John Russo

Golden Rules for Forwards

John Russo’s Coaches’ Corner

Golden Rules for Forwards

The Golden Rules are the keys items players should strive to master as they progress up through the ranks to high school and college. The best players at the highest
levels of hockey follow most of the Golden Rules most often. Players of average skills and speed will do very well if these rules are mastered. While the rules are basic and seem obvious, it may take many years of concentrated effort for most players to automatically perform them properly. This automatic reaction is what coaches should be teaching and what players should be working toward.

Read more: Golden Rules for Forwards

Puckhandling (part 5)

By John Russo

Let’s Play Hockey Columnist

As I noted at the beginning of the series, there are other things (other than stickhandling) involved in puckhandling.

First, a couple of drills for exercising stickhandling:


Drill #12 – Work in two or three lines lengthwise, in groups of three. Two players line up as defensemen, one behind the other 10-15 feet head start. The attacker has to get to the first D, make a move, go around and catch the second D and make a move before getting to the other end. This drill is meant to speed the attacker up to force a full speed attack. The first D needs to be fairly passive, the second D tougher.


• Two D’s use no sticks

• Two D’s use sticks turned around

• Two D’s sticks regular


Drill #13 – This drill is often called “Russian Courage.” Put half the team each in two diagonal corners. Have three from each corner line their sticks up (on the ice) along a lengthwise line from offside dot to offside dot between the blue lines (forming a passageway the length of the ice). 

These three players take a position on each line (blue, red, blue) halfway between the sticks and the boards. A “gauntlet” has now been formed. 

The players come through the gauntlet one at a time about every 10-15 seconds, trying to make moves on the three stationary defenders. The defenders can only reach (not skate except one stride) and push with their hands. The idea is to get through all three without being touched. Rotate every 2-3 minutes.


• Allow three gauntlet players to be more aggressive by stepping 1 or 2 or 3 steps in either direction (but not front and backwards).

• All three to reach with sticks but not move.

• Any other alternatives with the three that are appropriate and create challenges.


Puck protection. Players need to learn at an early age to keep the puck on the appropriate side of their bodies from defenders. They also need to learn to extend their arms and legs to protect the puck – this is the key to good puck protection (watch Matt Cullen of the Wild!).


Puck protections – boards: Puck protection along the boards involves, not only controlling the puck, but also handling resistance from the side and rear. Drills must be developed to practice working the corners (player with puck in corner facing the boards, two “opponents” trying to steal the puck) and along the side boards (player carrying puck with opponent skating along side trying to squeeze off the get puck). It is important for players to learn to balance and provide resistance while still moving the puck with the feet. 


Faceoffs: Learning to faceoff properly is as much a part of puckhandling as anything else. I like to have faceoff contests with everyone involved.

It is important to go through the basics and some of the tricks first, however. It is worthwhile, for example, to show players how to attack the opponents stick and how to use the body (then the feet) to control the puck and not lose.

It may end up that the best players at faceoffs are wingers, so they face off in all critical situations. I would also not be afraid to have defensemen handle faceoffs in the defensive zone if they are very good at it. Up until 25 or 30 years ago, defensemen always handled all defensive zone faceoffs.

Players should definitely understand when it is most important to not lose a faceoff (defensive zone). “Not lose” does not necessarily mean win, by the way.


Combination moves: Several of the dekes that have been described can be put together in combination – and should be practiced that way.

• Fake slap shot and go around – to a 360 reverse to the backhand.

• Any kind of a go around to the forehand side to a 360 reverse to the backhand.

• Drag and slip across to a slip across back the other way.  I have seen this in a triple.


Exercising Puckhandling Skills

Non traditional scrimmages – I very much like to have various scrimmages that do not involve 5-on-5 skaters – or involve 5-on-5 cross ice in one zone. This forces many more than normal “confrontations” and thus opportunities to use and develop skills. I also like even smaller area 3-on-3 or 2-on-2, so players cannot “hide.” Another good one is tag up shinny in one zone (one net).


Keep away – Keepaway is a great puckhandling drill when it is “whoever has the puck against other 2 or 3.” Each group will last about 45 seconds if intensity is high. Creativity should be encouraged; use small areas.


Puck drills – It is fun to challenge players with small patterns of pucks that must be maneuvered through. Examples are lines of pucks very 8 to 10 inches for fast hands; even the older players have fun with this. Use the blue or red lines as the lines.


