Dumping the Puck In and Player Development
If you haven’t read my blog from last week (11/12/16) it was titled “Six Reasons Why You Need to Dump the Puck in More”. The premise was that there are some situations that call for the puck to be dumped in and, there are tactical advantages to dumping the puck in – sometimes.
My blog posts are picked up by a number of internet sites on a regular basis – one of them being Women’s Hockey Life (womenshockeylife.com). The site provides a lot of terrific information for female players and has been a true supporter of the growth of the women’s game.
Last week’s blog post certainly ruffled a few feathers. Mostly the comments were of the tone that the old “dump and chase” was a tactic that emphasized winning and didn’t develop core skills of skating, stick-handling, passing and playing one on one.
Here is one critic who sent a message to me and to Women’s Hockey Life on Twitter:
“This is potentially the worst developmental hockey advice I have seen online. The art of dumping a puck takes a coach minutes to teach. The skill of creativity and imagination to beat players 1v1 takes years to develop. Every time a player dumps the puck, as you suggest, this exploratory learning opportunity is lost. Please reconsider this article for the sake of the players it could impact.”
A few other comments on Facebook:
“How does this make an individual's skills better? Or are we coaching to win? Never taught dump and chase, nor will I ever. Ask Babcock how much he likes it.”
“Dump and chase in minor hockey should be forbidden. Kids never get better throwing the puck around the ice. Need to learn to make plays even if it means a loss or two.”
I have really enjoyed reading all of the comments this week. It has given me pause to consider how I approach the game and I have thought about how to respond through the week.
To start, my record over almost two years of blog posts should clearly define how I stand on skill development, playing the game the right way, fostering creativity, scoring LOTS of goals, having fun and being positive. I have frequently written about the importance of “striving” to win hockey games. I don’t think there is any reason to play sports if at some core level you aren’t in it to compete and do your best. Simply, that equates to “striving” to win. Does that mean we should only put systems in place to win hockey games? Absolutely not. Should we be teaching team tactics at proper age and stage to be a better team with better players? Absolutely.
The title of last week’s blog was “Six Reasons Why You Need to Dump the Puck in More”, not “Six Reasons You Need to Dump the Puck in ALL THE TIME”. It would never occur to me to center my offensive zone entry tactics around dumping the puck in. Creativity is hugely important to scoring goals and making plays one on one on the rush is a big part of that creativity. Are there occasions when the puck needs to be dumped in? I believe the answer is yes and I outlined when that might be last week.
I will argue that “the art of dumping a puck” properly and the ensuing forecheck does not take “minutes to teach”. There is skill to getting the puck to where you want it on the dump in, with good forecheck support and not letting the goalie get their hands or stick on it. Then there is the terrific opportunity to teach “read and react” to read the opposing defenceman and forechecking to recover the puck. Not to mention the transition play that needs to be learned once the puck is recovered and an offensive play at the net needs to happen.
A coach saying “never taught dump and chase, nor will I ever” is a little like saying “we will never punt the ball on third down (in Canada, fourth down in the USA) because it takes away from developing skills rushing and passing”. Reading and reacting to situations is crucial to player development. Simply, there are times when a player should not try to beat players over the offensive blue line. Period. And I don’t care if it’s Sydney Crosby or Connor McDavid, the puck has to go in deep. (And I am sure they know how to do that properly!)
On that note, few of us coach players with the talent level to consistently beat players one on one on the rush. Coach Babcock probably doesn’t like the old dump and chase because he is typically coaching the type of athlete who should not be dumping the puck in in most situations. Who wouldn’t want Austin Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner handling the puck on the rush? There is no question, as coaches, we want our players carrying the puck over the blue line. It is clear that more shots are generated by doing so. But I would argue that less shots will be generated if that is the only tactic and the puck doesn’t get dumped in on occasion to keep the opposition defencemen honest.
Finally, with all due respect to those who posted their thoughts, I do feel sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees. There is so much to playing the game well and it changes through age and stage. What might be playing well for a nine year old is not necessarily playing well for a 15 year old. I think too that we often get so focused on skill development that we lose sight of the fact that we need to develop thinking skills as well. We must make sure our players are reading and reacting, using time and space appropriately, seeing the game develop in front of them, understanding when to deploy individual and team tactics. We can’t simply send our players off with tremendous skills and expect them to be tremendous hockey players.
For more thoughts on this subject, please see my blog post from last year “How Forechecking Boosts Team Speed”.