How do NHLers win battles along the boards? Connection
Posted by Dean Holden at March 9th, 2014
by Jack Blatherwick, 5 March 2014
As a spectator, there are many things you can study that will make you a more effective player. In upcoming playoff games, watch how players go for loose pucks or ride an opponent out. You’ll see many high school and youth players reach with their sticks, while NHLers skate an extra stride or two to establish good body position or leverage.
Wrong way … disconnected: Imagine if I told you to pick up an 80-pound dumbbell from the floor, and set it up on a bench behind it. But I draw a line three feet away, and you aren’t allowed to get your feet any closer than that, so you have to reach for the dumbbell and even farther for the bench. You are in a weak position, because your arms are disconnected from the core of your body. A physicist would say that when the weight is at a greater distance from your feet (the fulcrum) than it could be if you were a little smarter, the ‘moment’ is increased like a weight at the longer end of a teeter-totter.
So much for technicalities; the bottom line is this: When you reach, you lose leverage and look weak. Similarly, reaching for the puck in a 1-on-1 battle along the boards or extending your arms to make a physical play on an opponent with the puck is disconnected. It fails in two ways. It makes you look like a weakling. It also fails to gain possession if the opponent is any good.
Right way … connected: If I let you stand as close to the dumbbell as you want, you could pick up a much greater weight using your legs and core more than your arms. So in battles for the puck along the boards, the object is to skate one more stride and get body position … leverage. If the opponent clearly has good puck possession, and your object is to defend – that is to control his body – don’t reach, because he is connected and you’re not.
If the puck is loose along the boards, and it is a virtual 50-50 race for it, do NOT reach for the puck. The Finns and Swedes teach it this way: Skate into his forearms, pinning his arms against the glass, disconnecting his body strength from his stick. If you skate that one extra stride, he looks weak and you win the battle for the puck.
Even in the top minor league, many AHL players haven’t learned to disconnect their opponent from his stick. They’ve heard too many times they should be physical – to hit. Most of the time, their efforts are wasted. They just bounce off and lose the battle for puck possession. They haven’t learned to CONNECT their strength to the battle and DISCONNECT the opponent’s strength.
Watch the NHLers do it right. The smartest players look effortless, because they anticipate so well and get their body between the opponent and the puck.