TACTICS & SYSTEMS

Better Alternatives to Popular Hockey Practice Drills

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Long lines and few repetitions are the enemy of a good hockey practice. Coach Dan Arel reworks some drills to include more players and shorter to no lines.

I have the privilege of seeing a lot of practices throughout a season. At my own home rink, but when traveling around the state for our league, tournaments, and sometimes even out of state.

I love to stop and watch, because done right, there is always something to learn. Done wrong, there can be even more to learn. And in my opinion, I see a lot of practices done wrong. 

And I don’t mean I don’t see a kid learning, or being taught something wrong. What I mean is, I see a lot of kids standing around waiting their turn. I see what a practice looked like when I was playing high school hockey in the mid-90s. 

Long lines, few repetitions. And if we’ve learned anything over the last few decades now, repetition matters and learning by doing over and over again creates better hockey players, but also makes for better practices. 

I also see a lot of skating without purpose. Lining up on the goal line and then going back and forth, but nothing pushing them to go harder, and nothing forcing them to work on any skill other than just a forward stride.

In many of my articles here, you will see I do mainly station based practices. At the youth level this is a necessity. You have 15 or more kids on the ice, and in my case, 15 kids on half ice, and you need to ensure they are moving and getting repetitions, and just the right amount of rest before they go again. 

Stations help make the groups smaller. With 15 skaters, we do three stations so that we have five kids in each group. Then we tailor our drills to incorporate between three and five of them at a time. 

Here are some examples of drills I see that tend to have a longer line, and then how I would repurpose them to include more players and shorter, to no lines. And then also, how to make skating drills more fun, purpose driven, and with various skills being used.

Drills created with Hockey Coach Vision.

Walking the Line Drill

Below is a good drill for the skills of a defenseman learning to walk the blueline and getting a shot towards the net. While this may work for an individual skill session, it only has one player and a goalie in use. 

This drill was created with Hockey Coach Vision.

Now, below, is the same drill, but with two additional players added to the front of the net. The player at the top goes and pulls one puck from the pile (we even use objects in the way to make getting the puck more of a challenge) and walks the line before making a slap pass to the player in front.

The player then continues to the next pile of pucks to walk back the other way and in this video the other forward down low creates a screen or even attempts to tip the puck.

In this version, not only do you have three players involved rather than one, you have the players all making decisions about where they should be, should it be a pass or a shot, and the goalie then has to be involved in reading and reacting to those decisions. 

Skating Drill

We’ve all seen it, bag skates, but being sold as conditioning and checking that box that you worked on skating at practice. They can serve a purpose, they can increase some cardio and work on that forward stride, but how much of your already limited on ice practice do you want to give up to just that alone?

Instead, you can try a relay race. This one includes two skaters going at once, and a goalie. It works on crossovers, straight sprints, forward to backwards transitions, half-crossovers, puck battle and defense. The players want that puck so they will work extra hard to do this right.

Now, you’re asking how does this shorten the line when you have 15 kids on the ice? To help, you can learn to time the whistle so that while one race is transitioning around the rink divider, the other two are now skating the circle. 

Second to that, while this does cause a smaller line to form, each repetition is also giving each player multiple skills to work on, and a bit of an extended rest from the energy they should be exerting during the race. 

Working the Boards Drill

I walked into a rink recently and saw this drill going on, and while I think at an individual skill session it has some merit, it didn’t make sense to me at all as a team practice drill.

In the drill, I saw the coach dump a puck in and the player worked on controlling the puck with tight turns along the board before curling off, hitting the coach with a pass that they immediately received back, passed through an obstacle to themselves and then went in for a shot on net. 

I immediately saw a need for such a drill because just the week before, I saw a wonderful play by one of my centers who used a similar move to create some space and make a pass that led to a goal.

I wanted to teach more of my players this technique, and my mind went back to that drill, but again, the solo version doesn’t make sense for a team to learn something and all I saw at this coach’s practice was a line of kids waiting to skate on their own.

Then I saw Nathaniel Brooks’ presentation from The Coaches Site Live, and he brought in a drill that met this need, while allowing me to throw even more players in the mix. I made a slight adjustment to make this a station based drill rather than half-ice, added the coach sending the puck to the desired location rather than the skater picking the wrong spot, and brought it straight to practice.

In this drill, the coach spots the puck low into the zone on the boards and the forward goes and retrieves while being chased by the defense. The defense’s job here is to keep the forward trapped along the boards and is not allowed to touch the puck until the whistle.

On the whistle, the forward is then allowed to leave the wall and the defense is allowed to attack.

At the same time, a second forward enters the zone, choosing where to enter by reading the forwards positioning and the two then play a 2 on 1 trying to score.

With these drills, I hope coaches can find a way to get more out of each practice, but also to self-evaluate their current drills and ensure they are getting the most players involved and each drill serves a purpose beyond simple individual skill and can do more to build teamwork at the same time.

3D Animated Drills are powered by the Hockey Coach Vision App. Test the FREE HCV APP and access 100+ Animated Drills: https://hockeycoachvision.com/free-hockey-app/

 




    
ARTICLE BY
Dan Arel

Dan Arel is the Director of Coaching Education and Development for the San Diego Oilers and head coach of their 12U A team. He was also named the 2020...





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