Evanston Youth Hockey Association (EYHA) is a premier hockey program in northern Illinois offering all levels of youth hockey from Mites through High School levels.

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Editor’s note: This section provides players with tips for improving their game. If you have a question for a coach, please email  and we’ll make every attempt to include your question and tip in a future update.

From the Bench: Backcheck and Give and Go

Backcheck all the way to the net!
 

Back checking is hard work. Many times you are tired, at the end of a shift, but you need to find a way to dig deep and catch your check. Especially if your opponent has an odd man situation (i.e. a 2-1 or a 3-2), you need to get back and help out your defender and goalie. Communication with your fellow defenders is key so that you don't pick up the same attacking player that your teammate is already checking. When you back check, not only do you have to skate hard to catch the attacking player, you also need to take away their stick so that they cannot receive a pass or get a shot off. And you need to take your check all the way to your own net so that they don't get that easy back door tap in. Watch here what happens when you stop skating on the back check -- the puck ends up in your net.

Give and go - simple and effective

The give and go is a simple play that can be effective in a number of team sports -- hockey included. It is executed when one player passes the puck to their teammate, then moves to open space and receives a pass back. The key is for quick movement by player #1 to open space after she moves the puck to her teammate. Watch the give and go in action at the NHL level leading to a goal. #33 on Winnipeg executes a perfect give and go with #9 Winnipeg. Note how #33 moves the puck and then immediately moves to open ice, gets a nice pass back and then gets a quick release shot off and the puck is in the back of the net. So work with your teammates in practice and during the game to pull off a similar play.

From the Bench: Face-Off and Skating Fast with the Puck

Face-off

One of the most common plays in hockey is the face-off. Although centers are typically labeled as having “won” or “lost” the face-off, it really requires all five skaters on the ice to work together to consistently and reliably control the puck off of face-offs. The wingers and defensemen should all be prepared to react once the puck is dropped. They should know ahead of time what they will do if the puck comes towards them or a teammate, goes to an opponent or stays at the dot as a 50-50 puck. Sometimes that means holding up your opponent so that your teammate has time to make a play, sometimes it means attacking the opposing defenseman and getting right into a forecheck. The center should communicate with teammates before stepping into the draw to let them know where she is trying to direct the puck and also to make sure everyone is ready to go. So be prepared on every face-off, you don't want your check to beat you off the draw and go down to score a goal!
 

Skating fast with the puck

Stickhandling is an important skill to develop. Learning how to maneuver in a tight space with the puck can help you get around defenders. Sometimes, however, it can be just as important to know when to NOT overhandle the puck. When you get the puck with open ice, you want to be able to push the puck with one hand on the stick to optimize your speed. Stickhandling too much when you don’t have an opposing player to deke will just slow you down. If a defender challenges you then you will need to bring your lower hand back on your stick so that you can stick handle appropriately. In this video, the player blocks the shot and gets a breakaway. He pushes the puck with one hand through the neutral zone to optimize his speed and then uses two hands to deke the goalie and score the goal.

From the Bench: Line Change and Speed

Be ready for your line change

Hockey is a unique game in terms of substitutions. The “change on the fly” can look confusing, but is typically well orchestrated. The key as a player is to be ready on the bench. When the coach tells you that you are next to go on the ice, identify the player that you are going to change for. If you don’t know, then ask the coach. The player coming off the ice should be yelling their position (i.e., “center” or “right defense”) and that will help alert the player coming onto the ice. When you come into the action, you should be ready to play the puck as soon as you step on the ice. That means having your stick in a ready position on the bench so that you don’t come on the ice with it upside down. So when you are on the bench, get your rest and your water, but also pay attention to the game action. You don’t want to look like these guys!

Speed kills!

This is an example of a goal that starts way back in the defensive zone. Watch this play as the eventual goal scorer accelerates through a series of cross-overs in the defensive zone and through the neutral zone. Through this, he develops an overwhelming speed advantage against the two defensemen. As he passes the puck to his teammate, he continues to go to the net with his stick on the ice and gets the puck back for the goal. So while cross-overs aren’t always the most fun thing to practice, keep in mind that using them in the games can help your speed and acceleration. And that can help you and your teammates succeed.

 

From the Bench: Your Voice and Opening Up

Hockey's secret weapon: Your voice

You are open on a 2-on-1 rush, how do you let your teammate know? There's an open player in front of the net uncovered, how can the goalie let his teammates know? Use your voice and tell them. Talking and communication is a key part of hockey. From directing defensive zone coverages to finding an open teammate with a no-look pass, verbal communication makes it easier to play the game. If you have ever sat near the ice at a professional game, it is a constant flow of talking. This is not limited to on being on the ice either. Communicating from the bench is equally as important. See a teammate open to receive a long pass, see a player on the other team closing fast on your defenseman, see one of your teammates with his head down about to get checked -- open your mouth and let them know! You will appreciate the extra information when you are on the ice. Plus you will be more into the game and perhaps pick up an idea how to attack a particular defenseman or where the goalie's weakness is if you are paying closer attention.

