Last week, I started to explore new teams for my 14-year old son to play on next season. He has played AA hockey the last four seasons, but is ready to play AAA. At the same time, as a family we are considering moving to a new city so both our kids are playing hockey in the same area (my daughter just committed to play at a hockey academy this fall). So I looked at MyHockeyRankings to see which AAA teams were nearby and found a highly rated team.
I then visited the team’s website and found the name and email of the coach for my son’s age group. I immediately cold-emailed the coach, asking if there might be spots open on the team next year. I included a link to my son’s Champs App profile which included his personal and athletic profile. And most importantly, I had 5 videos included on the page. One 2.5 minute video of his hockey highlights from the past season and 4 recent playoff games from LiveBarn which were edited down to just his shifts (so, about 16 minutes each).
I was lucky that the coach was very responsive. Later that day the coach emailed me back and said he would take a look. A couple of days later, we scheduled a phone call.
What happened next surprised me a little bit…
To start the call, I joked with the coach that he must be getting hundreds of inquiries from parents saying their kid is the next Connor McDavid and they want their player to try out for his team. He then shared that, yes indeed, he was getting many tryout requests, but none of the parents were sending him all the information and video about their kid like I did. He had even forwarded the profile link to a couple of other coaches to get their opinion. The coach had no idea that I helped build Champs App, but what mattered was that he had all the information he needed (similar to a resume for a job interview) to invite my son to come tryout.
While all the profile information was helpful in getting the coach up-to-speed, it was the videos that were critical to him seeing my son’s level of play. There was enough in the video for him to recognize my son’s strengths as a hockey player and overall skills were at least in the same ballpark as the current players on the team.
Needless to say, the coach just made my day. Not only was my son going to tryout but it was great to see how effective his Champs App profile was in helping him and could help others.
Create your Champs App Profile
We did a lot of research asking college coaches what they wanted to see in a player’s profile for Champs App and now we are seeing it pay off. Now we are starting to spread the word – so feel free to create a Champs App Profile for your player here and share the app with coaches and teammates.
This past weekend my 2006 daughter and I attended our first showcase with Division I coaches participating and scouting at the event. The 585 PIP Showcase – Roc City Style took place in Rochester, New York at the Bill Gray Iceplex from June 18-20, 2021. Here is what I learned…
Who participated in the 585 PIP College Hockey Showcase?
In attendance were 180 players with birth years 2004, 2005 and 2006. Their break down by birth year and high school graduation year were as follows:
Included in these players, were many girls invited to the different 2021 USA Hockey Camps next month in Minnesota. Of particular interest to us, were the three players at the 585 Showcase who were the only 2006’s invited directly to the U18 Camp – thus, at least by USA Hockey’s assessment, considered the top three 15’s in the country.
From the recruiting side, there were 28 DI and 6 DIII schools represented (note: 13 schools were previous guests on the Champs App Podcast):
This 585 event was the first step in the long journey of my daughter’s recruiting process with the intent of being seen by some of the schools she currently has an interest in. Something which makes her situation unique, is that she has only played on boys tier hockey teams and will once again play boys tier 1 hockey next season. While this is great from a hockey development perspective, this puts her at a disadvantage because she does not get seen at in-season girls tournaments or the USA Hockey Girls National playoffs. This is why spring/summer girls showcases are so important for her specific college recruiting journey.
What were our goals for attending a girls college hockey showcase?
One of the challenges I struggled with leading up to the weekend, was defining the objectives for the showcase and how would we measure success? Unlike the USA Hockey district camp we attended last month, where it was clear that the goal for my daughter was to be invited to the 15’s national camp and thus easily measurable (even though it took almost a month to learn the results). For Rochester, this is what we came up with:
Initiate scouting coverage by a handful of schools that my daughter has an interest in
Ideally, create the beginnings of a relationship with those schools via the on-ice coaching opportunities
Get on the radar of other schools. This is a long process and who knows where the best fit(s) may be for my daughter when she gets closer to being able to talk directly with colleges.
See what makes the Top 3 2006’s special
Being Proactive – Planning for a Girls College Showcase Weekend
To help with the first goal for the showcase, during the week prior to the event, my daughter sent a handful of emails to coaches who would be in attendance. She let them know why she was interested in their school and invited them to watch her during the weekend. Per NCAA recruiting rules, since my daughter cannot be contacted prior to June 15th, 2022 (at the end of her sophomore year), coaches could not email her back.
