To be a great forward, you must keep defensemen on their toes. This skill of keeping defensemen honest may come in the form of slick stickhandling, changing your skating pace, or using intentional misdirection.
In a previous writing entitled, Integrating the art of deception into your game, we delved into how hockey has evolved from a reactive game to a game of using deception and misdirection to be proactive and dictate the play. In this article, we take that concept a bit further and discuss specific techniques, forms of deception, and misdirection that players can use.
1. Faking shots: Goalies today are very good at tracking pucks, especially from further out. Additionally, defensemen are good at getting in shooting lanes and blocking shots. So beyond lightning, quick releases or changing shooting angles utilizing other deceptive tactics like a fake shot can also be useful to catch a goalie or defenseman by surprise. Faking shots can freeze defensemen or cause them to drop to a knee to attempt to block your shot, buying you more time and space to make a play. Pretend to shoot by winding up your stick and then quickly change the direction of your shot or use that split-second freeze to make a pass, or use your speed to get by the defenseman altogether.
2. Puck handling moves: Work on your puck handling in practice whenever you can to develop a good feel for the puck. Also, work on mastering various puck-handling tricks like the toe drag, between-the-legs move, or the spin-o-rama. These tricks can help you deceive defenders into thinking you may intend to go one way only to use that stickhandling move to go another way and create scoring opportunities.
3. Changing speeds: This is an under-used skill in today's game. Too often, players today only go one speed ... fast. However, varying your speed while skating can throw off defenders. For example, start with a burst of speed, then slow down suddenly, or lull defenders to sleep, attacking them at mid-speed, allowing them to think that it is your top gear, only to burst around them, kicking it into full gear quickly. These changes of pace can keep defenders guessing and also help you gain a step on your opponents to buy time and space to create scoring chances.
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4. Utilize misdirection: Misdirection involves moving or looking in one direction while intending to go in another. Using misdirection allows players to take control and manipulate opposing players to go where they want them to, all while planning to go in a different direction. For example, look off a defender or goalie by briefly glancing in one direction and then quickly passing or shooting in the opposite direction.
A great example of using the art of deception to gain an advantage can be seen in the video below from a 2022 Tampa Bay Lightning/Florida Panthers playoff game. As illustrated in the video, Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov makes Florida Panther defender Aaron Ekblad think he is cutting to the inside by simply using his head and a subtle shift of his body weight to make it appear he is turning to the middle of the ice. Ekblad assumes the same thing by biting on the fake and starts to cut toward the middle to cut Kucherov off. The very second Ekblad shifts his weight towards the middle, Kucherov shifts his weight and cuts back to the outside, leaving Ekblad in his wake. The 0.26 and 0.52-second marks of the video below provide the best viewing of this deception in action.
Note how Kucherov points his skates to the right (the middle), turns his head to the middle, and also shifts his weight towards the middle. Everything Kucherov (intentionally) sends a message to the opposing team and the defender that he is going to the right, while the whole time, he knows he's going back to the left. By setting up this elaborate deception of a move to the right (middle of the ice), Kucherov makes the defenseman react how he wants him to rather than Kucherov having to counter what the defenseman is presenting him.
5. Body fakes: Use body and head movements to deceive opponents. For instance, pretend to go one way by leaning your body in that direction and then quickly change direction. This can create confusion and open up space for you to make a play.
6. Be unpredictable: This is a big one. Make sure to mix up your moves and actions during games. If you become too predictable or constantly use the same move, smart defenders will quickly read your intentions and shut you down. You become a defenseman's worst nightmare by varying your moves, head fakes, and deceptions, keeping them guessing while increasing your effectiveness as a player.
7. Practice and repetition: Incorporating deception and misdirection into your game requires practice and repetition. You want to avoid experimenting with these in a game. Work on these techniques during practice, scrimmages, and drills to build muscle memory and improve your execution for when it counts ... in prime time!
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