the ground would benefit from having them.
Let’s get to it and take a look at 12 simple drills that you can do at home to improve your stickhandling and shooting skills.
1) Tennis Ball or Puck Hacky
- Description: Bounce a tennis ball on the blade of your stick, trying to keep the ball in the air for as many bounces as you can at a time. Keep track of your numbers and try to beat your previous record!
- Skills Developed: Hand-eye-stick coordination, timing, soft-hands
- Necessary Gear: Tennis ball or hockey puck
- Use other parts of the stick besides just the forehand. Use the backhand, the stick shaft or even the butt-end to bounce the ball or the puck. Be creative and get out of your comfort zone!
- Bounce the tennis ball off other surfaces (like a wall) to keep it in the air.
- Bounce a hockey puck as many times as you can. Alternatively, you can toss the puck in the air and then catch it flat on the blade. Try to flip it as high as you can and still catch the puck.
- Group Hacky with Tennis Ball: Do the same drill with a small group of friends or family. You can make it a competition by having the player who drops the ball be out. Last player standing wins!
- Group Hacky with Hockey Puck: Same drill as above, but use a hockey puck instead of a tennis ball.
2) Walk the Dog
- Description: Pick up a puck off the ground using your stick and start it at the toe-end of your blade (on the forehand side). Try to move the puck all the way to the butt-end, jumping the puck a couple inches at a time down the blade and stick shaft. Essentially, you’re just barely flipping the puck in the air and you’re catching it a little further down the stick. Repeat until the puck has traveled the length of the stick.
- Skills Developed: Hand-eye-stick coordination, soft hands
- Necessary Gear: Hockey puck
- Try it on the backhand side.
- Once you get the puck all the way to the butt-end, flip it into the air and catch it on the forehand to start the drill over.
3) Flipping Pucks into Bucket/Tire
- Description: Dump a pile of pucks onto either the ground or your synthetic ice tiles. Place a hardware store bucket (like the kind you get at Home Depot or Lowe’s) or an old tire in the middle of the surface. Try to flip the pucks into the bucket/tire. You can either flip the puck straight in or flip it into the air and try to smack it down and into the bucket/tire (like an “alley oop” to yourself). Keep track of your time or makes/misses and try to beat your number next time.
- Skills Developed: Hand-eye-stick coordination, tipping pucks, chips/lifting the puck, timing/teamwork
- Necessary Gear: Hardware store bucket or old tire, hockey pucks or tennis balls/street hockey balls
- Use tennis balls or street hockey balls to make the drill easier
- Do the drill with a partner and make it a game. One partner flips the pucks into the air while the other tries to bat them into the bucket/tire. See how fast you can pick up all the pucks (or keep track of your make/miss ratio) and try to beat your number next time.
- Note: Old tires are a great resource for training all kinds of skills and can be easily found at tire shops, auto shops or motorcycle shops. Just call ahead to see if they have any they’re getting ready to throw out. They’re usually more than happy for you to take some beat up, “useless” old tires off their hands.
4) Figure-8, 4-Puck, 6-Puck
- Description: There are a variety of different drills using just a few pucks as obstacles.
- Figure-8: Set up two pucks in front of your feet and stickhandle in a figure-8 pattern around them. You can also set the pucks up vertically rather than horizontally or on either side of your body (think outside the box).
- 4-Puck: Basically the same as a figure-8 drill, but now there are also two extra pucks (one on each side of your body) that you must stickhandle around.
- 6-Puck: Same as the 4-Puck drill, but now there are two additional pucks BEHIND your body that you have to stickhandle around.
- Skills Developed: Lateral reach, quick hands, puck control in a 360 degree plane around the body
- Necessary Gear: Hockey pucks
- Try any of these drills on one foot
- Cut a 2x4 into two pieces, form a cross out of them and try to balance on this makeshift balance board while performing the drills.
- Use broken sticks as the obstacle instead of pucks to increase difficulty
- Incorporate the soccer ball toe tap drill described below
- Alter position of pucks so that Figure-8 is vertical rather than horizontal or do it on the side of your body instead of in front.
5) Soccer Ball Toe Taps
- Description: Rather than just working on toe drags or figure-8 drills all day, try adding an element of coordination and multitasking. While executing another stickhandling drill or move, try tapping your feet on top of a soccer ball at the same time (or dribbling the soccer ball in between your feet).