Open up on the off-wing and score

Many times during a game, you will find yourself on the off-wing (on the left side of the ice if you are right-handed, and the right side of the ice if you are left-handed). In the offensive zone, you should consider "opening up" to get on to your forehand for a stronger shot attempt. Watch this play and see how #88 on the Hawks executes this perfectly. As he comes over the blueline at the top of the screen, he recognizes that a 2-on-1 is developing with him and #91. He immediately opens up and gets his stick into a shooting position. With a nice compact windup and release, he gets off a quick and powerful one-timer that ends up in the back of the net. Had he not opened up, he would be on his backhand as the pass came across. On his backhand, there is no way he would be able to get a quick or powerful shot off. So next time you find yourself on the off-wing, open those hips and get your stick ready for the one-timer.

From the Bench: Bottom Half of the Net and Saucer Pass

Don't forget about the lower half of the net to score goals

Imagine this: you get a pass in the slot with an opportunity to shoot. What do you see when you look at the net? The goalie or the open net? You should be trying to look at the openings to best score a goal. Traditionally there are five main spots to look at to light the lamp: the two upper corners, the two lower corners and between the goalie's legs (the fifth spot or the five-hole). As young players develop their shots and the ability to lift it, there is a tendency for all shots to go in the air. Don't forget, however, that the lower corners are still very good places to score goals. It is probably harder for a goalie to be able to stop a well placed shot on the ice (or just a few inches off it) than it is to stop a shot that is right at their catching glove. So, while it is fun to score the top shelf goal, don't forget to work on low corner shots as well.

The saucer pass

You are coming down on a 2-1 and don't have a good angle to shoot. Your teammate is open for the shot, but the defenseman has her stick in the passing lane. Time for the saucer pass. The saucer pass is a pass that goes into the air to go over an obstacle (like a defenseman's stick) but then lands flat so that your teammate can receive it and control it. It can be a very useful tool, but takes practice to be able to execute. While there are many different ways to do it, the most taught way is to start with the puck on the heel of your stick and to sweep through it so that the puck comes off of your stick on the toe. This puts a spin on the puck (like a spinning saucer) and allows it to land flat. See #88 for the Hawks discuss his approach to the saucer pass. The technique can be practiced on or off the ice. While it can take time to master, keep at it and you'll add a new weapon to your game.

From the Bench: Stick Handling and Scoring

Quick release the key to scoring goals

Everyone loves the big wind up slap shot. The new Pee Wees can’t wait to start taking slap shots during the games when they are first legal. The truth is, while a hard slap shot is an important part of a player’s offensive arsenal, many times a quick snap shot or wrist shot is a better option. Working on a quick release in practice (or in the driveway) will lead to increased scoring.  Work on receiving a pass and then getting the shot off all in one motion. It may not be as hard as a slap shot, but getting that puck to the net before the goalie is set will translate to goals. Additionally with an increased emphasis on shot blocks in today’s game, a quick release won’t let the defensive players get to the shooting lane and your quick release shot will get to the net. So get those wrists loose and work on that shot release – and get ready for your celly!

Work on your hands this summer

Summer is a great time to get away from the rink and enjoy the outdoors. However, you can combine some outdoor time in the driveway with development of your hockey skills. Take your gloves and an old stick, and use a tennis ball or golf ball to work on stick handling. Be sure to roll your wrists back and forth. Try to stick handle while keeping your head up and don’t look at the ball. Get creative and stickhandle around obstacles – each time you do it try to go a little quicker and be sure to keep your head up. You can also work on hand-eye coordination by trying to keep the ball in the air without letting it hit the ground. Check this out for some inspiration!

From the Bench: Scoring and Skating

Stopping in front of the net can lead to easy rebound goals

There are many different ways to score goals. Going to the net hard is usually a good way to find the back of the net. One way to maximize your chance of scoring goals around the net is to make sure you stop in front of the net. When you see your teammate shooting the puck, go to the net and stop just outside the crease with your stick on the ice. The rebounds usually come out in that area and can be tapped in for easy goals. Many young players have a tendency to continue on behind the net. But if you get in the habit early of stopping in front of the net, it will become second nature and will lead to more goals.

Becoming a better skater will make you a more dominant hockey player

Power skating: two words that cause many hockey players to roll their eyes. Becoming a skilled skater, however, can help you become a better hockey player. Imagine playing basketball if you were only able to walk but everyone else around you was running — you would be at a disadvantage. If you can become a more powerful, precise and faster skater, you will have the advantage on the ice. Learning how to skate does not end with Mite hockey. Most NHL players routinely work on their skating and have coaches who work specifically on improving skating skills. So the next time your coach wants to work on skating technique, head to that line and get to work.