As a parent, it is unclear to me how college coaches scout at these events
My first takeaway from the showcase is that I really don’t understand how coaches scout at large showcases and tournaments – from my uninitiated perspective, there are just too many players and games to watch. During my podcast interviews, coaches have told me that while showcases are good to get to know players, they really prefer watching them play real games with their regular season teams. I did see most coaches carrying around the color-coded player lists for each team, many taking notes while coaching from behind the bench and when scouting games. However, given there were 180 players, I have many questions on how they decide which games to watch, which players to focus on and what they are evaluating. In my upcoming podcasts, I will be sure to dive deep on how coaches collect their information at these types of events with so much going on.
Showcase teams with more “top-program” players had more coaches watching them
Another takeaway from the weekend, is that luck played a role in which team you were on – which then translated into how likely you were to be seen by as many coaches as possible. It is unclear how teams were formed for the event, but it was obvious that some teams had many more players from well-known teams (e.g. Shattuck-St Mary’s, Little Caesars, BK Selects, East Coast Wizards, Chicago Mission) than others. The more “brand-name-team” players on a team’s roster, the more coaches were likely to watch that team play and how often. Some games had what appeared to be a couple of dozen coaches watching from above or along the glass, while for other games I could count the number of non-bench coaches scouting the action on one hand.
For example, there was a game with 20+ players on the ice from those “top programs” playing each other with a full-house of DI coaches, while simultaneously, on a separate rink, there weren’t many coaches watching a game with only 3 “top-program” players.
It’s hard to immediately measure the success for a summer showcase weekend
One of the challenges of the weekend was quantifying some key metrics. Based on discussions with my daughter and from what I was able to observe from the stands, at least half of the six coaches she emailed had watched her play in a game – plus she was able to talk with another targeted coach during one of the skills sessions. In addition, she had direct interactions/conversations with about 8 additional DI coaches during the on-ice practices and games. Of course, it is impossible to know which coaches and how many actually scouted her from off-ice positions, this is something we may only discover sometime in the future. So in the end, measuring success of the weekend is a little opaque and one can only hope that sometime after June 15, 2022 we can see the benefits.
USA Hockey’s Top 2006 Players for 2021
It was great to watch the three 2006’s who were invited directly to the USA Hockey U18 Girls Camp play. All three were big, strong players and very noticeable when they were on the ice. One of them scored a wonderful goal by powering their way to the net and popping the puck top-shelf over the goalie’s shoulder. It was the prettiest play I saw all weekend.
First Steps in a Long Journey
Overall, for a first DI showcase event, it seemed to be a pretty good start. Clearly, several schools now know who my daughter is and the process has begun. We have three more opportunities for her to be scouted this summer (2021 USA National Development Camp, 2021 NAHA College Showcase and the PIP 702 Vegas) before she returns to her boys team in the fall.
This past weekend I attended my first USA Hockey Girls District Camp in Las Vegas for the Pacific District with my daughter (2006 birth year). As someone who is new to this whole process, I wanted to share what I learned attending my first USA Hockey Girls District Camp. There were many things I didn’t know or understand until we went through the experience and I had conversations with the organizers & coaches in attendance. Since the Pacific District Camp was one of the first ones to be held in 2021, hopefully there are other players and parents who can take some of this information to help them with their own preparation.
Which players were invited?
Like all USA Hockey girls district camps, there were two age groups. One for 15 year-olds (2006 birth year) and one for 16- and 17 year-olds (2005, 2004 birth years). The players were selected by their state affiliates (e.g. California, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Alaska) with the numbers of players from each affiliate somewhat in proportion to the # of USA Hockey registration participation level. So, if a state had twice as many female players for an age group, they would be allocated twice as many sports at the district camp.
At each level players were placed on to one of 4 teams comprising of up to 9 Forward, 6 D and 2 Goalies.
On-Ice practices were run by DIII coaches with assistance from affiliate coaches. These practices were straight out of the USA Hockey ADM practice philosophy which included a 4-station rotation, half ice small area drills & games and of course some cross-ice games with different types of variations of 3-on-3. From my observation, while there was the occasional tip from a coach here and there, there was not a lot of heavy technical feedback, instead the tone was quite positive and focused on giving the girls a lot of reps.
