I talk and write a lot about playing full speed. It is critical for individual and team success and, in my experience, it may be the most important factor in players moving to the next level. One of my main coaching points, really with any team, is to play full speed all of the time. It is a theme that I carry through everything we do - drills, conditioning, skills, tactics, systems.
I read a “push back” comment online the other day that said “...the game can't be played at full speed all the time. You need to create gaps which requires you to slow down or take 2 steps out then back in or to allow players to catch up to create 2 on 1 or offensive puck support.” And I would agree totally with this point - you can’t play full speed all of the time.
So, here is what I mean by playing full speed.
In graphic design and typesetting, one of the little tricks to making sure things on a page are balanced is to squint a little so that everything looks a little blurred. This gives you an opportunity to see the “weight” of everything on the page and to better see the balance of the page. I suggest you do the same thing when you are watching a hockey game for even five seconds. An amazing thing will materialize in front of your eyes: no one is skating full speed! In fact, depending on the level you are watching, you might see all ten skaters on the ice gliding at the same time. It is truly remarkable!
Players need to be mindful of when they are “drifting”. In reference the comment above, when players need to “take 2 steps out and back in”, most players drift those two steps instead of moving that 10 feet at top speed. Playing full speed all of the time doesn’t just mean skating end to end and never stopping.
There are other situations where players tend to not go full speed. One of my biggest pet peeves is when players stop skating and glide over the offensive blue line. Not only does the puck carrier start gliding at the blue line while taking the puck wide but the net driver starts gliding towards the net as well. This just takes pressure off the defenceman on the rush when players start to glide. I make sure my players are going hard to the net with the puck in EVERY drill we do. There is no gliding. And they are reminded to shoot in their stride as they approach the net. I want the opposition defence to be under pressure and battling to contain the rush because we are moving at full speed towards the net. Invariably, this will make the defencemen back in more and not stand up as they are overwhelmed by our offensive speed crossing the blue line.
Again in reference to the comment above, there are times when players have to slow somewhat to “allow players to catch up to create 2 on 1 or offensive puck support.” Absolutely! But, the players who are catching up MUST be going full speed in order to support or the offensive chance is lost. In my perfect world, all five skaters on the ice are “racing” down the ice on offensive rushes - everyone getting involved in the play and creating pressure and more scoring chances.
There is also no excuse for not backchecking at full speed. Defensive play begins with strong back pressure to make sure rushes are never outmanned. Again, all five skaters have to be coming back at top speed in order to put the pressure on the opposition’s offensive rush. And, if they dump the puck in, defencemen need to be collecting the puck at full speed in order to create more time for themselves to begin the breakout (just as the forwards have to get to spots quickly in order to be outlet passes).
When the opposition has the puck, all pressure should be made at full speed. One of the mistakes that many young players make is the want to get the puck back themselves when the other team has it rather than pressuring and forcing a bad pass so that a teammate can get the puck back. Pressure is such a key to playing good defence and good pressure always starts with full speed.
At the end of the day, teams and individuals tend not to play as fast as they can. As a player, the biggest difference in making the move from high school hockey to junior and then again to the university level was being able to play with the speed necessary to just keep up. I remember playing on the fourth line at university in my first game as a freshman, watching the first three lines go out before me at the start of the game, thinking “Oh my god! Don’t call my line because there is no way I can play that fast!”
Of course it was fine, those first few shift were unbelievably fast but players make adjustments and it is all OK. As coaches, we need to help our players understand what it means to go full speed and when they have some success, it will become the norm rather than the exception in their game.