Duluth, GA Kennesaw, GA

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By former New York Ranger Mike Hartman
Mike also invented the "What-A-Puck"
I am a true believer that little things and proper playing techniques can make an average player into an impact player. There are casual observers of the game who will say that this guy is too small or a certain payer can not skate or have stone hands. But how can some of these players with such obvious deficiencies last for so many years in pro hockey? It is probably because they did the little things right in most situations. Take, for example, Joe Kocur, who has been around pro hockey for 15 plus years. Why has Joe Kocur been around for so long? Does he have a knack for the net or blazing speed? Is he a big time penalty killer? No. Joe has always done the little things right. That is what has made him so successful over the years. Joe is a smart player who you could put in most situations, to get the puck out of the zone or to make sure he is going to cover his man. In my eyes, he does all the little things right. Next time you watch Joe, watch how he takes pride in his defense more than his offense. What I mean by that is that it is more important for Joe to stay with his guy and understand his role, and he has accepted his role, therefore lasting so long in the National Hockey League level. There are a number of good habits professional players exhibit and many of the amateur players can develop with good practice and patience. Next time you attend a pro game, pick out your favorite player and watch him for an entire shift to see if you can steal some of his good habits.

Here are some of the good habits you can develop to help you improve your game:

1. Don't over handle the puck in the defensive zone. By overhandling the puck in the defensive zone you might find that you will be pressured and there is a good chance of you turning over the puck. So make sure when you are in the defensive zone you get it out, or you make the right play to the nearest forward. Don't try to skate through 3 or 4 guys and be a hero, because that is being selfish and you are only going to put yourself and your team in jeopardy.

2. After you make a pass, just don't stand there and watch, break to the open area. That is what so many National hockey leaguers do so well. As soon as they make a pass they break for an opening. Look for a hole on the ice, keep your feet moving and you will have a better chance to attack the offensive team with speed. Don't just stand there. Again, move, move, move.

3. After you shoot the puck on the net or have a scoring chance, don't skate by the net. Stop in front, with your stick on the ice in a ready position to play for a rebound or to bury that puck into the net. When the goalie is down, you want to put it upstairs or make the quickest play possible. If he is on his feet, look for the 5-hole situation. But again, a lot of our young players have bad habits of skating by the net don't do this, stop.

4. Stay out of your comfort zone. It is so easy to go to a practice a float and not give 100 percent. When you are on the ice, give 100 percent and don't take any short cuts. When your coach says skate to the blue line, that doesn't mean stop a foot before the blue line. That means you go from line to line. It is very important that you do all the little things, because if you take short cuts you are only cheating yourself.

5. Unless you've mastered this be careful of this bad habit of making a backhand pass across ice in your defensive zone. That can be one of the most dangerous places in hockey.

6. To our younger players, keep your head up at all times. This is a technique that takes care of itself once you reach the peewee level, but it won't hurt your game if you execute it earlier.

7. When making a check keep your stick low and make contact so that you will be in good position to recover and stay with your man. Just because you deliver a great check does not mean that the play is over. Don't let your opponent get position on you or beat you back up the ice.

8. Don't ever let the guy next to you off the hook. What I mean by that is to play you opponent hard every shift and every night. I am not saying to play them dirty, but make sure you play them hard and stay with him and don't let him take advantage of anything you do on the ice. Because once you give him an inch that player will take a mile.

9. Make sure you are mentally prepared for every hockey game. Just don't go into a hockey game not prepared. Understand who you are playing against and who the better players are from the other team and understand what your role is and stick to that. That will only make you a better player and a better team player.

10. Listen to your coach. Your coach is your boss out there. So many coaches do so many things. Take the Red Wings for example, look how well they have done and the success they have had because everyone bought into the Scotty Bowman system.

It takes everyone to buy into the coaches system. If you have a couple bad apples, your team will go right down hill. They usually call the bad apples in hockey a cancer. Don't be a cancer, be a team guy.