Four Hockey Drills: Cycling the Puck
Puck Cycling Drills
Maintaining puck possession is essential for scoring opportunities. Among the many tactics designed to help teams maintain puck control, cycling the puck—or puck cycling—is particularly effective. This tactic aims to keep offensive players in motion, thereby increasing the chance for defensive confusion and surprise.
The Benefits of the Hockey Cycle
When cycling the puck, offensive players attempt to confuse the defense by skating in continual motion. This prevents defenders from establishing good defensive position against a single attacker. Eventually an attacker should have an open shot on goal.
Cycling also puts constant pressure on the defense. Though in continual motion, the offense is actually coordinated, each offensive player looking for an opportunity to shoot. If there’s no opportunity, the cycle continues until a good opportunity unfolds, while the defense scrambles to keep up.
Hockey Drills: Cycling the Puck
1. The Low Cycle
Offensive players can cycle the puck in various ways. Perhaps the most widely used is the “low cycle,” where two or three forwards rotate clockwise or counterclockwise—depending on the side of the ice—around one of the offensive circles, passing the puck, and looking for open shooting opportunities.
To begin, skater A, positioned at the top of the offensive circle, spot passes off the half board and then skates forward to the near side of the crease. Skater B, positioned on the near side of the crease, skates, or cycles, around the far side of the circle, to the half board, to retrieve the pass, carrying the puck back to the top of the circle. Skater B can then look to pass cross-ice, dump the puck onto the boards for another cycle, or shoot the puck.
When the low cycle is performed with three skaters, skater A starts at the far side of the offensive circle and dumps the puck into the corner. Skater C, on the near side of the circle, above the crease, skates behind the net to retrieve the puck, carrying it to the far side of the offensive circle.
The difference here is a third skater, skater B, is positioned at the top of the offensive circle and skates toward the crease after the first pass, filling the space vacated by skater C, who is retrieving the first pass. The skaters cycle in a motion counter to the puck direction, passing behind them or looking for opportunities for open shots.
The low cycle is an excellent and effective fundamental tactic that can be expanded on with creative cycling drills during practice.
2. The Continuous Cycle
This drill requires three or more skaters, and expands the low cycle around each offensive circle, so that skaters follow a ‘figure eight’ as they work across the ice, side-to-side, in continuous motion. The coach is positioned at the blue line and dumps pucks into each corner, or several pucks can be placed in the corners for skaters to pick up as though receiving a pass.
To start, players are stacked single-file facing the net with the last person in line at or near the blue line. Skater A starts the drill by skating into the corner and picking up a puck (or receiving a “pass” from the coach). Skater B follows behind skater A to receive the drop pass on the cycle. Skater A continues around the top of the circle and receives a pass from skater B for a shot. Skater A then returns to the back of the line. Meanwhile, skater B continues around the circle and then skates to the opposite corner, picks up a puck, and makes a drop pass to skater C. Skater C receives the pass and passes to skater B for a shot and continues to the opposite (original) corner to restart the drill.
3. The Two-Man Cycle with Obstacles
This variation of the continuous cycle adds obstacles and/or resistance to simulate a defense, and requires a goalie to create more game-like conditions.
Skaters form two lines in the high slot above the offensive circles. The coach, positioned between the lines, dumps the puck into a corner. Skater A moves in to retrieve the puck and the skater B from line two follows skater A into the corner. Skater A skates up the boards and passes off the boards to skater B and moves to the net to receive a return pass from skater B for a quick shot on goal. Skater B follows up the shot, looking for a playable rebound. Then the drill starts on the opposite side with the coach dumping the puck into the opposite corner.
The coach can choose to obstruct skater B who is moving to the net, creating resistance they must fight through. Additional players can be added to the cycle, as well—just add one or more passes off the boards before the shot.
The goalie tries to eliminate any rebounds off the shot.
4. The Three-Man Cycle with Pressure
This simple, but effective drill attempts to sharpen skater A’s instincts and passing skills.
Skaters A and B are positioned in the strong-side high slot. Skater C is positioned in the weak-side high slot. To begin the drill, the coach dumps the puck into the strong-side corner and immediately follows it. Skater A moves into the corner to retrieve the puck, looking over his shoulder to judge the sort of pressure the coach is applying. Skater B follows skater A but remains along the boards, stopping at the circle. Skater C moves in front of the crease. Depending on the pressure applied by the coach, skater A either cycles the puck to skater B or passes in front of the net to skater C who is waiting for a quick shot on goal.
Cycling is an important concept in today’s game where scoring opportunities are hard to generate. These four cycling drills will introduce skaters to a fundamental tactic designed to help offensive players retain possession of the puck, make quick decisions in the offensive zone, and develop both passing skills and general ice awareness. As with all hockey team drills, the players and the coach should discuss which decisions were effective and which ones were not.