For games, each team played the other 3 teams once. Games consisted of three 22-minute periods of running time, with a break at the 11-minute mark for the 2 goalies on each team to switch and ensure equal playing time. For most games, the scores were not posted on the scoreboard and all penalties were enforced as penalty shots with players chasing down the shooter from behind.
The Zoom calls mainly focused on education players on the college recruiting process and the do’s & don’ts when communicating with college coaches. Many of the same topics that we have covered in the Champs App Podcast were covered in these calls.
Before arriving at the PDC, there was not a lot of information shared about the evaluation process, however I did speak in-depth with Kathy McGarrigle, the Pacific District Girls Hockey Director, who was responsible for organizing the entire weekend (she is also the Founder, Program Director and Head Coach for the Anaheim Lady Ducks). She graciously answered all my questions.
Kathy explained to me that, historically, the Pacific District joined forces with the Rocky Mountain District to have a Multi-District Camp, but with the expected growth in girl’s hockey in Nevada and Washington thanks to the Golden Knights and Kraken, the Pacific District is focusing on having their own camp for the coming years.
Kathy McGarrigle made it clear to me that all of the evaluators were from outside of the Pacific district to ensure complete objectivity and that process was not political. No one affiliated with a club or program is involved in the decision making. The evaluators consisted of DIII team coaches who were behind the bench and on the ice during games and practices, but several off-ice evaluators who stood in their own blocked-off section away from spectators. Beyond the evaluators for the Pacific District Camp, there were additional USA Hockey evaluators scouting the event for the national camps in July. They were there to see if any 15/16 year-old players were strong enough to be chosen directly for the U18 National camp as well as capture additional information on top players being considered for all the national camps.
There were no DI coaches in attendance likely due to the recruiting blackout period which does not get lifted until June 1st combined with those coaches being more focused on the national camp players (who are most likely to be DI prospects).
While no specific or official guidelines were provided as to what was being evaluated, Kathy mentioned to me all the basics in terms of hockey skills like skating and passing, team play, character and effort. In addition, she emphasized that scoring the most goals didn’t guarantee anything, they were looking at the complete player over the entirety of the weekend.
Evaluators watched all games and practices for the specific age groups they were assigned to (either 2006 or 2004/05). The third and final games were where all the evaluators were together watching the players at the same time. Kathy explained to me that at the end of each day the evaluators convened to discuss the top players and systemically put together a dynamic rank of players which does not get finalized until after the final games on Sunday.
For the players in attendance at the camp, the ultimate goal is to be selected for one of the three National Player Development Camps taking place this July in Minnesota (15s, 16s/17s and 18U). Once again, the number of spots allotted to the Pacific District is based on the percent of registrants in USA Hockey, of which the Pacific District represents ~6% of the player population. Since the 15s National camp has about 216 players in attendance, then the Pacific District should get ~13 spots (plus or minus) for that age group. For the 16s/17s, those numbers there are the same number of spots, but for both birth years since that camp is combined, thus the number of spots is allocated by birth year in proportion in registration percentage.
Kathy informed me that the final list of invites to the national camp would likely not be released until June 9th, 2021 since the Pacific Camp was one of the first in the country to be completed. As the players who will be invited to the U18 Camp are decided, there is a cascading effect on who will get invited to the 16s/17s camp and is dependent on other districts completing their camps. Thus, the delay of nearly a month until we will are informed on the Pacific selections.
Overall, the weekend was a great opportunity for the girls to compete with the top players on the west coast and see how they compare. In reality, there was a big standard deviation in talent, but this is something I expected since the Pacific teams tend not to be as strong for girls hockey as other areas of the country. So, hopefully it was a good learning opportunity to benchmark and self-reflect on which part of their game each player needs to work on.
Unfortunately, due to the Covid protocols and the short weekend, no formal feedback was provided to the girls (only ad hoc on-ice or behind-the-bench guidance). As Kathy suggested to me during the weekend, if a player wanted feedback, they should proactively query their coach. That would be my recommendation to players who have upcoming camps in other districts, to ask their coach for their advice on their specific development needs towards the end of the camp.