- Skills Developed: Coordination, multitasking, foot quickness
- Necessary Gear: Soccer ball
- Do the drill with a partner and pass the soccer ball back and forth while performing another stickhandling maneuver
6) Baseball Soft Toss
- Description: Stand in front of a hockey net and have a partner soft-toss pucks to you. Try to tap the pucks out of the air and into the net. Even though this drill is stolen from baseball, remember, you aren’t taking big baseball swings. Try to tap the puck into the net in the same way you would in a game.
- Skills Developed: Hand-eye-stick coordination, tipping pucks, screening, timing
- Necessary Gear: Hockey pucks (white pucks for a progression described below) and a hockey net
- Use your backhand instead of your forehand.
- Change where the partner who is soft-tossing the pucks is located
- Face away from the net, tip a puck out of the air, then spin around and shoot
- Have your partner use both black and WHITE pucks (usually used for goalie training and easy to find online and at hockey stores). Place the pucks in a bucket or have your partner hold a few behind his or her back. Partner tosses a puck and you call out “white” or “black” depending on the color of the puck before smacking it into the net. Having to pay attention to the puck’s color helps to focus your eyes and your brain and may be better for hand-eye-stick coordination than using just black pucks alone.
7) Foot up on Chair Snap Shots
- Description: Practice your snap shot, but place one foot on a chair behind your body while shooting. Be sure to switch the foot so that you can practice shooting off both feet. Remember, the weight should be on your front foot (the one not on the chair) and you need to drive the heel of the blade down into the ground and generate a lot of stick-flex to make this work.
- Skills Developed: Snap shot, shooting off one foot
- Necessary Gear: Hockey net, chair, synthetic ice tiles or shooting pad
- Have a partner call out which target to shoot for
- Place a tire in the way that you have to shoot around to mimic a shot blocker
8) Tire Flip Snap Shots
- Description: Drop a puck (or have a partner drop the pucks so you get more reps) into an old tire. Open the face of your stick blade, wedge the blade under the tire and lift the tire up quickly. Then pull the puck out and fire a snap shot on net before the tire has a chance to drop back onto your stick. For this variation, don’t flip the tire all the way over; you want to just pop it into the air so you are forced to shoot the puck quickly.
- Skills Developed: Stick lifts, shooting quickly under pressure, snap shots
- Necessary Gear: Old tire, hockey pucks, hockey net
- Stand on your off-hand (ie, the left-side of the tire when facing the net for lefties and vice versa for righties) then flip the tire all the way over and pull the puck around the tire into a snap shot. So, a lefty would be starting on the left side of the tire, but shooting on the right side.
- Have a partner handle a hockey puck, quickly lift your partner’s stick (using the proper technique described in our recent checking article) and fire a snap shot before he can bring his stick back down.
9) Pull Past Tire and Shoot
- Description: Set up a pile of pucks on the far-side of a tire from you (lefties should be standing to the right of the tire and vice versa for righties). Pull the puck into your body (around the tire) and fire a snap shot on net. Remember the keys to the snap shot: drive the heel of the blade into the ground, push with the bottom hand and pull with the top hand, turn the wrists over quickly. Don’t worry too much about transferring weight from one foot to the other as this takes a long time to deliver the shot; instead think “attack the puck.”
- Skills Developed: Changing the angle of a shot, snap shot, shooting through traffic
- Necessary Gear: Old tire, hockey puck, hockey net
- Pull Past Tire, Push Back to Forehand and Shoot
- Try placing another hockey stick about 1-2 feet behind the tire so that your pull on the puck has to be controlled and linear, rather than a slow-looping motion.
- Get a running start at the tire as though you were on an offensive rush before pulling the puck into your body
- Have a partner roll the tire at you before shooting (to mimic an oncoming shot blocker.) Be sure your partner gets out of the way after rolling the tire so he or she doesn’t take a puck off the melon.
10) Orange, Blue, Black Puck Bracketing/French-Contrast-Method
- Bracketing and the French Contrast Method are somewhat complex techniques from the strength & conditioning world. An in-depth discussion on the science behind them would be beyond the scope of this article. Just Google “French Contrast Method” if you’re a nerd like me and are really interested. Basically, they involve a combination of resistance training (think a weighted squat or a parachute-resisted sprint), assistance/overspeed training (an assisted squat jump or a bungee-assisted sprint) and normal body weight training (a body weight squat jump or a normal sprint). The point is to develop power and speed to levels that could never be attained through just one of those training methods on its own.
