I only played AAA hockey with the Agincourt Canadiens until Atom. It was a time when there were many more teams in AAA in the MTHL (now the GTHL) and I am not sure it was such a big deal to be in the AAA loop. I spent the rest of my minor hockey career playing AA at North Toronto - an association in midtown Toronto with residency rules and a real community feel to the organization. Most of us played together from Minor PeeWee up until Midget. A perennial third line center at AA, my skill set certainly did not make me a college hockey prospect.
Two things helped me move from a third line AA player to a four year university athlete (albeit still a third (sometimes fourth) line player!). The first was our Bantam coach bringing in a skating instructor, a great trainer named Mike Burrows, to teach us how to skate properly. He got me out of my Lange skates (Google that and you will see what the problem was) and inspired me to change my stride and power center to the point that skating and speed became one of my best hockey assets.
I can’t identify at what point the second thing happened, maybe it happened over a period of year, I am not too sure. I made our Varsity hockey team at my prep school in grade 12 (we had grade 13 then). Having become a better skater and starting to come into my own on the JV team the year before, I was placed at center with two veteran players who both went on to play D1 college hockey. The speed of the game was ramped up to a level I had not played before and it was a challenge to keep up at the start of that season. But then it happened. Maybe over a few games. But I finally got it. To be successful, I had to play the game full out. Pedal to the metal. With Reckless Abandon!
That was Coach Proctor’s expression he used a lot: Reckless Abandon! He also wanted us to be “heat seeking missiles” on the forecheck. And when we were covering our man in the defensive zone we should stick to them like “poop on a baby’s diaper”. But Reckless Abandon? That was the ticket to success. A “never stop skating”, “water bug”, “all over the ice”, “battle winning”, “quick releasing”, “driving the net”, “speed demon” who never stopped until the puck was in the net!
I see players who play with Reckless Abandon - occasionally. They are often not the most skilled players on the ice but you can’t miss them. They make things happen. They are pests to the opposition. They seem to be everywhere on the ice all at once. Theirs is the jersey number you make note of every time something happens on the ice where you go “wow!”
Coaches need to develop players who play with Reckless Abondon. Here is what defines a player who plays that way:
1) They skate and play full speed ALL OF THE TIME. The bottom line here is no gliding. No gliding into the offensive zone. No gliding on the backcheck. No gliding getting to spots on the ice. No gliding going to the net. Players should be thinking about keeping their feet moving.
2) They don’t give up on the puck. Players who play with Reckless Abandon NEVER give up in battles. They want the puck and they keep playing until the whistle goes.
3) They are first to the puck. Get your players to want to win the foot races for loose pucks, not take the easy way out and be the second player there.
4) They pressure the puck carrier. Taking away time and space is paramount to good defensive play. Be on top of the opposition! Defencemen need to pinch down in the offensive zone and step up in neutral ice on the rush. Don’t let it be easy for your opponents to have possession. Make them not want to touch the puck.
5) They are physical on the puck carrier! Make contact. Make the game uncomfortable for your opponents.
6) They are physical away from the puck. Battle for position. Get in their way. Be in their space.
7) They take chances. Well, “calculated risks”. But, they make things happen. They don’t play safe all the time.
8) They block shots!
9) They “skate, skate, skate, pressure, pressure, pressure!” These are the six most important words in hockey.
As coaches, we don’t typically spend enough time on these things and we spend too much time on X’s and O’s. Get your players playing within a simple framework of team play with a “full speed and high pressure” mentality. Get them playing with Reckless Abandon and great results will follow.