P.S. A memorable part of the weekend was when a parent from Alaska recognized my Champs hat and asked “Are you the Champs App Podcast guy?” and thanked me for the podcasts.
As part of Jocelyn and Monique Lamoureux’s book release, they did a ton of promotion including several podcasts. On one them they Jocelyn Lamoureux mentioned her masters thesis “Should Girls Play Hockey With Boys? Perspectives From The USA Women’s Olympic Hockey Team“. For the past several years I have heard many points of view on girls playing boys hockey with some consistent recommendations (mostly “play with the boys as long as you can”). But this was the first time I heard of actual research on the subject. By soliciting data directly from US National Team players, Lamoureux was able to codify the tradeoffs and benefits from choosing to play with boys for a significant portion of their time in youth hockey.
Lamoureux’s conclusion was pretty unanimous: “Out of 15 players, 15 of them recommended that girl’s play with boys, but one player said yes and no depending on what the goals were of the individual playing.” This doesn’t mean that playing girls-only hockey won’t get you to the national team, it just discusses how playing with the boys helped those that did play with boys. What the research doesn’t cover is if the path to the U.S. National Team is possible from only playing with girls. Thus, if a female player wants to make the national team, they would likely need to ensure that they are still developing the same sets of skills that Lamoureux’s research concluded was key to player success achieved through playing boys hockey.
Based on the research, some additional information I have collected from podcast interviews and my parental experience, here are some thoughts on the key factors for girls playing boys hockey:
By playing with boys, girls are likely to develop better key priority hockey skills via several contributing factors:
There is some research which shows that during practice boys compete harder and for a longer period of time
Playing boys hockey provides more options for a female player to find a team whose skill level is at the right level for the player
In my conversations with former female players, coaches and club directors, the consensus is that “on average” top boys club teams tend to have better coaching in minor hockey. While this is certainly changing and improving on a region-by-region basis, girls coaching is not yet at parity with the boys especially at the early age groups.
Safety of the Player:
USA Hockey recommends that girls should stop playing with boys when, due to size or speed, the player would be at risk of injury due to full-contact checking. Not all girls are big enough or have the confidence to play with boys once the boys have hit puberty. Each player must decide for themselves how long they are comfortable playing with boys from a safety perspective.
Social Development and Team Culture:
From my experience, there is no doubt that the social dynamics for a girl playing with boys is very different than on an all-girls team. However, the culture on each boy’s team is different and the experience can be both positive and negative from a social development perspective. It really depends on the leadership of the coaching staff and the personalities of the players in the locker room.
During my conversation with female college coaches who played with boys growing up, they consistently said that the boys on their team treated them pretty well. However, verbal taunts and occasionally “getting run at” by players on the other team was pretty common. So, a female player should be prepared and comfortable with those risks.
As noted in a previous post, it is rare for a female player to play college hockey while only playing on boys club or high school teams (other than at national development camps). So clearly from a recruiting perspective, there is a significant benefit to being scouted by college teams. Coaches rarely attend boys events to watch a single female player. The advice I have heard from several college coaches is a hybrid, where a female player can play on a boys team as their primary winter season team and either play girls during spring/summer tournaments or, if permitted, double roster on a girls team during the regular season (e.g. play girls AAA and boys high school).
Playing with boys helps, but it is a personal decision
In conclusion, playing on a boy’s team during key developmental minor hockey years appears to provide all the right ingredients for girls to reach their full potential as a hockey player. Depending on where you live, playing with boys could help develop their skills and knowledge of the game more than just playing on the local girl’s team. However, this does not in any way discount that girls can likely achieve the same level of development and success by finding substitute methods of achieving these same skills and knowledge by growing up playing with girls only.
I loved Darryl Belfry’s bookBelfry Hockey, but I don’t believe I was Darryl Belfry’s target audience, because I am neither a hockey coach nor a skills instructor. As I mentioned in my first post, I’m just a hockey dad. I do not profess to be a hockey expert, but I do have a deep passion for helping my two kids who currently play 14U AA youth hockey. Thus, as a parent, what did I hope to learn from Darryl Belfry’s book Belfry Hockey? And how could I help apply these lessons?
