Minor hockey coaches seem to struggle with the same issue every year: when do I introduce pucks into a drill? How good or comfortable do players have to be at something before I can let them try it with a puck?
There’s really no good answer. Not because there isn’t an answer but because it’s a terrible question.
First of all, players get comfortable at different rates. You can’t hold the better players back by waiting for the weaker ones, and you can’t get some players to use pucks and tell the others not to.
Also, being “comfortable” or “good” is in the eye of the beholder. Even some obviously “good” skaters without the puck will struggle more than others with the puck. There’s so much detail to skating and not all coaches know what’s important to correct.
Many coaches assess skating by grading the form and power generated by the feet and legs. But hockey specific skating is an entire body exercise. What a player does with the arms, the hands, the head, the shoulders, the back, and especially the stick, play huge roles in maximizing or minimizing even the best skating stride from
the waste down. Skating in a lot of ways is easy to cheat through and still look good…without the puck. Getting a player to handle the puck is a great way to expose vital, overlooked technique issues.
Of course, even better would be to create good habits before the bad ones develop. When I teach hockey skating without the puck, I make sure to point out every single styling detail. Two hands on the stick, stick on the ice, the stick leads the turns, etc. By the time I’m done teaching a skating skill, whether it’s tight turns or c-cuts, there is virtually no difference in technique with or without the puck. A player can start a drill without the puck, then simply skate into the puck and take it with them without changing a single thing.
The best way to confirm the players are paying attention to the details is to throw the pucks on the ice.
For those who say there are times when you don’t want two hands on the stick, believe me, it’s a lot easier to show a player how to take a hand off the stick after the fact than it is to convince one to put two hands on the stick after they’ve developed the one handed habit.
The bottom line is, pucks are only the enemy if they are treated as something you have to deal with while performing a skill instead of something that’s part of the skill in the first place.