Friday, November 30, 2012

Puck Pros Training Session (Jason) - Skating

I finally bit the bullet and put down the money for a few sessions at Puck Pros. My evaluation skate a few months ago was extremely helpful. The ability to ask questions,  and have the individual attention with your coach is extremely beneficial to me. I got more out of that hour than I did with the entire beginner program at HNA.

I went on the small ice and just skated around it, reminding myself that I need to really bend my knees when I skate. I've been doing it more and it has helped, but I clearly haven't been doing it the right because again, I stumbled on that synthetic ice.

I worked with Jason and we focused on skating. It was clear to him immediately that I'm a poor skater (as is everyone at my level). Ultimately it would be my balance and strength in my legs that need a lot of work.  Jason noticed that I do not do any weight transfer when I skate. When you push off with your left foot, all of your weight has to be on your right leg. You do that by keeping your head over your right leg. This is something I never do. My head stays in the middle of my body.

Transferring weight from leg to leg is difficult for me because my balance is so poor. I always knew my left leg was a lot weaker than my right, but I didn't realize how much weaker it was. If I add some strength to it, it will help my balance.

I also worked on my c-cuts, which I apparently have never done correctly. Again, weight all on one leg, knees bent as if you're about to sit down, and push off with your other leg. What was interesting to me was that it is acceptable to not go in a straight line when you do this.  Your leg with all of the weight is supposed to be directing you,  so if you do want to go straight, you can keep it straight. If you want to go at a slight angle, you just rotate your foot slightly. And that does make sense somewhat, but it contradicts what I thought in the past.

The session really wore me out, and we've got a lot to work on. I knew this going in, but I honestly thought I was going to do better based on my evaluation skate. I always try to take away three things to work on after any sort of practice. This time the three are:
  •  Balance - A core concept in any skill for hockey. If you can't balance yourself on one leg, you won't be able to transfer weight, and that is where power comes from with anything. The weight transfer is key in golf, as it is in hockey. This will be useful in skating, shooting, and stick handling.
  •  Strength - I skate standing straight up, and I always have. After my evaluation, I bent my knees more and I was tired more after games. It turns out that I'm still not bending my knees enough because I'm too tired. Additionally, my left leg is weak, which hurts my turning, and pushing off with it. Both legs need added strength
  •  Legs in hockey stance - So much of this session was about the basic hockey stance. The things I need to remember is to bend my knees as if I'm almost sitting, and stay on the balls of my feet. I was tired after a few seconds of doing just this. It'll help keep me stable when I'm skating, and help me push off with the proper angles. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Coyote Practice with Goats

This rink was extremely hot. I cannot remember the last time I felt so warm on the ice. I know I was not the only one. As a result, the ice was incredibly soft. Amazes me how big of a difference this rink is compared to the places I typically play at.

I felt uncomfortable from the time I stepped on the ice until the time I got off. Nothing I did could get me feeling good. The warm up drills this coach had us do were different from what I've done in the past. I liked them. He would have us skate 5 full strides, glide, then do a tight turn towards one direction and go back. It really makes you focus on your strides and turns. He then had us do the same, only he would blow the whistle quickly, stop, and go in the opposite direction. There were some really good skaters there for this type of coach. It made me a little nervous because I was afraid that if I did something wrong, I'd get trampled.  I skated so hard during one of these drills that I lost an edge, fell and rolled  quite a bit. Luckily I didn't trip, but man I was tired.

The one coach then took us and we did cycle drills. I messed up a few times, but to me, it ultimately lead to keep possession of the puck, and keep yourself as an option. This is something I've always tried to do. The coach was trying to enforce the idea of going to specific areas where you'll go to score goals.  It was interesting in the idea that if you have the puck, then swing around to the other side, you need to make yourself an option. It is something I could work on.

We went to the other side and focused a lot on one on ones. This is something I was thrilled about. In one of my recent Coyote games, I got burned on the same one on one multiple times. So as much as I wanted to play defense on these one on one situations, I only got one defensive opportunity against the caliber of player that I really needed to work against. I did a good job against him, but he really didn't make a good move.

