7 Skills Every Player Must Work On (and Why)
[Originally sent of January 21st, 2010]
This past weekend I was at a tournament in Duluth, Minnesota where I had the opportunity to watch two of the best women’s college hockey teams in the States – University of Wisconsin and the University of Minnesota-Duluth – face-off against each other in a double-header. The games were amazing – the level of speed, skill and strength shown by the players was extremely impressive and the high degree of execution was phenomenal. In fact, when someone made a pass that was slightly less than perfect or missed a back-check, it stuck out like a sore thumb.
For these two games, I sat up at the top of the stands with the simple goal of figuring out what these players and teams were doing that really separated them from the level of play I watch on a daily basis, which ranges from 12U or peewee all the way up to the under 19 and junior level.
So to help you get focused and get ready for your next big game, here is the list of the “7 Things That All Players Must Work On” that I created after watching these two amazing teams play.
The first thing that struck me is how much the players communicated with each other out on the ice. Most of the time when I watch games the players are virtually silent out on the ice. During these college games, the players called for every pass, and the goalies helped the defense out on the in-zone. Talking out on the ice makes everyone’s job easier and can often be intimidating to the other team.
2. Stick On The Ice:
This is another big one that I am constantly reminding my players about. Not only did these elite players have their stick on the ice right when they knew the pass or shot was coming, they had it there even earlier. The game was moving so fast that many of the passes would have been missed if the players were holding the stick up by their waist.
3. Follow Shots To The Net:
Quite often when I am watching girls’ games, players will take a shot and then fade off to the corner or end up below the goal-line afterwards. These women took their shots, crashed the net with speed and stopped right in the crease. They didn’t stand around and stare at their shot – they kept their feet moving and went to the net.
4. Feet Always Moving Along Boards:
Whether it was a winger opening up on the boards on the breakout or a defensemen battling for the puck along the wall, these elite players always kept their feet moving. Standing still or gliding along the boards really only ever works in the power-play – most of the time you want to keep your feet moving to gain speed, avoid a check or avoid getting a penalty.
5. Lateral Movement On The Attack:
I am constantly reinforcing the concept of moving laterally in the neutral zone and offensive zone with my forwards. While being fast in a straight line is important, it’s your ability to move laterally with speed and power that will allow you to separate yourself from your check and get more opportunities to score. These players were constantly skating on the diagonal, looking for shorter passes and creating time and space with their lateral movement.
6. Defense Get Their Feet Moving With Puck:
This is another one that I am constantly reminding my defensemen about. The defense in these women’s game always had their feet moving up ice when they made a pass. Young players often over-think their decisions on defense and stop their feet moving before making a pass. This leaves them no opportunity to recover quickly if the pass is off target. Remember – it is always easier to pass to a moving target when you are moving as well.
7. Patience With The Puck:
This was the one thing that really separated these elite players from the younger players I watch everyday. When they had the puck on their stick, they never panicked. Even when they were under pressure, they kept their head up and their feet moving and looked for their best option. This is
a skill that all players who aspire to get to the next level much cultivate.
These things may be small and simple – but it’s the attention you give to the little details that makes the biggest difference, whether at your current level or up at the next level.
5 Mistakes That Drive Coaches Crazy
[Originally sent on December 8, 2010]
Now that we are deep into the regular season, I have to admit that I’m finding myself getting frustrated by the fact that some of my players consistently make the same mistakes over and over again. I’m sure there are more than a few coaches out there who are feeling the same frustrations. Players – we don’t mind if you make mistakes every once in a while, but when you continue to repeat those same mistakes over time, we start to question your coachability and consistency. Being coachable and consistent are two critical qualities for all players especially when you are looking to play at the elite levels of girls’ hockey.
So to help you avoid getting on your coach’s bad side at the midpoint of the season, here are the top 5 mistakes that drive me crazy as a coach:
#1 – Making mistakes at half-speed
I don’t mind if players make mistakes – in fact, I expect them to. Hockey is a game of mistakes after all. Plays rarely work out perfectly and more often that not, scoring chances and goals result from a bad bounce or a miscue by a player. I tell all my players at the start of the season that I expect they will mistakes, but I will not tolerate them making mistakes at half-speed. When you make a play at half-speed (or even worse, without your feet moving) you take away your ability to recover if you make a mistake. Aggressiveness and confidence are extremely valuable qualities for girls hockey players to have – so go full-out all the time and use your speed and determination to recover if you do make a mistake. Also – when you do make a mistake, play it off as if nothing happened. Instead of banging your stick, rolling your eyes or yelling, just keep going. Pretend as if nothing happened. This is a huge thing for scouts from the college and university level – they don’t want you wasting your time or energy dwelling on mistakes, they need you to get right back in the play immediately.
#2 – Turn-overs within 5 feet of the blue-lines
This is the biggest one for me. It drives me crazy when a forward makes a move right outside the blue-line that throws their teammates off-side. Similarly, turning the puck over on the breakout just 5 feet inside the blue-line is infuriating. Defensemen are equally as guilty here too – they back off the
blue-line in the offensive zone and keep their team from maintain puck possession on the attack. The rule of thumb is to keep things simple within 5 feet of the blue-line. No cute drop passes and no trying to make a fancy move. Carry the puck in deep or chip it off the wall to get it out of the zone. Simple.