- Guess what, this training structure can be applied to skill development to help players execute skills with proper technique AT HIGH RATES OF SPEED (which is what will actually help them stand out in games). An extremely simple way to incorporate “contrast training” into your shooting sessions at home is to practice a few shots with orange pucks, a few with blue pucks and a few with black pucks. Even if you’re 18 years old and think you’re super strong, you can still benefit from training with the blue pucks. Remember, you are combining resistance training (orange pucks) with overspeed training (blue pucks) with normal speed training (black pucks) in order to deliver shots faster than you could ever learn how to do by practicing with just one type of puck.
- Skills Developed: Quick release and quick “rate of force development.” Essentially, executing correct technique REALLY FAST
- Necessary Gear: Hockey pucks, blue light pucks, orange heavy pucks
- Try the following scheme…2 shots with orange, 4 shots with blue, 4 shots with black then rest while you re-gather your pucks.
- Don’t think of blue pucks as “just for U8s.” Think of them as great “overspeed” training devices.
- Many of the drills listed here can be turned into “contrast training” drills just by switching from orange to blue to black pucks
11) Pile of Pucks on Backhand Side
- Description: Stand facing the net with your feet square. Place a pile of pucks on your backhand side (that’s your right side if you’re a lefty and vice versa if you’re a righty). Without rotating your feet, pull a puck out of the pile with your backhand, pull it across the front of your body to your forehand side and quickly fire a snap shot at the net.
- Skills Developed: Changing the shooting angle, receiving bad passes and getting pucks to a shooting position, deception
- Necessary Gear: Hockey pucks, hockey net, synthetic ice tiles or pad
- Lay a hockey stick in between your feet and the net. Pull the puck across your body (behind the stick) to shoot forehand. The stick forces you to move the puck in a linear fashion, rather than a big loop which would expose the puck to a defender.
12) In-Tight Chips
- Description: Making a goalie move when pucks are loose in-tight is key to scoring goals. Don’t just practice roofing pucks, because in a game you’re likely to just roof that puck right into the goalie’s mask or chest protector. In order to score goals you have to move the puck away from that sprawling goalie toward a more open area in order to actually find the back of the net. So, take the backhand-to-forehand drill described above and move it to about 2-3 feet away from the net. This time, pull that puck from your backhand side across the front of your body to your forehand side and try to roof it so that you hit the twine at the very top of the net.
- Skills Developed: In-tight net-front play, chips, changing the shooting angle, making the goalie move
- Necessary Gear: Hockey pucks, hockey net, synthetic ice shooting pad or tiles
- Pull the puck from a pile on your forehand side across the net-mouth and roof the puck using your backhand
- Set your shooting pad up on the side of the net. Place a pile of pucks behind the net (ie, behind the goal line extended). Pull a puck as fast as you can from behind the net to in front of the net and roof it. Try doing this while executing one quick crossover. Try it on both your forehand and backhand sides. Remember, don’t let your momentum carry you away from the net; make a hard stop with your lead foot and redirect your momentum back toward the net.
Some Notes to Keep in Mind
- Quality of reps is more important than quantity of reps. Focus on doing the rep with the best technique you can. Tell yourself, “I'm going to make this the best snap shot that has ever been taken in the history of snap shots.”
- Train slow = play slow, train fast = play fast
- Train sloppy = play sloppy, train with great technique = play with great technique
- Progress and regress drills as needed. Don’t just do the same variation over and over and over.
- Practice with a purpose. Think about skills you would use on the ice and how to translate them to off-ice training. Keep track of your progress and try to beat your numbers.
- Get some targets rather than just shooting into an empty net. These can be magnetic targets that attach to the posts or just a cowbell-plus-clip you got at Murdoch’s. Place targets where you would want to shoot in a game (just inside either post about 18 inches off the ice) or just below the crossbar on either side of the goalie’s head.
- Train regularly. An hour of purposeful, focused, high quality practice once per week is going to benefit you more than if you do 5 hours of practice today and then never do it again.
Gear that You May Need
You can obviously go crazy when building a home training area, but you can also get some super effective training sessions in with just some basic (and relatively cheap) gear.
- Hockey net
- Synthetic ice shooting pad or tiles
- Black pucks, blue pucks, orange pucks
- Tennis balls or street hockey balls
- Training pucks such as a Stedol Puck or a Green Biscuit
- An old tire
Be creative and try to come up with new and exciting drills to work on at home. How can you translate a skill you need on the ice to a drill you can do at home? Don’t just rip 100 pucks into an empty net with no pressure! Below are some links to videos of NHL players doing off-ice skills work to help get you fired up to train at home.