Welcome back hockey!
It’s that special time of year. Players are gearing up for tryouts and there is high hopes for the upcoming season for all involved. Rinks are starting to fill with youthful energy as the excitement for a new year begins again.
In this post we are going to cover all of the essential elements and give some actionable ideas for each. Let’s go!
For every hockey player those are the three important facets of the game. Thus these are the ones coaches should look for during tryouts and train their players for during training camp. Below are the key elements to cover:
- Speed of foot:
- Speed of hand:
- Speed of mind:
1. Fitness tests
Everyone from players to coaches to parents knows the fitness test is coming. Hockey is a physical sport and physicality is important. It’s plain to see which players took their offseason training seriously. It also can show off which players will be able to best last the rigours of a long season.
Depending on the age and availability of equipment, this could include 40-yard dash times, lifting, agility, or anything else you think of when teams do a combine. Here are some ideas:
- 40 yard dash for acceleration and ability to hit top speeds.
- One-mile run for cardio levels and endurance.
- Agility shuttle run to understand change of direction and general agility. Cones can be set at five yards apart to create a 5-10-5 yard shuttle.
- Pushups in one minute for upper body strength.
- Vertical jump or long jump to understand lower-body explosiveness.
2. On-ice skills
The basis of any hockey player is their skating ability. If they can’t skate they can’t play, as they will struggle to get where they need to go. There are two key spots here, skating speed and edge control:
- One-leg skating is perfect to understand a player’s edges. This gives a ton of information from how players rolls their edges to how well they put down-force into the ice.
- Goal line to far blue-line dash. Coaches can compare this to the off-ice 40-yard dash. If there is a large difference between the two, then there is likely an issue with that player’s forward skating technique that needs to be addressed.
Passing and stick skills are usually pretty obvious, but are still worthwhile to take the time and inspect them:
- Passing laps where players go down the middle making short passes then go wide for long passes is a great warm up drill.
- Rondo is another great drill to do near the start of practice. This gets their brain going and you can see which players struggle with processing speed (find out more about the Rondo here).
Shooting technique can easily be taught so it’s not something to put a ton of thought into, but there are two areas in which are difficult to acquire and should be observed:
- One-timers require timing and wrist strength. Both are important and worthwhile to note when evaluating talent.
- Weight transfers are the most important piece in many areas of hockey, but are extremely obvious when a player catches and then shoots off a pass.
Often overlooked, angling is a way to influence the game without having to touch the puck. Or on the flip side, how the attacker controls the defenders.
- Cross angling ice small area game:
- Players start at their respective blue-lines on the boards. It’s a 2v2 cross ice game where the puck is passed to one team. That team then goes behind their net and attacks. The defenders can immediately attack with a good angle and take away space/options.
- Forecheck angling:
- Player with a puck starts in the corner and must skate behind the net with the goal of skating out of the zone with possession. The player without the puck starts at the blue-line and has the goal of denying the player from getting out of the zone. If they win the puck they go in for a breakaway on the goalie.
Most coaches leave goalie work to a goalie specialist. If you are doing this as well, these are the areas to focus on:
- Post play:
- How do they move in and out from their posts?
- Do they automatically go into the butterfly and blocking position or do they use hockey season and reactions?
- How is their movement? Can they get into positions to give themselves a chance? Are they balanced when moving?
- Do they actively use their hands to make save?
Small area games are great to search for things you view. Whether that be down low play, handling contact, break-outs, defensive assignments, etc.
- Puck protection:
- A favourite drill of mine is to have all the players go into the offensive zone and throw in about one puck for every two and a half players. This will tell you which players are hungry and have a desire to get the puck back.
- Small area games:
- This can be across the zone or keep everything down low. Pick your favourite. Small area games are valuable as they have way more puck touches than scrimmages.
- Arsenal Rush:
- A perfect drill to observe and see habits of players. Communication, working together, and defensive responsibility are specifically targeted (see full details of the drill here).
Drills are great to understand a player’s skillset, but there is no way to understand how players react in games unless you have a game. This is the big event where the pressure ramps up.
While the Day 1 scrimmage is the first true game-like look coaches get at players, it’s really not very important.
On Day 1 the players are still getting comfortable and are a little nervous. That will definitely leak into their game and it isn’t until Day 2 when you really want to dig into their performance. Each scrimmage should be videotaped for review. It will help scout the players on an individual basis to help choose a team, make tough conversations easier, and build an understanding of each player that you can work from.
Interviews are great ways to better understand your players.
This introductory interview is a great opportunity for the coach and player to get to know each other as people. From there the conversation should go toward more open-ended questions that allow the player space to talk freely. The end goal is to better understand the player and make them feel comfortable where you can properly gauge where they are and how they can be coached. A few example questions:
- Tell me about you as a person.
- Tell me about you as a player.
- What was your plan to improve over the summer? How did it go?
- What are you expectations for playing at this level?
- What are your goals? How are you planning to achieve them?
The exit interview is a perfect time to understand how a player progressed through the week. Coaches get the chance to debrief what they thought of the player for the training camp/tryout and give honest feedback on where they can improve. It’s also the best opportunity to get feedback from the players on your coaching and program.
- Did you enjoy your time? What did you like best? What didn’t you like?
- What did you take away from this experience?
- How have your thoughts changes from the beginning to the end?