The scrimmage was short, but I did very well during it. I didn't get too aggressive as I knew the opponents were much better than us. At the same time, I did help correct one of the wingers in his positioning in the break out. Once he was in the correct position, I hit him with a great pass.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving 3 on 3

Three on three sessions are always fun for me. The closer the skill level is to me, the more fun I have. I like playing in the Phantom Pond Hockey Skates, but those guys are so much better than me, that it can be frustrating. The day after  Thanksgiving and nearly every player was in a division that I'm in - I had a good feeling.

At these skates, I really like to play defense. Typically two guys go up, and one stays back. It makes a nice triangle, and I like to give support to the goalies. When you're playing back, you always have a solid angle at the goalie, and both of your players.  Distributing the puck, carrying it in is so much easier from that area of the ice. I did this a ton tonight, but I rarely ever took it in.

I didn't do as well as I would have liked. I later learned that one player had a mission to not let me score whenever he was on the ice. I thought that was rather humorous. I didn't mind, I appreciate the challenge. I did have a lot of good battles with players along the walls. I took one smear along the boards, but got my shot off, and it did go in. Another time, I was able to pin one player's stick against the boards with  mine, and used my foot to kick the puck to my side, then turn and control it. I did very well battling for loose pucks all night. I also made a handful of great passes to my center, who did extremely well. Whenever I play with this specific player, we have amazing chemistry. Despite playing on the same team together, we don't see the ice with each other very often.

Towards the end, I started having problems moving the puck. I'd make a pass or try and shoot, and I'd whiff. Yet I see a huge thing of snow go way up in the air. The Ice was just so cut up that it was difficult for me to put a soft touch on the puck. Others were doing the same thing.

Once everyone was done, I stayed on the ice. One of the guys brought his six year old out, and he skated for a while. He got much better since I last saw him. I passed him the puck a few times, played defense on him a couple of times - just fun stuff. When I was done with this I wanted to focus on my skating. I did laps as hard as I could, forcing me to turn. I did fairly well I felt. The ice at this point was rough. I lost an edge in a corner, fell and was shocked that the ice was so cut up and filled with snow that I didn't slide. It was then I knew I was done.

We rented the ice for 90 minutes, yet we didn't give it up for two hours. Ultimately, I think every player and goalie had a blast on the ice today. That is what is most important to me. All of these guys knew each other, were very relaxed, and had fun with their friends - something we're all supposed to spend to do during the holidays. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Stick and Puck at Bensenville

I wasn't really prepared for a skate. I stayed up late the night before, didn't get a lot of rest, was hungry, but it was just a stick and puck. As I was getting dressed I thought about what I wanted to work on for me, and I wanted to work on my slap shot. I took probably 20 of them, and they were disappointing. I left huge holes in the ice, the puck went slow, and didn't lift off the ice. I know you're supposed to be hitting behind the puck, but I don't see the benefit in my shot. I understand the theory, but it doesn't translate well for me. My crappy snap shot is way harder, more accurate, and a faster release than my slap shot. Perhaps it is why I never take a slap shot. I then worked on just basic skating with the puck and stick handling for a few minutes. I focused on keeping the puck closer to the shaft of my stick rather than the toe, which is what I used to do.

My goalie came out, and I worked on aiming for specific  points from about 40 feet out. I didn't do as well as I would have liked, but I just didn't have the energy I should have. Shame on me. I did one quick lap at full speed without the puck, focusing on bending my knees, and called it a day, then went home.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Coyotes (2-0) vs. Bulldogs

The Coyotes were in pretty high spirits before the game. I think it had to do with them getting their new jerseys. They are without a doubt - awesome. But there was a lot of banter and chatting between players between warm ups.

Right off the bat, I recognized that the Bulldogs had two skaters that I had not seen before. I was warned to watch for one of them. These two players were also cherry picking. I did my best to reduce their cherry picking, and be prepared for them. I did a fairly good job of it from what I can remember. Where I got burned was I pinched more than once that night. And sure enough, I'd be in the circle, and they'd get the puck outside of the zone. I sprinted to get back and help my defensive partner, but with that big of a head start, I'm not catching up to anything. Luckily he's good, so I'm not super concerned by it.  He also would pinch a lot, and I'd have a lot of two on ones.  I did a decent job of disrupting them.