Flips and flat passes – I want all of my players to be able to pop up (flip) the puck out of or into the zone. Most high school level players cannot. I also would like them to be able to “chop” a nice low arc flat pass (off of the heel of the blade) to a teammate 20 to 30 feet away. Coaches need to give players a chance exercise these skills by designing them into drills.


Beating the goaltender – The breakaway is an exciting part of hockey and is now part of the game (shootout). The single and double fake, as well as the fake slapshot, are the best attacks and should be practiced. Shots on the goaltender certainly are often a great option on a breakaway and of course happen 30, sometimes 40, times a game other than breakaways. 


While it should be obvious, I must mention that full tilt one-on-ones are the best way to exercise moves once the basic skills have been mastered. Just don’t do them full ice. Forwards can attack from the blue line in.


John Russo, Ph.D., is founder and director of the Upper Midwest High School Elite League. He was a captain at the University of Wisconsin, and his Coaches’ Corner columns have appeared in LPH since 1986.




Puckhandling (part 4)

By John Russo

Let’s Play Hockey Columnist


Teaching Dekes/Moves

In the last column, we finished the teaching segment on basic stickhandling. Now it’s time to move on to teaching the basic “moves” (power escape, single fake, drop and slip across, drop and slip through) described in Part 3.

Some drills that can be used to exercise the moves are outlined below.  It is a good idea to have the players execute the moves once or twice while more or less stationary at the front of the line before taking off down the ice.  This just gives some extra practice.  It is also a good idea to have a feet moving shot at the end, at least in one direction. Don’t over coach.  Just help and let the players figure it out to some degree


Drill #8: Form two or three lines, going lengthwise; one coach at far blue line for each line. Demonstrate well and monitor players for corrections. Stress going slowly until technique is good. All starts from the line are quick off the mark power starts or starts from facing the opposite direction.

- Put one cone at each line (blue, red, blue) and have players do a power escape and single fake at each cone (3-4 times up ice for each move) at 50-70 percent speed.

- Speed up as players get good technique. Allow individual players to speed up if they master techniques before others.

- Put three cones (or pucks) at each line in the triangle formation representing two feet and a stick and have players do drag and slip moves (3-4 times up ice for each move) at 50-70 percent speed. Coaches can take the place of one set of cones in each line.

• Speed up as technique improves. Watch body position and stress a long stretch with the drag portion of the move.


Drill #9: Form two or three lines, going lengthwise. Vary how players are facing and what they do before taking off. For example, it could be stationary practice for one move even though another move is being exercised as they do down the ice.

- Have coaches and teammates at each line (blue, red, blue) instead of cones. No resistance, just standing with stick out front. Do all of the first four moves 3-4 times up ice each at a comfortable speed. Rotate players at lines.

- Increase speed.

- Have players at lines provide a little bit of resistance.


Drill #10: Form two or three lines, going lengthwise. Players now are in pairs, one acting as attacking forward, one as defenseman. The defenseman starts 10-15 feet out from the attacker.

- The forward attacks the defenseman partner (going backwards) so a move can be made at about the first blue line. The defenseman is passive and just skates backwards with stick out. Place a coach or cone at the far blue line so the attacker can practice the move a second time while going down the ice. When going the opposite way, the pairs change roles – and cones are removed.

- The defenseman partner puts up resistance but no body contact allowed. The attacker can use any move as long as all moves are practiced over a period of time. Cone at second blue line. Change roles in other direction.


Drill #11:

Form two or three lines, lengthwise. Players in pairs, one F and D. 

- Forward attacks D partner with a preselected move (selected by coach); after making the move, the F throws the puck to the D (at about the red line) and roles are reversed with a second attack at the other half of the ice.


We have now progressed to actual moving attacks at resisting defensemen and have four moves in the “arsenal.”

For young teams, the progression to this point may have extended over many weeks or even half a season. For older teams, it could have happened over just a few practices. The basics cannot be skipped at any level.


The Next Five “Moves”

5. Fake shot, then shoot

This move is one that is done to get the goaltender to stop moving across the crease so more open net can be found for a shot. It must be done all in one motion. The player needs to be in the right position to attempt it. 

The player comes across or diagonally in the offensive zone (in front of the defensemen) on the forehand. The player then fakes a wrist shot, catches it, pulls it back and takes a wrist shot – all in one motion. As the action (fake, pullback, shot) is taking place, the player is still moving laterally across the zone, making it hard for the goaltender to cover the net. 

