I was never the guy with the naturally heavy slapper or blazing speed, but I was decent offensively thanks to a good head for the game and a functional set of hands.
Those Ovechkin/Stamkos types with the pure gifts aren't the norm in this game, they're the outliers. The rest of us, well, sometimes we need to get sneaky on the ice to get ahead.
There are a lot of little tricks that players use to help put the biscuit in the basket. My role was always to help our team put numbers on the board, and because I was nowhere near an Ovy/Stamkos type, I happened to pick up a few along the way.
Some you'll know, some you'll have tried and disliked, but hopefully somewhere in here is a nugget that can help you improve as a player.
The art of the shot fake…
This one is for all the horrible shot fakers out there, of which there are plenty: the part of the shot you fake isn't the going-forward/actually shooting part, it's the stuff players do before they shoot. The intent is just to freeze the goalie, not make him or her dive at an invisible puck.
We've all heard a fake described as a guy "dropping the shoulder" — well that's exactly what it is. You stop stickhandling for a sec, you pull the puck back to a shooting spot… and that's basically enough. You don't realize how early goalies know you're going to shoot until you try faking more subtly.
A stickhandle later and you should primed to pull the trigger. Think of it like an aerial dogfight when someone gets their target locked in. You drop the shoulder, it sets the goalies feet, now hit your damn spot.
If you're taking a snap shot or a wrist shot and your intent is to actually score (as opposed to trying to create a rebound or a whistle), always change the angle by even just a few inches just before you shoot.
Usually that means pulling the puck with the toe of your stick in towards your skate a half a foot or so, and shooting from in there. Goalies today rely heavily on their angles, and they use their size to play the role of "blocker." The toe-pull ensures that, at the very least, the tender won't be 100 percent square. Sometimes that's all it takes to find a hole.
On a 1-on-1…
You won't find much of this at the higher levels, but it still exists in plenty of rinks out there: If you're lucky enough to come down on a 1-on-1 with a D-man who thinks he's going to get sneaky by putting his stick at his side, then surprising you by swinging it at the puck, please feast on him like Thanksgiving dinner.
You know he's going to swing it, so you're going to wait for that swing, put the puck under it, and go to that side. He's already made the decision for you, the gentleman that he is. That means you have to start by skating away from that side and wait, then immediately make your cut when he goes for the puck.
He'll be off-balance, and you'll be in alone.
My default 2-on-1 play…
Obviously if everyone does this it won't work, but hey, not everyone reads hockey blogs in July, so you win.
On a 2-on-1 when I had the puck, I liked to look to the place I was going to end up. As in, if I were going to pass, I'd look pass, face pass, and be fairly obvious. Right around decision time I'd immediately switch all gears to shot mode, face the net, drop the shoulder, and in that same motion … pass.
You can no-look it because you've been looking over to start, so you know where everyone is. It's the same if you're going to shoot — looking shot for so long helps you size up what's in front of you, so when you suddenly look pass at that last second, you should still be able to pick your corner.
And last, the semi-breakaway…
This one is a little more well-known, but important: You have to get used to protecting the puck with your inside leg.
You know the defenseman is going to make a last minute dive at the puck, so you want to be in a position where, worst-case scenario, you draw the penalty for your team - nsuring he hits you before the puck takes care of that.
Thing is, when you swing that leg inside and hold it strong, it gives you a wider base so you should be able to withstand the dive, maintain possession, and turn that semi-breakaway into a clean look.
You'll notice that most of those tips involve a certain level of comfort with actually having possession of the puck. A lot of folks are too eager to get rid of the thing at the wrong times — it's okay to make a play with the puck when pressure is light.
Think how long some of the best players in the game — Marian Hossa(notes), Sidney Crosby(notes), Pavel Datsyuk(notes) — actually hang on to the thing for, it feels like hours at times. Until you're forced to get rid of it or somebody is open, adding a little patience to the tips above can go a long way.