I had an interesting request a week ago before going to run a skills session with a Midget girls team. Their coach asked me to run some drills to teach the team how to play on a small ice surface - or as an old coach of mine used to call it "a frozen bathtub". Practice was even going to be on the smallest ice surface in the area so that the girls could get used to it. This was a great challenge to put together a practice plan that worked on this concept.
First, I wanted the players to understand that their visual cues would be "off" on a small ice surface (the same holds true for playing on a big ice surface if you are not used to it). Second, I made sure they understood that any shot inside the blue line was a high percentage shot to take. Third, players needed to feel comfortable with less ice and time in the offensive zone and fourth, I wanted them to always take that first step with the puck into the middle of the ice to create scoring opportunities.
So, here are some of the ways we worked on these four pieces:
1) Defencemen worked on their one on one skills on the rush. The big teaching point was to challenge at the blue line and not back into the tops of the circles. In a small rink the tops of the circles come very quickly after the blue line and are a good place to shoot from. I would have also played some two on two rushes with the same teaching points if I had had some more time in the practice.
2) One of the other really tough things is if a team is playing a box penalty kill. Often on a small rink the box gets really small because players use the boards as a visual cue. Conversely on a large ice surface the box tends to get too big. In preparation in team play, I would also make sure the penalty killers are aware of this.
3) We played three on three in the zone with the proviso that your side could only touch the puck twice before you had to shoot at the net. This had everyone on high alert to go to the net and think "shot".
4) We did the Notre Dame Screen the Goalie drill but only had defencemen shooting from the blue line. Every shot is a scoring chance on a small rink!! (Click here for the drill)
5) We put two nets on one faceoff circle and played two on two to get used to playing in very close quarters - emphasizing good puck protection and shooting the puck.
6) I introduced some shooting drills where players had to get the puck off the boards and quickly get it to the middle of the ice for a shot.
As you know if you regularly read my blog, creating scoring chances has been a focus of my practices for the past few weeks. I am continually encouraging players to throw the puck at the net and look for secondary chances. If there isn't a high percentage scoring chance then "throw it into the goalies feet". In all of the drills above coaches can encourage players to keep throwing the puck at the net. And "low shots are good"!
Playing on small ice surfaces can be unnerving for teams but with some simple adjustments, the "frozen bathtub" can be much more friendly.