How Do You Start Your Season?
I have heard the saying “defence wins championships” too often to not believe it. And it’s probably pretty true. But, someone mentioned the other day that it’s “offence that gets you to the championship game in the first place”. This makes a lot of sense.
I always start my season with a loose season plan. I say loose because it certainly will change as the season goes on but, I try my best to map out where I want to go with regards to teaching skills, individual tactics, team tactics and systems. I think the timing of introducing these concepts is really important.
As most of you know, I am a big believer in scoring goals. My apologies to goalies but I think 9-8 is way better than 1-0. First, it’s more fun for players to score goals and second, it develops the skill set that coaches are looking for in players - being offensive minded. Typically, when I do skills sessions on the ice with teams I concentrate on creating offence - defence can take care of itself for the most part. That said, I will bet that 90% of coaches teach defensive zone coverage as the first system introduced to their team. The coach’s thought is that their team can’t win unless they keep the puck out of their own net. I would argue that you can’t win unless you put the puck in the opponents net first. Remember, offence will get you to the “championship game”. After teaching and practising skills in the first few practices, the first systems I always introduce first are offensive zone entry and the power play. Here is why:
1) I want my players to have an offense first mindset. I need them to know that taking risks offensively is important to our success as a team, and that scoring goals is of utmost importance to our team success.
2) I can teach many more skating, puck handling, passing and shooting skill inside the progressions of offensive play than I can by teaching defensive systems. Defence is played without the puck. Offence is played with the puck.
3) Players have WAY more fun scoring goals than worrying about their coverage assignment in their own zone.
Here are a few strategies with regards to teaching systems using offensive zone entry as an example. First, I make sure that when we are working on skill development before introducing the zone entry, I try to build their skill set to perform inside the system. For example, we will work on moving the puck down the board at high speed and shooting to the far post from the wide lane. This can be a good warm up drill. We will also work on going to the middle of the net on a drive and tipping a passed puck on net and then STOPPING at the net for a rebound (more of an individual tactic than a skill). Ultimately, I dissect the system and then in the guise of skill development, practice each of the skills and tactical elements that are needed to put it all together. Second, I modify all my systems to the age group I am working with. For a younger novice or atom team, I will concentrate on three things: the puck going wide across the blue line, going to the net with sticks on the ice, shooting low to get rebounds and tips. For an older group, I will make sure we are skating the proper lanes of the ice. Puck goes wide, second player is a mid-net driver, third player skates the far dot lines and a defenceman skates into the I-up position (the old “high man”). I encourage you to download and read a great document from the Halifax Hawks organization called Creating Offensive Hockey by clicking here. It’s a great resource. So, let’s get our players creating more offence! P.S. For those who are thinking “this guy is nuts to not teach defensive zone coverage first”, I give three directives for players: pressure the puck immediately, stay on the defensive side, keep your feet moving. If we can do those three things we will be OK in our zone until it is formally introduced.