Deception is a tool used in almost every sport. A quarterback looks one way, getting a safety to move and zips the ball to the other side of the field. A point guard uses a crossover dribble to turn around a defender. A pitcher hides the ball and uses the same throwing motion so a batter cannot read what pitch is coming.
“I’m a proponent of multi-sport athletes,” said Cory Laylin, a St. Cloud native and head coach for the Hamline University men’s hockey team. “You learn other things in other sports, but a lot of it is the same when it comes to how you win your battles. Guys are so equal. You have to figure out how to beat a guy and win your game and win your battles.”
As in other sports, deception can help you do that in hockey. Getting opponents to think you’re doing one thing as you do another can turn defenders, open up passing lanes and get goaltenders off their angles.
Laylin, who scored 58 goals for the Golden Gophers between 1988 and 1992 before embarking on a 16-year professional career that took him all around Europe, says that the art of deception starts with getting your mind, feet and hands in sync.
The Minnesota Wild’s Mikael Granlund is a good example.
“He’s a small guy, but he’s very deceptive,” Laylin said. “He spins back and looks the other way. All kinds of little things. He’s patient. He looks down, looks up, knows where his teammates are. Little things turn into a goal.”
Here are a few tips for improving your skills, creating time and space, generating more offense – and to keep opponents guessing.
Watch and Learn
Players today have access to resources past players never had, namely video. Laylin says to use your screen time to watch highlights of your favorite teams and players and then hit the rink and try out some of those moves. Find the players who play your position or your style and try to copy what they’re doing.
“This generation has more information available to it with YouTube and the NHL Network,” he said. “They can watch all the highlights and watch them over and over. Kids are doing things now we never used to do.”
Then, imagine yourself making those plays in games.
“The most important thing in all of it is mental preparation,” Laylin said. “Visualize how you’re going to make plays and believe you can do it. See yourself doing it successfully.
“Connor McDavid, Johnny Gaudreau, Brock Boeser … they’re not born to do that. They’ve had to work at it.”
Don’t Be Afraid to Fail
When it comes to trying new moves and adding layers of deception to players’ repertoire, it’s not just up to the players. Coaches and parents also play a key role.
“It’s a mistake for coaches who don’t let players make mistakes,” he said. “It’s not about wins and losses at younger ages. It’s about development. High-end players aren’t afraid of making mistakes.”
Small-area games are good times to work on those moves in practice and to create a team culture that rewards creativity and trying new things.
“The compete level goes up, the game speed goes up, the thinking goes up,” Laylin said. “[Small-area games] have changed the game. Be creative. Try things out at full speed or go slow, underspeed.”
Improve Your Skating
You can better deceive your opponents by becoming a better skater. And it’s not just about getting faster, Laylin says, it’s about changing speeds, checking and receiving checks and controlling your body while keeping your feet moving.
“Master your edges,” he said. “Have an understanding of how and when to change speeds. You can deceive players by going one way and quick popping the other way, using your speed to your advantage.”
You don’t want your opponent to know what you’re going to do with the puck, so work on multiple moves – shooting, passing, deking – from the same position. Learn to shoot at different angles without changing the way you shoot the puck.
“Releasing your shot while pulling and pushing the puck,” Laylin said. “Understand the level of the puck and have a quick release.”
“Playing for a long time, I’ve talked to a lot of goalies: “Can you read the puck off the guy’s stick?” Some goalies, they can’t read what they’re going to do because once they’re in shooting position, they can change the angle by pushing or pulling before releasing it. Make the goalie move in the net. When you force the goalie to move, it opens it up.”
Correct posture is important, Laylin says. Looking down can hurt you in two ways: 1. It takes energy to keep looking up and down as you’re trying to play; and 2. You don’t know where your teammates are, where pressure is coming from, what position the goalie is in, etc.
“You still need to have a good knee bend, but keep your head up and scan the ice so you know who’s where,” he said. “Move your bottom hand up closer to the top hand on your stick so your head stays up.”
And from there ...
“Do the math. You’re one guy. Where are the other four guys? Know your numbers. The only way is by seeing. Do the math all at once. Go fast but don’t hurry. Be quick but don’t hurry. Slow it down in your mind.”