I have a confession to make. Back when I played college and pro hockey, I didn’t have any dangles. Anyone who played with me or coached me back then who is reading this would be nodding their head knowingly after reading that line. No toe drags, no cool flip-it-in-the-air moves (at least not that I was trying to do on purpose), no spin-o-rama, no nothing. Having just learned to skate at 13, working on my fancy dangles wasn’t exactly at the top of my list in terms of skills I needed to work on. You don’t really worry about the latest and greatest move when you’re just trying to keep up with your friends.
But there was something I was really good at. And maybe it’s because I’m a big nerd or that I had a pool table back when I was growing up. I understood angles. No one really wants to be talking about geometry, but stick with me here. This is really an article about spatial awareness. Here’s the dictionary definition of it: Spatial awareness is the ability to be aware of oneself in space.
It is an organized knowledge of objects in relation to oneself in that given space.
This was something I was always good at. No matter what sport I played, I had the ability to know exactly where I was relative to everyone else in the game. Came in handy when I was really young playing soccer and basketball and definitely translated to playing hockey when I was a teenager. So while I had no dangles at all, I was very good at protecting the puck. This is something we focus on with every player I work with now. How do you keep the puck protected from your opponent? Why risk the puck being stripped away from you with that slide-thru toe drag move when you can just put the puck out on your backhand with one hand, lean into your opponent and drive right around them? Sure, it doesn’t look as cool. I get that. But it is going to work more often. The further I put the puck away from my opponent, the less chance they can get it, right?
So now we’re back to talking about angles. I use the term ‘tape to tape’ all the time when I’m coaching, but I think that sometimes our players take this way too literally. Let’s go back to that definition of spatial awareness for a second: It is an organized knowledge of objects in relation to oneself in that given space. So you’re a D carrying the puck around your net on the breakout, looking at your options. You’ve done breakout drills until you’re blue in the face and you know what your coach wants you to do and what your first, second and third options should be. So you make a decision and make a read down ice. And then you try to thread the needle with a hard on the ice pass that goes tape to tape to your teammate. I’ll tell you something, this choice is sometimes as risky as the toe drag slide through move we talked about earlier. Tape-to-tape doesn’t mean that the puck has to travel the shortest possible distance to your teammate. The hard flat on the ice pass accomplishes the goal of getting it there quickly and on the tape – but it’s not always the best option (especially on the breakout). But we preach tape-to-tape all the time without teaching the fine art of the indirect pass, the flip pass or the saucer pass.
Use the walls. Use the air. Think of that insane pass Karlsson made for in the NHL playoffs for the breakaway. If you haven’t seen it, Google it. To be creative, you need to have awesome spatial awareness. That’s the only way Karlsson is able to make that saucer pass that landed perfectly on his teammate’s stick from 150+ ft away. The receiver wasn’t standing still, showing a perfect target, with his butt against the boards. And there sure were a lot of people that the puck had to get through in between Karlsson and his teammate. It reminded me of the hail-mary pass we see all the time in football. The quarterback isn’t just throwing that somewhere random – it’s calculated and it’s practiced.
Players who want to excel at this level and the next level need to work on their angles.
How does the puck bounce off the boards in your home rink? If you can’t answer this, you’ve lost a serious advantage you could use to beat your opponents. Can you flip the puck out of your zone consistently without icing it? If not, you’re missing a key tool for breaking out effectively. Can you use your body and your reach to keep a puck protected from an opponent in a 1-on-1 battle? Without all the fancy (risky) dangles? If not, you need to get back to the basics and focus on the things that work instead of the things that look cool. Remember, angles not dangles.
To learn more about getting to the next level, visit www.totalfemalehockey.com. Kim McCullough, M.Sc., YCS is a highly sought-after expert in the development of aspiring hockey players and has played and coached at the highest level of women’s hockey in the world for the last decade. She is a former NCAA Division 1 captain, strength and conditioning All-American and played in the NWHL/CWHL for 7 years. She is the Director & Founder of Total Female Hockey and is currently coaching the Toronto-Leaside Jr Wildcats of the Provincial Women’s Hockey League (PWHL).