The Secret to Winning All Your Puck Battles in Hockey

Ben LevesqueHockey skills, Hockey tips8 Comments

puck battles

If there’s one thing I know well, it’s winning puck battles.

In fact, my old coach used to call me a master puck retriever—no word of a lie.

It’s because I was extremely efficient when it came to winning battles in the corners and along the boards. If there was a loose puck, I was coming out with it 9 times out of 10.

If the opposing defenseman had full control of the puck but I was close enough to apply pressure, chances are I was recovering the puck, too.

Now, winning puck battles does have a lot to do with strength & speed—luckily, I started training at a young age and focused a lot of time on my physical ability (it turned out to be one of the main reasons I got drafted).

But it’s not just about being strong and explosive. While it helps, it’s not the secret to winning puck battles.

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It’s something else—something that, if mastered, doesn’t require hours of gym or ice time.

It’s something technical that can significantly increase your chances of winning your battles, recovering loose pucks, or even stealing pucks from opposing defensemen.

And the best part is—any player can do it. It’s not some super complicated technique that only talented players can use.

Anyone can implement this into their game and see results as of tomorrow…no matter how big, small, slow or fast you are.

Before I teach you the technique, I first have to walk you through how most players approach puck battles.

This article is going to be short and to the point, so pay attention…

The common approach to winning puck battles

datsyuk backcheck

Picture yourself out on the ice just a few feet away from your opponent who’s just about to recover a loose puck.

Perfect scenario to initiate a puck battle, right?

Right.

So you skate over as quickly as possible and go right for his stick—maybe your coach taught you to lift your opponent’s stick to try and steal the puck, or even just try and poke it away from him.

Stick on puck‘ is what we’re taught from a young age.

While this is an effective way of winning puck battles or getting pucks back, it’s not how you get the label ‘master puck retriever‘ or win 9 out of 10 puck battles.

It takes more than just some stick-on-puck fundamentals.

How do the best puck-battling forwards in the NHL always come out with the puck?

How does David Desharnais, one of the smallest players in the league, always seem to control the puck down low better than others almost twice his size?

How does Sean Conturiera player that I had the chance to play with and learn a lot from—make it seem like it’s impossible to get the puck off him down-low?

What about the magician, Pavel Datsyuk who makes it seem like the puck is glued to his stick blade all the time?

These players are skilled, but there’s more to winning puck battles than that…

What do these players do that makes them extremely efficient at winning battles?

And on another level, what did I do to become a puck retrieving asset to my team which allowed me to play with the better players and give them more scoring chances?

It’s simple…

Using your body to win puck battles

Before you jump the gun and say “I’m too small/weak to win battles” or “there’s no contact in my league,” hear me out…

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It’s not about hitting or out-muscling your opponent (although if you can do this, it will definitely help!).

It’s more about positioning yourself in a way that your opponent can no longer get the puck.

That’s it.

That’s the secret.

That’s how you win 9 out of 10 puck battles.

And all you have to do in order to start winning more battles is change your mindset and tweak your technique.

Tweak your puck-battling technique

good body position hockey

Instead of thinking ‘stick on puck’ first, think about how you can position your body between the puck and your opponent as quickly as possible.

The “stick on puck” concept should come naturally to you anyways—you’v most likely been doing it all of your hockey career. Keep doing that.

But make a conscious effort to think of placing your body between your opponent and the puck…that’s where the real success happens.

The top players in the NHL who excel at winning battles and recovering pucks know how effective this is—they eliminate their opponent by getting between them and the puck.

As soon as you gain this advantageous position, your opponent now has to go AROUND you to get the puck back.

You can simply spread your legs a little bit, “be big” so to speak, and protect your puck as you see fit—just like Franzen does in the image above.

It’s going to be extremely hard for your opponent to get the puck back from behind you unless he regains the advantageous position on you.

Once you have the puck, instead of thinking to yourself “I’ve gotta protect this puck,” instead tell yourself, “I’ve gotta keep my body between my puck and my attacker at all costs until I make a play.

