In A Devilish Mood: Is the NHL making our job tougher at the youth level?
Our kids watch and idolize the professional player, which is exactly how it should be. We want our kids to have hockey role models and to aspire to play at the highest level. So why would I wonder if the NHL game is making my job tougher?
Let me start my laying out some of my coaching philosophies. One of the reasons I love hockey so much is that there is so much more to the game of hockey than talent. Yes, talent is an important asset, but hockey games at the highest levels are won by teams, not talent. Hockey is a true team sport. Having said that, there are basic core principles that you have to excel at for you to win games.
These core principles include work ethic, communication, puck support and defensive hockey. The game is actually very complex and the average viewer has no idea how much actual thinking goes on during a game. A lot of people refer to this aspect of hockey with terms like hockey sense, coachabilty, being a good team player, putting the team first, etc.
This is why we, as coaches, must do more than just work on players’ skills at practice. It is our job to teach them the complicated game of hockey, keeping it as simple as possible, while also making it fun at the same time.
In trying to accomplish this miracle, I like to focus on a few simple hockey concepts that I believe are true at every level.
One of these concepts is to let the puck do the work and to move the puck before you have to. Letting the puck do the work requires good puck support creating short, simple passes with open passing lanes and moving the puck before you have to means to move the puck before you are in the defensive reach of your opponent, ideally then moving to an open space on the ice to create an opportunity to get the puck back. It drives me crazy when one of my 10-year-old budding superstars continually tries to beat the opponent by slipping the puck through his legs or constantly tries to make the impossible pass through and over bodies, legs and sticks to the open man way over on the other side of the ice.
This brings me to my original question. Could this player simply be imitating what he sees his favorite NHL player doing on television or on the highlight reels?
The fact is that these incredible passes happen in the NHL and it is not because the NHL player does not adhere to moving the puck quickly and letting the puck do the work. It is because often times, the NHL player has no other choice. You see, the NHL player today is bigger, faster, stronger and more talented than ever before, and while the NHL players have gotten bigger, the ice has not.
It is so hard to find open space on NHL ice and today’s players are so skilled on skates that they are forced to try these tricky plays and passes to create scoring opportunities. They are also skilled enough to pull them off.
In conclusion, and to try to answer my original question, while our youth players are not nearly as talented and definitely have more room on the ice, I do not want to hinder our young players’ creativity, as these skills are clearly needed at the higher levels. We, as coaches, just need to find a way to let our players know that there are times and places during a game to attempt these plays and that our main job is to help them to get better.
Brad McCaughey is the director of hockey and coach-in-chief for the Desert Youth Hockey Association.
(Dec. 12, 2017)