There was one play where the skater had a break away. I got back and was able to disrupt him just at the top of the circle. The problem is that when you have two guys who can't skate well bumping into each other, they're going to fall. I took him down. No penalty. By the time I found the puck, my partner was back, and I from my knees, I was able to throw it behind the net just strong enough for him to get it and skate it out of the zone. The second time that I had to get back to break up a one on one, I wouldn't catch him. Instead, I'd have to dive, fully extend my arm and hope I would knock the puck off his stick. I dove, felt something hit my stick and then I just heard my goalie yelling. I looked up and the I could see the trail from where the puck slid into the corner. I had gotten it.

I did have a big problem though with one on one's. I couldn't figure out how to play a one on one. It seems so simple, but he'd just keep walking around me and getting a great shot in the slot. He burned me the exact same way three times, and it wasn't even a good move. I had another point where I couldn't decide if I should be aggressive or pull back in the neutral zone. I would pull back, but then I went back too far and gave the skater too much space. I'm having a difficult time judging speed and making decisions like that when one on one.  I'm going to really have to watch it.

Offensively though, I felt I played very well. Perhaps even a bit too aggressive, or even hoggish. After the game I tried counting my shots and I had at least 10. I had two when I brought the puck up on the rush. I had three in the span of 15 seconds. I had two right from the face off. None went in. It wasn't until the third that I really tried to start putting the puck in the net. For example, it was almost like there was a cycle going on. The puck would come up the boards, and I would pick it up. I'd walk past the forward(s) and get a shot in the slot, I'd circle back to the point quickly. I turn and look, the puck is coming back up the boards again to me. I did it again, and again.  They were good shots two. The third, I was more concerned about speed, and did a snap shot to change it up because the first two shots didn't go in. The goalie had a clear view of it though on all of those.

In the second, I made an awesome break out pass to the winger in the neutral zone. It was a nice saucer pass that was about 40 feet long. He had no one in front of him, and I put it over two bull dog sticks, and put it right on his tape. I loved it because I had been working on the saucer pass here and there. But it would roll off his stick because there was too much sauce on it, and it was his back hand. So close!

On my second to last shift, I put on a show at our own blue line. I had two bull dog players trying to enter the zone. But they had no speed. So I stepped up and stopped them. It was in our feet in this small area 7-10 feet from the boards. While battling, one player who had been throwing elbows all game hit me in the face with an elbow. I did not appreciate this. Despite wearing a full cage, you still get a lot of the force on your chin. In the next stab for the puck, I would also place my shoulder into that player, putting him on his butt. The stab would then knock the puck to the wall. I wouldn't get their first but I was strong on my stick, lift his and used my momentum to take that puck away from him and break into their zone.  It was nice because on the break, I had two options for passes. I didn't want to shoot because I felt I had hogged the puck the last few shifts. I passed to the guy in the middle, and he got a shot off but it would not go in.

Defensively I played a sub-par game. I wasn't happy about being burned the way I was three different times. I wasn't pleased that I had put myself in a position to get burned the way I did. Offensively, I love that I got the chances I did, but I think I hogged the puck a bit too much. The Coyotes would go on to win 10-2. 

Coyotes Dark Jersey

The Coyotes have had only a white jersey for a very long time. They're a new team, so the league helps them out by allowing them to wear one color every game. But they're now old enough that the league made them get another dark jersey. This is what they came up with, and I think they couldn't be any better. A special thank you to Red Bull for paying for them. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Piranhas (2-1) vs. Blast

I expected the Blast  to have a short bench based on their roster on the website and their record but they had a full bench. What was amazing is they had two guys that were giants. Their reach was outstanding. On a face off I lined up next to one of them, and I just felt like I didn't belong on the same rink as them based on size. It reminds me of being 12 years old playing basketball against guys who already hit puberty.

I had a hard time getting anything going. The Blast are in a higher division, but that shouldn't be an excuse. I just had no jump in my step.  They were also a lot faster, so when I was skating as fast as I could, I had a hard time even staying within a reasonable distance of their skaters on the back check.

Early on, I had a low quality shot from the wall. It is something I'm trying to do more because I feel I'm just giving up possession. I also had a good shot in the slot. The net was half open, but I didn't take my time and I shot a foot wide. Very frustrating.

