Do Your Systems Develop Hockey Sense?
I have spent the bulk of this past week writing another eBook. It is always interesting how messaging and content changes as you write and what started out as a book on systems has turned into a book that deals with teaching skills and tactics within simple hockey systems. I am a big fan of taking out as many X’s and O’s from our player’s minds and making sure they are “feeling” the game. Players need to learn and develop instinct and hockey sense on the ice and as coaches we can help this process along at all ages and levels.
But maybe more importantly, the eBook’s over-reaching theme is to instill three things in our players:
1) To play full speed all of the time
2) To be supportive of the puck when our team has possession
3) To pressure the puck when the other team has possession
Now, I know there are a lot more pieces to the puzzle of becoming a good hockey player and for a team to become a great team. However, I would argue that doing these three things will not only help teams in the win column but also help players get to the next level. These concepts need to become habit of mind when it comes to playing hockey (in fact playing many, many other sports as well).
So, here are three system examples that support these three habits:
1) An aggressive forechecking system will undoubtedly increase team speed. One of the things I do as a coach in games that we need to be at full speed quickly in order to succeed is to have all players on their first two shifts always dump the puck into the offensive zone when they cross the red line. I am not a big fan of dumping the puck in but, with an aggressive forecheck and players anticipating the puck being dumped in, all five players on the ice are flying into the zone to retrieve the puck. This pace of play becomes the norm to start the game and will usually continue in everything the team will do for the rest of the game. It almost becomes contagious in building team speed at the start of a game.
That said, unless you have an experienced team that knows how to play full speed and shift gears, why would you not want to have a system that insists on players skating full tilt? It just doesn’t make sense in the long run to play a conservative forechecking system that has players slowing over the blue line to set up a trap or lock or any other conservative forechecking system.
2) I want my players to always support the puck when we have possession. To help instill this, I approach neutral ice regroups this way. Some coaches will teach a system that has the strong side winger posting up at the far blue line, the weak side winger curling through the center of the ice and the center swinging towards the weak side boards. Then, if the puck goes D to D then the post up player skates across the blue line...etc., etc.
Here is how I begin teaching a neutral ice regroup. I tell my players that they have to do three things on every regroup: 1) skate full speed, 2) be available for a pass and 3) fill all three lanes back down the ice. I tell them "if you can do all those every time then every regroup will be good.” This encourages players to think about supporting the puck rather than thinking about where they are supposed to be on the ice. If their mindset becomes “support the puck” than this will translate well into all situations on the ice when we have possession. Keeping the game simple and teaching concepts rather than X's and O's will undoubtedly foster the development of hockey sense. Let your players "feel" the game rather than always having to "think" the game. Players will be able to play faster and stronger when they are unburdened with the "where am I supposed to go now" mentality on the ice.
3) Pressuring the puck is obviously a key element of playing good defence. To instill good habits in my players for this I typically play a strict man on man coverage in our defensive zone. One of the reasons is that it develops good one on one skills for all players but, it necessitates pressuring the puck carrier. Ultimately what I try to do in my season plan is to play man on man for half the season. Make sure everyone’s defensive skill level improves and then switch to a zone defence. Not only does the skill level improve but players start thinking “where is my man in my zone” instead of just “being” in their zone. They also develop an instinct for pressuring the puck immediately because in a man on man system, players can pressure to force a pass or giveaway rather than occasionally having to deal with two players in a given “zone” on the ice.
So, my new eBook is coming along and taking on a life of its own (as they tend to do). I would be happy to hear any comments you might have on this subject.