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Welcome back for another edition of our trip through The Florida Panthers “Learn to Play” program! As stated in our previous post that this is an outreach program where the organization is trying to not only garner more interest in the Florida Panthers, but the overall game of hockey. It’s not only for adults either. Do you have kids or younger family members? Are you looking to get them into another extra-curricular activity? Do you want to get them off their smart devices and out into the real world? You’re in luck! Starting next month the Florida Panthers will be starting up programs for boys and girls (ages 5-9). Please visit the Learn to Play website for more information regarding cost, dates, times and the rinks that will be hosting this amazing program. Cost for the program is so enticing that I may see if I can get each one my cats into the program! If anyone is interested and has questions about first hand experience with the program, we at Panther Parkway would love to provide our insight! Now let’s move on to Weeks 2-4 of the adult program at the Panther’s IceDen!
Learn to Play Weeks 2-4:
Following our introduction to the program in week 1, which primarily focused on skating techniques and overall knowledge of edges, week 2 focused primarily on puck handling.
To start, each player lined up on the goal line with a puck. The coaches went over 3 versions of puck handling: Front, side, and backhand.
- Front puck handling is simple, its moving the puck in-front of you, side to side in a controlled manner. East to West. This get’s a little more complicated, which we’ll delve into week 3.
- Side puck handling is just like front. Depending which hand you shoot with (I’m a righty) you bring the puck to your dominate side and move the puck back and forth. South to North.
- Backhand puck handling is where you bring your stick to the opposite side of your regular shooting side and move the puck back and forth. South to North.
The point of this drill was to get the participants comfortable with handling the puck. Some could do it with relative ease and were moving through the drill like it was nothing. Meanwhile others were just trying to keep their balance and focusing on moving the puck.
One thing I wanted to add about this drill or any drill with regards to handling your stick is that it is your guide. The coaches have stressed to us to keep it in front, 2 hands at all times and to go our speed. If we as players start moving too quickly and we don’t have the proper mechanics we’ll:
- Turn the puck over
- Lose our balance because the stick is well out of our normal/comfortable range
We were then sent to skate down and back (goal line to goal line) with instruction from the coaches on which particular puck handle they wanted us to use. It was much harder than expected. The side and backhand especially. Can you imagine having to handle the puck a certain way, while being forced to keep your head up at a beginner level? Because if not you were going to run into another player! Now imagine doing this at the NHL level; at that speed, switching between all three versions just to maintain possession. It really makes you appreciate the level of skill the pros have and how long it may take to master it.
Give us a few weeks, we’ll be able to do this too!
From this drill we were split into 3 different groups. The first group worked on the 3 versions of puck handling while stationary. Are your arms, shoulders, and wrists getting tired yet? You would move the puck according to the coaches direction for 15-20 seconds, while working on keeping your head up. Once you did those drills individually, it was time to put it together. The coach would signal which version he wanted and when he blew the whistle, you would have to move into the next version. Imagine going from side, to back hand, back to side, to front. Awesome drill and you get a real sense on how the puck moves on the ice. I’d say, use the momentum to your advantage.
The second drill dealt with how to properly handle your stick. For this drill it’s important to understand what each hand is for. The hand that you use on top of the stick is what really drives the actual movement. The hand that is lower on the stick is a guide. You do not grip it as tightly because the whole point is to glide the stick through the glove and direct it where you wish to go with the puck.To practice, one player (the defender) would holder their stick in-front, motionless. The other player would possess the puck, navigating it back and forth while gliding your stick up and around the defenders stick.
Third drill had players split into three. Two players would line up on the side boards. The remaining player would line up across from them on the weak side. One of the two players would have the puck and would skate towards their partner on the opposite side practicing their puck handling. Once they were close enough they would pass the puck to their partner, and their partner would then skate, puck handle and pass to the third player, so on and so forth.
Weeks 3 and 4:
Weeks 3 and 4 was a blend of skating, and shooting.
The majority of the drills had players split into 2 groups, on the opposite ends of the ice. Those groups then would be split in two themselves. Each group would then line up on the goal line on opposite ends of the goal. One player on each side would skate from the goal line, up to the blue line, turn back into the zone to receive a pass and take a shot on net. We were being taught how to properly take a wrist shot.
Notice (below) the bend in the stick as Phil Kessel releases his shot. It’s very important that you distribute your weight from your back skate to your front. It allows you within that transition put some weight on the stick, making it bend, allowing you more zip on your shot.
My favorite drill so far of the program came in week 4. It had to do with figure 8’s, skating on one foot and letting the puck rip.
The coaches had set up “barriers” at center ice, one on each side of the Florida Panther logo. For the first go-around, we had to skate on our outside foot around one barrier, curl around and skate on one foot around the other barrier (think figure 8). From here the coaches would set us up for a one-timer or a “twisted wrister” -Bucci. Then the coaches wanted us to skate on our inside skate and skate the same figure-8 pattern. Much harder to accomplish if you aren’t comfortable on your edges.
It felt great flying around those barriers, feeling comfortable on the edges and receiving that pass. It felt like a true game situation (although how often does it really happen). Your hand-eye coordination during this drill is important as well. Your eyes may widen too much because of the opportunity you have, which may cause you to completely miss the pass (I regretfully acknowledge that 2 pucks got away from me).
Each session ended with a 3v3, 4v4, 5v5 scrimmage at each end of the rink. The mini scrimmages went for about 5-10 minutes but wore us out. Ever wonder why there are line changes? Each player grasping for air then came together at center ice to get a run down on what we learned and what is important to remember as the program progresses.
Stay tuned for next weeks update for Sessions 6 and 7!
Hope everyone has a great weekend and make sure you tune into the draft! All of us at Panther Parkway will be following along with you and will provide any insight on the Panther’s picks and possible trades!
Image Property of the NHL and The Florida Panthers