My goals when reading Belfry Hockey:
An understanding of which skills are important for my kids to develop (i.e. “Skills That Separate”)
See which skills aren’t getting developed with their current coaches
Figure out my options on how they can fill in the skills gap
One of Darryl’s key training objectives is to help a player learn a skill they can use “tomorrow”. Therefore, given Covid’s impact on our season, I took on the challenge of applying these insights immediately with my kids. Here are the takeaways from Belfry Hockey that I have recently tried to implement with my kids.
Teaching my son the concept of Platform Skills vs. Placeholder Skills
Is the skill you’re using a placeholder skill or a platform skill? There’s a big difference between the two.
Page 122 – Chapter 11: Skill Continuum
My son is both a late birthday and not an early-developer like several of his teammates. Therefore, there are times when he has seen less ice time due to his physical development. At the same time, Belfry perfectly describes some of the placeholder skills that my kids have seen from teammates in peewee and bantam hockey who would be considered the top players on their teams getting those additional minutes.
Examples of placeholder skills:
Slap shots off the rush
Using straight-line speed to rush by defensemen along the boards
Banging in rebounds in front of the net
Explaining to a 13-year old that he is building better skills so that two or three years from now he will have more translatable skills to the next level is not simple to understand. But having a framework of “platform vs. placeholder skills” is a simple concept to continually reference until his physical development catches up to his peers.
Tracking High-Frequency Events and Success Rates Using Video
When you’re working with video, you have to be very careful that every player in a game is a like a fingerprint. What we want to see is the detail inside of each fingerprint
Page 162 – Chapter 13 – Video-to-Game Transfer
I record almost every game that my kids play. I use two GoPros to video the game from behind the nets and some rinks also have LiveBarn to provide a third angle. As a result, I have a pretty good asset to begin my analysis with. I used to just look at the quality of each shift individually, but thanks to Darryl Belfry I track the game in a whole new way.
Since reading the book, I have created a spreadsheet to do the following:
Track event frequency and success rates
Edit clips together from 3-4 games by event/game situation so my player can see all the same event-types in a single video (typically 60 – 90 seconds of clips).
Here is a partial summary of an “instance list” from a recent weekend of games for my daughter (who plays defense):
Transfer Tracking: Problem Solving Frequency and Success Rates
Our standard is we want to try and get as many high-frequency elements as possible to be an 8 out of 10 success rate
Page 155 – Chapter 10: Triple Helix: Awareness
Using the metrics from the games, my daughter and I were able to watch each clip and the specific situational context for success & failure. As a result, we were able to see certain patterns emerge that could immediately be worked on, here are a couple of examples:
Trouble when playing the off wing
One pattern we identified right away was that she wasn’t recognizing the handedness of the puck carrier which caused her to attack from a poor angle. This insight was helped by remembering an article about the 88 Summit with Patrick Kane from a couple of years ago.
2. Linear entry vs. change in angle when carrying the puck in across the blue line.
We are now working on way to cross the blue line to get into the “hot zone” with time and space.
Creating Multiple Options for Specific Situations
We want to make sure as part of the Category 1 skills that once the player has established body position and encounters contact, he’s able to use the contact as an asset – an accelerant or an ability to create separation
Page 145 – Chapter 11: Skill Continuum
With my son, one area we have spent a lot of time working on is in the corner or along the wall in the offensive zone. We have been focused on adding multiple options for him to have in his toolkit for these situations, specifically:
a. The Kane Push:
b. Reverse Hits
c. Skating through the hands:
d. Using the trap door:
e. The Chuck:
We shall see if he is able to apply any of these new skills into a game situation, but at least I know he has them as potential tools in his toolkit.
As I used to write in my Grade 5 book reviews, I really liked Belfry Hockey and I recommend it to all my hockey friends and coaches. I plan to write one more post about Belfry Hockey so that a few more concepts are brought to life via visuals and video that are a little hard to digest from just reading the book.
In this fifth post about how to develop a great hockey player, we discus how talent, natural gifts and luck play a key role in hockey development. While it is possible to consider these attributes out of a player’s or parent’s control, they can certainly be influenced.