There were a ton of penalties this game. Hooking, roughing, and so on. I had two penalties myself. My first penalty was iffy. I was back checking and I got my stick around his hands. It was a bad idea to do this, but where I caught the penalty was that I stopped skating. If I kept  moving my feet, it wouldn't have been a penalty. The second was during a penalty kill. One defense man went in, and I was racing back to cover the puck carrier. I hooked him fairly well, and got called for it. I wasn't too happy.

What I did do well is change. I didn't have one shift where my shift length was too long, or too short. Multiple times, I would pass off to the center, and then just go for the change - especially in the second period. It was important because when I was out there I was skating hard.

Sometime in the third, I got some time in the power play. I picked the puck up somewhere on the half wall, and got it down deep to the other winger who was in the corner. He had plenty of time, and I turned and went to the net hard. As he was about to get pressure though, he fed me the puck, I skated right across and just tapped it in.

Despite having a power play goal I felt my performance was average. I've been playing extremely well for the Piranhas, so I was due for an off game, but it is frustrating to me. I want to continue to play well. What is a big problem for me is I want to move into the Blast's division as an individual. Tonight, I had a tough time. I'm going to need to get a little better to get into that division and be an effective player.

The Fish would lose this one 4-9.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Piranhas (1-1) vs. Chaos

I got to the rink a few minutes later than I wanted, but I wasn't rushed at all. I've discovered when I can sit in the locker room for a few minutes before I take the ice, I feel calmer. Today, though, the high school game before us ran late. It was exciting to watch them play. There were some really solid contact, and some great skill out there. What really was neat was that there wasn't a seat anywhere to be found. We joked that everyone was here for our game.

By the time we took the ice, everyone was gone. I felt really good in warm ups. I got a good skate in, a few decent shots. I was more concerned with the Chaos. They had been undefeated to this point, and beat the Mastadons, who recently beat us. I couldn't see a whole lot of new skill on the team. I knew they were a very chippy team too, so I tried to pick out players I remember for such behavior.

From the first shift, my line was clicking. We spent probably the entire 75 seconds in their zone, cycling the puck, getting decent shots off, and battling in front of the net. What I like about my line mates is that they're both very confident players, and work very well together. They're also incredibly skilled and can turn up something from no where. This shift, I focused on taking my position in front of the net. Watching the two wingers skate on the outside as I stay in front with my stick on the ice. Sure enough I get two good shoves in my lower back. It was the goalie using his blocker on me. I know that when they're doing that to me, that I'm doing my job. I continued to do this all night, but eventually it was the defensemen who started to move me. It amazes me how much stick work they get away with regularly. Anyway, our first shift really set the tone for the rest of the Piranha team. all three forwards had shots and stuff attempts. I think we even scored on it, and I may have gotten an assist, but I'm not sure.

Very quickly the rest of the team started to remember who this team was and how they played. I think it resulted in a lot of heads up play, and looking for passes. Everyone was looking for passes, and trying to keep possession in the first. I would continue to try and set up my line mates, and keep with the mentality of keeping the puck. I caught a great pass from the other wall and brought the puck into the zone. I had no one defenseman in front of his goalie, but no pressure. I took the nicest snap shot I've ever had in a game, and I put it exactly where I wanted - right through the defenseman's legs, almost at the goalie's five hole. I was hoping to use the guy as a screen, but I hit the inside of the goalies pad, and he was able to freeze it.

At the end of the first I was real pleased with how I started off, and then I started to trail off a little bit. In one of my early second period shifts, I was on a 2 on 1 with my center. He made a move, forcing the goalie to dive for it, but instead it came over towards me. I have half of the net. All I have to do is put it in. The goalie dove back towards the post to make the save, and I pulled my shot. As a result, I put it right into his chest. He froze it and I was furious with myself. The entire team couldn't believe I missed that. I was furious myself, but wouldn't dwindle on it. I played a fairly flawless game so far for me. One of my next shifts, I had gotten the puck in the slot on a one on one with the defender and goalie. I was able to half way beat the defender so that he was just a random obstacle. I got a great shot off, got the rebound, shot again, and by the time I could get the rebound again, I was on the goal line. I saw a white jersey coming down the slot with some great speed, so I tried to just get it past the goalie who was just up and down in my direction. I got it past him, and into the slot. The center was able to put it home. The defensemen was pissed that he totally blew coverage of two players, and launched the puck down the ice. He instantly got a penalty for it. I did get an assist on this play.