#3 – Throwing the puck back into traffic
Puck possession is a very hard thing to maintain in boys’ hockey because of bodychecking, but it is much easier to maintain in girls’ hockey and is absolutely critical to a team’s success. Finding open space when you don’t have the puck and moving the puck to an open player when you do have the puck are two very important skills for players to master – and they are also quite hard to teach. Too often players panic when they get the puck and are under pressure and simply throw it back in the direction it came from. This is when your ability to know where you want to put the puck before it even gets to you and your teammates’ ability to provide good close support is critical. Be patient, keep your feet moving and remember that the puck doesn’t always need to move forwards down the ice. Don’t be afraid to pull the puck back and regroup it back in towards your own zone so that you can maintain control and wait for space to open up.
#4 – Over-passing the puck
This is a big difference between boys’ and girls’ hockey. On a 2-on-1 rush in boys’ hockey, the player who carries the puck in over the blue-line is more often than not the shooter. In girls’ hockey, the players usually make one or two too many passes as they come in on the net, which results in a shot from too tight or no shot at all. Over-passing the puck takes away space and control which lessens the chance you will score. I have heard players say that they pass on the 2-on-1 because they don’t want their teammate to get mad at them if they don’t. Trust me – your teammate will not be mad at you if you score. One or two smartly placed and timed passes are OK – but trying to make 4 or 5 passes once you get over the blue-line is very unlikely to work. The closer you get to the net, the less options you have to move the puck. So shoot more, and pass less.
#5 – Taking everything too literally
This is a another huge difference between the boys’ and girls’ game. Girls’ tend to get very focused on executing the system exactly as the coach teaches it. This is not bad thing – but quite often it results in
“paralysis by analysis”. You get so focused on being exactly where you are supposed to be that you miss out on chances to create turnovers or capitalize on the other team’s mistakes. You need learn the system, be a responsible player in both ends of the ice, and then look for opportunities to play “outside the box”.
Those five mistakes aren’t huge by themselves – but they add up over the course of the game and the season. So focus on these details to help your team have a very successful second half of the season.
Shooting Like A Girl
[originally sent on April 4, 2009)
Most girls’ hockey players don’t shoot very well at all. It is a real compliment if someone tells you “you shoot like a guy”. Some people argue that guys are stronger and can therefore shoot harder. But I can guarantee you that there are plenty of 10 year old boys out there who can shoot better than 15 year old girls. Given that the girls are most certainly bigger and stronger – the “strength” theory doesn’t hold true.
The biggest reason why girls don’t shoot well is a lack of practice I would guarantee that every young aspiring male hockey player willingly goes out in the driveway and will gladly shoot hundreds of pucks by themselves. Most girls’ hockey players won’t do this. But to be honest, the ones who end up playing at the next level always do. One of the major reasons players get to the next level is their willingness to do things that their teammates and opponents aren’t willing to do. And going out in driveway and practicing their shots for hours is one of those things most girls won’t do.
I believe that one reason for this is that working on your shot is far from being social. It is a very solitary pursuit. Many girls’ hockey players are particularly drawn to the sport because of the social aspects of the game. This is not a knock against girls at all – it’s just a very different focus that the boys have. The focus on the social side of the game is very useful in terms of developing a cohesive team – but it is quite often something that costs girls in terms of individual skill development. Since working on the other individual skills, especially skating, passing and checking can only really be done effectively on the ice, coaches have a tendency to spend time on developing these skills as opposed to focusing on teaching the basics of stickhandling and shooting – which can be practiced quite effectively away from the ice. For players looking to get an advantage over the competition, spending time away from the rink working on shooting (and stickhandling) makes a huge difference.
This doesn’t mean heading outside and working solely on your slapshot. Although, to be perfectly honest, having a great slapshot in girls’ hockey is such a rarity that it isn’t a waste of your time by any means. Players must develop all of their shots in order to be most effective in games. This includes: wrist shots, slapshots, backhands and snap shots.
The second layer of shooting development includes learning how to execute these shots at full speed. This means learning how to shoot in stride, how to adjust your body position in space so as to get off an effective shot and understanding which shot to use in different situations. One other part of shooting that is often neglected is tipping the puck. While this isn’t a direct shooting skill per se, it is a critical aspect of scoring goals that most players don’t do very effectively. Players must be taught how to screen a goalie effectively and how to position their body and stick so as to tip the puck effectively. Players often stand too close to the goalie, or even worse, just off to the side, making it easy for the goalie to see the puck or tipping it so close to the net that the puck doesn’t have time to change direction significantly and making it virtually impossible for the player to score off the rebound if there is one. This may seem like a minor skill – but in the world of girls’ hockey, where not nearly enough goals are scored, the ability to tip the puck effectively and finish rebounds can be the difference between winning a close game or coming up short.
I always tell my players that it never says on the score sheet how the goal went in the net – it just says “goal”. So not every shot has to be into the top corner and not every breakaway has to end in a beautiful deke. A goal is a goal and into to score effectively, players must develop their entire arsenal of shooting abilities. Being able to score goals consistently is a hot commodity in girls’ hockey and will make players very valuable and very much sought after at the next level.
Keep Working Hard and Dreaming BIG.
Your friend and coach,