The best alternative for the actual shot may be “behind” the goaltender (where he is moving from) since it will be hard to stop momentum and reach back.

Players must practice this move slowly, then speed up as they get the rhythm – front fake, pull back. This is a great skill when going into the offensive zone without support.


6. Fake slap shot and go around

This is a great move when coming in on a defenseman and can also be used by defensemen from the point. It is simply a fake slap shot, then go around on the forehand side.

It is critical that the fake shot is good and the push of the puck after the downstroke (or the fake) is at 90 degrees to the motion of the fake shot (is toward the boards) with a strong push from the inside foot to start the “go around” motion. The fake will freeze the defenseman and allow a little time to go around the outside.


7. Turn out

This is simply a quick 360-degree turn towards the boards when coming into the zone and cut off from attacking further. This is a famous Wayne Gretsky move now used by many forwards.

It allows teammates to catch up and makes a little room for creating a new play. It is done when still in front of the defenseman.


8. Double fake

This is the partner to the single fake.  It is a stick fake – moving the puck one way, then the other, then back to the original side.

This is a dynamite move that will beat defensemen and goaltenders if mastered well. Once a good single as well as double fake is developed both ways, opposition D’s and goaltenders will not know which way a player is going.


9. 360-degree reverse

This is not the same as the “turn out” because the intent of this move (the 360) is to get the defenseman to start to turn (to the outside) as the players start to go by, then hit the brakes and quickly come back on a backhand reverse behind the D – and drive to the net.


 After the state tournament, I’ll get back to one more part of the series to wrap it up.


John Russo, Ph.D., is founder and director of the Upper Midwest High School Elite League. He was a captain at the University of Wisconsin, and his Coaches’ Corner columns have appeared in LPH since 1986.

Coaching good TEAM defense

By John Russo

Let’s Play Hockey Columnist



I often see games where the goaltender has 35-45 shots and gives up four or five goals and the team still wins because they have a powerful offense. Less often do I see games where the goaltender has 15-25 shots and the team wins with an overall low score.

I have always liked good overall team defense, not just good defensemen and/or good goaltenders, but TEAM defense. Many youth coaches don’t have a good enough grasp of the overall game to understand the pieces that make up TEAM defense. 


Goaltender items

Let’s start first with the goaltender. It is pretty obvious that the goaltender is part of TEAM defense, but here are some of the details that coaches need to help the goaltender deal with to optimize the TEAM play (other than just stopping pucks):

• Verbalizing/communicating with the defensemen often. This is critical, especially when the D’s are coming back into the zone to collect the puck, or if the opposition has open players in scoring positions, for example. The D’s appreciate the good overall view that the goaltenders have.

• Stopping the puck and setting it up when it has been shot in “around the boards.” A good, quick goaltender can get behind the net and help the D with a good set up so the D can more easily get the puck moving the other way. Goaltenders need to work on this skill. They also need to be good skaters to do this.

• Passing the puck to D’s or forwards when it is shot into the zone – and time exists. Goaltenders that work on their shooting skills are like another D. Clearing the puck out of the zone is another key activity.

• Working on basic positioning and skills so that routine shots are saves – cuts down on unnecessary goals. This sounds like something that ought not to have to be said, but coaches need to work with goaltenders so that they do have good basics.


Defensemen key duties

To maximize the defensive TEAM game, D’s need to be coached to remember that they are always first, DEFENSE men. Often, D’s are too caught up on trying to be part of the offense, and put themselves at too much defensive risk. Coaches can help D’s remember key defense concepts:

• While support of the offense is important, D’s need to do it as a trailer. Only progress with the offense while a real scoring opportunity exists, then back to safe defense. Scoring goals is not the prime duty of a D.

• D’s need to always back their partner.

• Moving the puck over the lines of defense (blue and red) as quickly as possible reduces risk.

• Defending the lines of defense wisely reduces risk.

• Learning to move the puck quickly out of the defensive zone puts the team on the offensive, and reduces the risk (of the puck in the defensive zone).

• Developing a pride as a defensemen group for not allowing goals is a good way to keep the D confidence high.

• Not making poor and risky moves in the high defensive zone and neutral zone reduces odd man rushes. It is better to back off and defend – allowing forward support to catch up.


