If you're looking for the best way to hone your hockey skills, there are five basic tips and techniques you can follow that will add a definite edge to your game. A couple of these tips are more generalized and long term, while a few are much more specific and easy to address. Taken in combination, these five bits of advice will address a number of common problems among amateur and intermediate skill level players.
Maintaining a healthy level of muscular and cardiovascular fitness, regardless of whether you're in or out of playing season, is crucial in performing to the best of your abilities. This doesn't necessarily mean that you'll need to bulk up, as this can actually decrease the flexibility needed for agile maneuvering. Rather, train year-round with Nautilus and/or Universal weight-training equipment, which is designed to improve tone and build muscle without the bulking up that free weight lifting can cause. Along with this type of weight lifting, you should also be getting regular cardio exercise, either through jogging/running, cycling, or swimming. Regular in-line skating practice is a particularly effective and efficient way to not only build leg muscles and get a good cardio workout, but also improve your skating skills. During warmer seasons, athletes can substitute in-line skating with roller blading.
This tip holds true for any sport: determine what part of the game you leaves you with the most room for improvement and devote a portion of your daily practices to improving that weakness. If your skating lacks the speed and control necessary to escape your opponents, extra time should be spent engaging in skating and skating drills, as well as exercising your leg muscles during weight training sessions. If your weakness is aiming and shooting the puck into the net, practice by using an object which is three or four times heavier than a puck in order to develop strong wrist muscles, and use a target which is smaller than a typical hockey net to fine tune your aiming skills. These practices should be taking place every day, for a half-hour to an hour, rather than a few times a week for longer periods, during which fatigue and lack of focus can set in.
Lunging at an opponent during play, before your opponent has committed to moving past you on one side or the other, can end up committing you to the wrong side and giving your opponent an easy escape route. A better approach, particularly for defense, is to remain stationary or simply keep up your skating speed near the opponent, with a close eye on their movements. At the precise moment an opponent has chosen a side, stride forward in a long and decisive step to check him, rather than leaping forward before you've been given an indication as to where they're going.
There are two reasons to do this. The first reason has less to do with improving your game than sealing and preserving the tape on your stick, and therefore extending the life of the stick by keeping water out. The second and more apropos reason is the slight cushioning that blade wax provides when maneuvering the puck. Stick wax should be applied to both sides of the stick blade, and should be applied on the outside of the tape
The lie of a hockey stick is the angle between the shaft of the stick and the blade. Hockey sticks have varying lies, and these different sticks are given value ratings ranging from 4 to 15. For every increase in value, the lie decreases by 2°. The higher the value of any given hockey stick, the more straight the shaft of the stick will stand when the blade is flat on the ice. Also, the higher the value of a stick, the better a player can control the puck close to their body.
It's crucial to the effectiveness of your game to use the right stick for your position. Forwards in hockey generally use sticks with a value rating of 5, 6 or 7, as sticks with these ratings are designed to manipulate the puck with more control. Center position players tend to do best with a 6 or 7 rated stick, as these fare well when maneuvering a puck while engaging in close interaction with the opposition. Goalies tend to use sticks with value ratings as high as 11 to 15.
Neophyte hockey players who aren't sure which stick is best for them would do well to start out with a 5 value stick until they gain more experience and skill. The position in which you tend to skate should also inform your stick choice: skaters who stand up straight should opt for a higher value stick, while skaters who lean in would do well with a lower value stick.