I did a lot more grinding after this, and some penalty killing, and I did a fairly decent job in all areas of my game. We would score on that power play from before, and just outwork the Chaos. We had a 4-1 lead going into the third. Then our team just got a little lackadaisical  We weren't moving our feet. Despite telling everyone to keep working and digging hard, it just didn't sink into them. It was getting a bit chippy too. I tried to pick up my own intensity. I started hitting players every chance I could. I had two in one shift behind the net in their zone, and the Chaos didn't like it. I would later get another solid hit on a defenseman during the fore check. I didn't get away from him fast enough though, and he speared me in the back of the calf. Perhaps my favorite contact was during the race for a lose puck. There was a missed pass and the puck went into their zone deep. I was a stride or two away from the Chaos defenseman, and gaining on him. I started yelling to him, "I'm going to hit you! I'm going to hit you!" with no intention of hitting him. I was just trying to pressure him to make a bad pass. But he pulled up and turned into me. At that point, I had no choice but to make contact with him. He showed the patience, and kept the puck in close to his body, but he turned to make an outlet pass. I did feel bad about that one.

There was another play where I got a really bad cross check from behind into the corner. It should have been a penalty but was not called. I ignored it, but a few seconds later, going for the puck next to the boards, the same guy was coming at me and I hesitated. The guy scared me, and I hated that. I do not play well when I get intimidated.

I was on the ice for the last minute with one goal, and felt really good that I was out there. I moved my feet the whole time, and was careful not to get out of position, and just not give up chances. With about nine seconds left, the Chaos defenseman got the puck along the wall, right at the blue line. I tied him up so he couldn't move the puck. I tried to swat the puck just a few feet to my left, so it'd be out of the zone. I know i made contact with the puck, but I had no idea where it was. So I started to lean on that player to pin him along the boards. He leaned to reach for the puck and fell, and the puck went out of the zone. That is how the game ended.

The Piranhas earned a victory, but almost lost here. Not one player on our team didn't receive some sort of contact or bump or shove. It felt good to get that victory. It is a reminder that we have to play the full game, because when we stood around, we gave up easy goals. Myself, I played a really solid game. Aside from the missed half goal, and the part where I pulled up to not get hit, I was really pleased with my game. The Piranhas beat the Chaos 4-3, and I had an assist.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Center Ice Rat Hockey Session

The World Hockey Invite was going on in Chicago. That means for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, nearly every rink is taken. When this happens, kids who play during those days end up looking for ice. This was the only rat hockey session I could find in the area this weekend. There were many under 18 year old kids there who were all very good. For me, it had been a while since I had stepped onto Rat ice with a group of this skill level. Some of these guys would be better than anyone on the Goaldiggers to give you an idea of where I fit in.

Considering my lack of skill compared to the others, I did very well. On my second shift, I made an amazing rink wide pass to the other forward, who got a great scoring chance. When I have time, I've noticed that I'm able to thread the needle a lot more than I used to, and make a good pass.

I had one battle for a good 8-10 seconds along the wall in the corner against a much better skater than me. While he was able to turn, and just keep the puck away from me, I wasn't playing the puck. It kept him on the wall. Eventually he'd flub a pass to behind the net. I really like that I was able to do this. These battles are intense, and force you to play positionally, while rewarding the better skater.

Perhaps the best part of my night was the ability to handle a much more skilled player on a one on one. I was the only defenseman staying back. I read the play and saw what would be happening in two seconds, so I started going backwards. While we were in the center of the ice, I forced him to one side. I kept him on that side, and then made a good transition from backwards to going forwards. While he was much faster than me, I was able to use positioning and my stick to slow him down. I kept my stick out and close to the puck, taking away his shot. by the time he was able to get past me, he was at the goal line, and had to just go around the net.

I played defense most of the night, and it drove me nuts that no one passed or played position hockey, but what can you expect in a rat hockey session? I was pleased with how I performed. I also got a few shifts where I could skate hard the full length of the ice, so that's always nice for conditioning.