Creating defensive forwards

It is true that a good team has defensemen that are an integral part of the team offense, and forwards that are an integral part of the team defense. The forwards must know that they are responsible defensively. It cannot be the defensemen and goaltenders that “fail” whenever a goal against is scored. In truth, it is just as likely a wing or center that caused the breakdown. If every rush down the ice by the opposition has a backchecker, few 2-on-1’s or 3-on-2’s will exist. Coaches can do several things to improve the defensive performances of forwards:

Make certain that wings know their responsibilities in defensive zone. Many forwards feel that their job is primarily to get the puck and head for the other end. When the other team has the puck, however, their job is strictly one of coverage (of the near side D and the high slot by the far wing). I can’t even guess how many times I have explained why a wing cannot run into the corner for the puck.

Make certain that centers know that they are defensemen in their own zone. Weak (defensive) centers can be found chasing the puck to the points, in the corners, wherever it goes. This will cause poor coverage and goals. Centers should never be out at the points.

Insist that all forwards backcheck and cover the man all the way to the net if necessary. The first checker is most important, but the last will be picking up the D trailer.

Insist that all forwards move the puck to the points (in the offensive zone) when these D’s are not being covered closely. Otherwise, the forwards are outnumbered inside 5-on-3 deeper in the zone and will be losing the puck soon and creating defensive situations.

Provide drills that will help forwards move the puck out of the defensive zone when they receive a pass from the defense. Wings particularly need to learn to get the puck out of the zone and relieve defensive pressure.

Insist that forwards fill in for D’s when they rush the puck.

Praise forwards for good defensive work, not just goal scoring and points.

Make certain that all three forwards don’t forecheck or attack deeply in the offensive zone all at once. The risk in the defensive zone goes up as the aggressiveness deep in the offensive zone goes up.


To have good TEAM defense, coaches need to teach the concept to all players, then exercise in practices and monitor it in games. Passive goaltenders, risky defensemen, or lazy forwards make the other team’s offensive job easier. Offense will take care of itself if good TEAM defense is a priority.

Next week: Part 5 (final) of the puckhandling series.


John Russo, Ph.D., is founder and director of the Upper Midwest High School Elite League. He was a captain at the University of Wisconsin, and his Coaches’ Corner columns have appeared in LPH since 1986.

Puckhandling (part 3)

By John Russo

Let’s Play Hockey Columnist

Teaching stickhandling (more advanced)

I’m sure you enjoyed the Guest Writer the past three weeks. Last time (back in January), we outlined drills that were more or less stationary. Now it is time to start skating while moving the puck. The next drill is simple, but many high school level players cannot get the full length of the ice with puck under control. Don’t ignore this drill at the older levels.


Drill #4: Three lines, starting at one end, the drill will go lengthwise. Always demonstrate.


- Have the players carry the puck straight up the ice, from one end to the other. Concentrate on maximum speed (including a good start) while controlling the puck. Start out with two hands on the stick, then after 4-6 strides go to one hand on the stick pushing it out front, then back to two hands the last 30 feet. As an alternate, use two lines only, two goals at each end with shots at the end, with feet moving.

- Have players start out sliding back and forth (3-4 times) while alternating as in Drill #3 before starting down the ice.

- Have players do three crossovers left, three right, three left, etc., down the ice while controlling puck. Two hands on the stick at all times. As an alternate, shoot at the end with feet moving.

- Have players start out sliding back and forth while alternating, then fast start with two hands, then to one hand straight ahead, then at red line start crossovers, three left then three right. As an alternate, with feet moving shots at the end.

- Mix various moves as in the last option.


The next drill sequence brings in alternating while moving, the precursor to dekes.


Drill #5: Three lines, starting at one end. The drills will go lengthwise. Start out at controlled speed (60-70 percent). Do the alternating moves while sliding (three times) before taking off. Also always stress a strong and quick start, 4-6 strides, then start alternating. Form lines again at other end. Do four repetitions (down back twice).


- Two hands short stroke alternating, front.

- Two hands wide alternating, front

- Two hands (forehand) to one hand (backhand) side alternating, front

- Two hands diagonal alternating (forehand side)

- Two hands side alternating

- Two hands front or diagonal alternating, then side alternating last 30 feet

- Mix various options plus add shots at the end.


The next two drills concentrate on shooting with feet moving. Few young players can get a good shot off with their feet moving because they don’t learn the skill. Goaltenders have a much more difficult time defending against feet moving shots because they can’t as easily prepare for them. The first step is to learn the rhythm of the feet and the stick. To shoot while going straight ahead, create a rhythm with side alternating – while crossing over, create a rhythm with diagonal alternating.


