I wanted to title this post “Things that Drive Me Nuts” but I wasn't sure that was an appropriate title. I have to say though, there are things that happen on the ice that make my blood boil a little when I'm standing behind the bench. They aren't such grievous errors that I yell and scream at players when they come to the bench, but in my eyes, they are things that players absolutely just shouldn't do. Why do I feel I should list these things in a post? Because as coaches, I'm not sure we work on them (or talk about them) as much as we should in practice. Although to be honest, a few of them are just bad habits players need to stop doing.
I've been thinking for a few weeks about my list of things that drive me nuts. I wanted to limit it to four things max. Then, last evening, I had the opportunity to go to a U-15 Program of Excellence camp where I saw two inter-squad games with some of the top players in our area. As I watched the games, I was naturally thinking about this post and I realized there are quite a few more than four things that drive me nuts. But, let’s start with four, and then maybe list a few more in a post script.
So here we go:
1. Not getting a good scoring chance on a 2v1. I think it's important to practice 2v1’s on a regular basis because it really can be a game-changing moment in the game - not only offensively, but defensively as well. A 2v1 should always result in a good scoring chance for the offensive team and given that, it's important to practice them on a regular basis. Defensively, taking away a good scoring chance on a 2v1 is just as important. My hunch is that as coaches, we practice 2v1’s but we don't really teach 2v1’s or, insist that players really bare down in that situation in our practices. I think it's crucial to the success of a team that players recognize the importance of situations. As coaches we need to clearly make them aware of that.
2. Shooting at the goalie’s “belly button”. I often joke with my players that Masters and Johnson did a study in the mid-1980s that proved that there never been a goal scored when the park was shot at the goaltender’s belly button. It's important that your players know that every shot needs to be a shot with purpose. If it's not a shot to score then it needs to be a shot that might produce a secondary scoring chance. For instance, if the shooter can't see any net to shoot at, they should just throw it into the goalie’s feet. There's a much better chance to score a goal on a secondary chance with the puck being fumbled at the goalie’s feet than being smothered in the goalie’s chest protector. One goal that was scored last night at the U-15 camp was actually on a 2v1 where the puck carrier made a perfect shot at the far pad creating a perfect rebound right onto his teammate’s stick for an easy tap in. I'd like to think that the shot pass was intended and not just a fortunate rebound after a bad shot.
3. Not getting the puck out up the boards in the defensive end. Now, I know there are some defencemen who are terrific at pinching and keeping the puck in but, when a forward has a good chance to get the puck out and doesn’t, it really grinds my gears. Similarly, in my systems, I always have the winger tightly covering the point man on the strong side in our zone. So, it also drives me nuts when the puck zooms right past a winger that's not tight to the defenseman and the defenseman has an easy opportunity to keep it in, or even worse, get a shot on net. When I played, it was a gut check moment when the puck came up the boards and you had to get it out. As an old coach once said to us, “pick the puck up in your teeth and crawl it out over the blue line if you have to”.
4. Not getting the puck in deep. I always say that if the puck gets to the red line it needs to go deep into the offensive zone. If it's on a rush, the puck can't be lost at the blue line. If it's a dump in, the puck has to go into the corner and get past the goal line. Not getting the puck in deep means that there is a turn over, quick transition for the opposition, and often a good scoring chance against.
Sometimes it's the little things that make a difference in the results of a hockey game. These four things that drive me nuts are things that I talk to my players about regularly - and also practice regularly. Often what it comes down to is just having good habits. Players having good habits will invariably mean more wins in the standings.
P.S. A few more things that “drive me nuts” - in no particular order:
1. Point shots that hit players in the shin pads.
2. Goals scored off faceoffs in the defensive end.
3. Chasing behind the net - in the offensive zone AND the defensive zone.
4. Allowing an opposing center to go to the net with the puck on a defensive zone faceoff.
5. Not icing the puck on the PK when it’s on a player’s forehand.
6. Not skating hard to the bench on a change.
7. Long shifts.
8. Going offside on an uneven man rush (2v1, 3v1, 3v2).
9. Not setting up the “practiced” power play after a zone entry.
10. Giving up a breakaway goal on an opposition set play from the defensive zone.