You can:

  • spin off your defender
  • stick out your butt to distance your opponent
  • bump your opponent
  • protect the puck with your skates
  • jam the puck up against the boards

and more. These are all effective puck-battling tactics that will help.

But at the end of the day, all you want to do is keep your advantageous position. Focus on this.

Don’t worry if you can’t see your opponent.

You’ll be able to feel him pressuring you on either side when he decides to do so—just keep the puck off to the opposite side from which he decides to attack, and spread your legs a little (like Franzen does) to keep any sticks away from your puck.

This technique of using your body as an obstacle that your opponent must go around is extremely powerful.

Gaining the advantageous position for even a split second can give you all the time you need to make a nice play.

Conclusion

This simple ‘technique tweak‘ and mindset switch can literally change the way you play the game.

I know, because it did for me.

Back in Junior, I was on a line with Mike Hoffman of the Ottawa Senators when he was just starting to dominate. If you watch hockey, you know that Mike has one hell of a shot.

My job was evident—get to pucks first, win my battles, and find Mike in the open space.

Once I figured out that there was more to winning battles than speed & strength—gaining the advantageous position—I started mastering my play down low.

The pucks came out to Mike in the slot, and he made no mistake.

You can be a tremendous asset to any team—regardless of your size and the caliber of hockey you play—if you learn to use your body to win puck battles.

It’s definitely a skill scouts pay attention to.

Now get out there and win your battles!

FREE Bonus: Download my 20-question Hockey IQ Quiz and test your hockey sense. See what area of your game needs improvement!
About the author

Ben Levesque

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Ben has been playing hockey for 20+ years and has learned a ton from playing with the world's best coaches & players. Among his accomplishments are a National Championship, a President's Cup, a Semi-Final finish at the Memorial Cup, several Queen's Cups and a helmet in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

8 Comments on “The Secret to Winning All Your Puck Battles in Hockey”

  1. arthur souretis

    I can not believe how great your blog is.My question is that in football I always coached the positive and the negative,you can lose an individual battle but we can win the war as a team if you do this and not that. Is this possible in hockey .If I had a player going against you and I knew they were going to lose the puck battle is there a technique that the player not winning the battle can use to not lose the war ,have the puck go here and not there,D zone and O zone

    1. Ben Levesque

      Hey Arthur,good question. Usually, we refer to situations like these as either commit/contain. For example, if the opposing player has full control of the puck down low in the corner and he’s very skilled, it may be wiser to contain him rather than over committing. In other words, keeping a good defensive position on him and forcing him to make a play—think of it as slow pressure rather than an all out blitz. Usually, you’ll want to commit when the opposing player doesn’t have full control of the puck and you feel you can create a turnover. These rules aren’t set in stone, as you’ll want to apply pressure on the puck carrier most times, but in a case where you know you’re going to lose the battle, slow pressure or ‘containing’ is your best bet so you at least don’t compromise your defensive position. Hope this helps.

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  5. Richard Parker

    Ben…I found your website over the weekend and have been reading all of the content – absolutely GREAT advice in every article. My 15 year old son is heading up to play in Massachusetts this Fall (we live in Florida) and he has been devouring the information on your site as well. He tried to get registered for the podcast but was unable to – is there a direct link? Also, do you have an archive page where all of your articles are listed? If you ever decide to start a “personal coaching” type program please let me know. Keep up the great work – your insider’s view and practical advice will no doubt prove to be a huge benefit and inspiration to my son. Thank you again for your insight and expertise.

    1. Ben Levesque

      Hey Richard, thanks for the kind words 🙂 Glad your son is finding my website useful. The podcast doesn’t exist yet…it was more an idea I was toying with for a while to see if people were interested. As for an archive page, I plan on re-vamping my website as soon as I’m done working on my new book (launching soon I hope!) to make it easier to find some of my older content. For now, I don’t have any personal coaching style programs, but you’re not the first to ask 🙂 Perhaps I’ll have to look into offering something like this in the future! Thanks again for your feedback. I appreciate your support!

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