Drill #6: Three lines at one end, going lengthwise. Demonstrate well.


- Go 40-60 percent speed around the circle, getting rhythm of diagonal alternating in sync with skating stride. The power foot again should be pushing off as the stick starts its forward motion.

- Speed up as players get comfortable

- Do up-ice options of puckhandling, switching to side alternating and a shot in the last 30 feet.


Drill 7: Break team into as many groups as there are coaches – each group on a circle. Each group shooting the same way (all lefts or rights).


- Go 40-60 percent speed around the circle, getting rhythm of diagonal alternating in sync with skating stride. The power foot again should be pushing off as stick starts forward motion.

- Have players take turns (one at a time) doing one rotation of circle, then shooting on the net (60-70 percent speed).

- Do above, one at a time at 100 percent.


Of course, the goaltenders should not be ignored while these drills go on. When shots are involved, they can handle the shots. Otherwise, they should be working on their own puckhandling and shooting skills (trapping puck behind the net, passing to D in corner, shooting). A good high school goaltender should be able to hit the glass at about the top of the circle from the goal crease.



The next part of puckhandling involves teaching players dekes/”moves.” The process of most dekes has a segment in it that is called “shuffling.” This shuffling is simply short strides with both feet on the ice and may include pushing with one foot and then the other – 2-3 pushes from one foot, then the other. 

This is necessary because it is not always possible to move the puck properly or to “drag” the puck with feet striding in a normal fashion. Consequently, the deking process generally is a process of:  skating with the puck to the defender, shuffling while alternating the puck, making the move (single fake, drag and slip, etc.), skating by the defender while protecting the puck (escaping by), then shooting in stride (or making a move on a goaltender or passing the puck).

So it’s skate, shuffle and alternate, make the move, skate around to escape. It will be worthwhile to have players practice the shuffling move up and down the ice a few times during basic skill drills. We are now ready to move on to the next five moves.

There are nine basic “moves” that I believe should be worked on by youth players. Not all nine will necessarily be mastered by all players but can be by the high school level with concentrated work. It is important that the players try to master several very well so that they feel very confident in using them whenever the opportunity presents itself. 

The first step, of course, is to master the skills that we have outlined in parts 1-3 of this series. The second step is to take the “moves” one at a time and work on them over a period of time with a series of drills.

It is critical that the moves each be demonstrated very well so that players can see them from several angles. It is also important that players do the moves slowly for the proper execution and against little opposition, and then increase the speed and resistance. Half speed against cones is plenty to start out. The easier moves can quickly be progressed up to fast speed one-on-one. 

It is also good to teach 2-3 basic moves at (relatively) the same time so that alternatives exist when the drills progress to the one-on-one stage. If you, as a coach, do not have the skills to properly demonstrate the moves, bring someone in to assist you.

The following is a description of the first four moves in more or less chronological order for teaching. 


- Power escape/drive to net

This is simply a change of pace. The player slows down some when approaching a defenseman, then after a little inside head or shoulder feint, turns on the speed to burst around either the forehand or backhand side. It is important to be able to move the puck outside and carry it with one hand so as to protect it and use the other arm stuck out to keep the defenseman at bay. We will go through a basic puck protection drill later.


- Single fake

This is the easiest of the stick moves but depends on the fast stick that we worked on earlier. It is a stick fake – moving the puck one way, then pulling it back the other way. It should be worked on either way. A good fake is important because it sets up the move the other way by freezing the opponent briefly. Again, puck protection when going around is important.


- Drag and slip through/Drag and slip across

These next two moves (drag and slip) are best introduced by first demonstrating the spaces created by the triangle formed by a defenseman’s two skates and the blade of the stick out front.  The two areas to be attacked are underneath the stick but in front of the skates (slip across) and between the legs (slip through). 

The first portion of the move (the drag) involves reaching the puck out to one side (in front of the defenseman while leaning the body the other way). If the defenseman leans toward the puck, then a quick “slip” across or through provides access around the defender. The reach must be very wide and slip very quick. For the slip through, players should try to get the defensemen to turn slightly toward the where the puck is.


John Russo, Ph.D., is founder and director of the Upper Midwest High School Elite League. He was a captain at the University of Wisconsin, and his Coaches’ Corner columns have appeared in LPH since 1986.