Let’s be candid, being blessed with size and/or speed gives a young player an advantage. Combine that with the luck of being born in the first 3 months of the year and basically they are born on first or second base (to mix our sports metaphors). They are given a lead over their peers that combined with the other factors that contribute to being a great player can be hard to catch-up to. In addition, natural talent also helps. If you just don’t have the coordination or adeptness for the game it can be hard to come. I was at a game recently, where the natural build of one of players was just not a “hockey body”, short legs big trunk, so not matter how hard this player tried, they just couldn’t keep up with the top players on the ice and likely would never will. However, having natural gifts, while necessary are not sufficient for greatness.
The one attribute which you may not be born with but can develop is talent. Hard work is essential. Getting better every day. Because even if you were born with talent you have to continue to improve, otherwise others will pass you over time. There is a long list of talented players whose NHL careers didn’t appear to achieve their full potential (names who come to mind are Rob Schremp, Josh Ho Hsiang and Nail Yakapov) despite being having tremendous natural talent. These types of players struggled to sustain lengthy careers because they were not able to fill in gaps in their game. As you make it to each new level, players can’t just continue to rely on just their natural gifts they need a work ethic and a continuous improvement mindset.
Yes, luck plays a role in hockey. And not just puck luck. For example, I know of a youth player who didn’t make a team they tried out for and then ended up playing for a fantastic coach that changed the trajectory of the player’s hockey development. In another instance, a player was able to get more power-play and penalty-kill time because a teammate broke their leg (well, not so lucky for the teammate). Even at the pros, whether it is a scout who just happens to be in the stands for a game, finding the right coach or team situation, luck can certainly play a role in which path a player follows and can accelerate their road to greatness.
In this fourth post about how to develop a great hockey player, the focus is on quality coaching. Let me be clear that I am not talking about what makes a great coach. What I am talking about is a coach who makes a great player. These are not necessarily the same thing. For example, a coach who only plays his best players at 12 years old in order to win games and championships at the expense of all the development of half the team is not necessarily a great coach, but if your kids is the one getting lots of ice time and feedback, then that coach could indeed be accelerating the development of that individual player. I hope to write another post about what makes a great coach at a later date.
Time & Effort:
First and foremost a coach who cares by putting the work to help at both the team and individual level is the table stakes for developing into great player.
Striking the balance between leaning how to play team hockey and individual skills development. Specifically, the basics like skating, shooting, puckhandling but also position-specific tools to be great at their position (both on offense and defense – unless you are a goalie). Examples would be on-ice positioning, decision making, finding time and space, creativity and using deception.
A quality coach gives feedback that is actionable to the player. They personalize the communication so the individual can understand how to change their behavior in a way that is specific to them. Darryl Belfry wrote an excellent chapter on how to give feedback in his new book Belfry Hockey.
While the old-school hockey way has been motivation by intimidation, times have changed. And each individual player is different. But finding a coach who can get the most out of a player by figuring which buttons to push to help make them a great player is obviously a critical attribute.
I will talk about this more in my next post, but teaching a player how to be resilient during the ups and down of a season. Helping teach a player the tools to handle failure and overcome obstacles is one of the key life lessons that hockey is supposed to teach youth athletes.
Encourages two-way communication:
Every hockey coach is different and each has their own philosophies on how they want their players to play the game. As your player moves from coach to coach they will bring their past experience and habits/methods from their past coaches with them. The ability for a great player to discuss and debate with a coach the “why” and the “how” a certain situation should be played is a critical problem solving skill great players should possess.
My favorite book on a great coach who developed great players is “Thank You Coach” by former CFL player Angus Reid who had a long football career despite being highly undersized to play the center position. The book is dedicated to a coach who taught him what he needed to be a successful player despite “having no business playing professional football for 13 years”.
As a hockey parent I have always tried to figure out what the formula is on how to develop a great hockey player. By “great” I don’t mean an NHL or college player, I am just referring to playing at a very high level of hockey at the youth level. And if there is one thing I have figured out, it is that to be great at hockey, just like anything else, you to love what you are doing. and have a natural love of the game. Jerry Seinfeld best describes it here in an interview with Howard Stern.
The conversation I have had several times with my kids is after I ask them: “Do you want to be a hockey player or someone who plays hockey?”. Just like any other interest or hobby, as kids move through each age group it becomes more and more apparent which kids just like to play hockey (which is just fine) and who really wants to become a hockey player.
How Much Love?
I have put together my own non-scientific method to dimensionalize a hockey player’s passion for the game. It is a five level scale from lowest to highest. Which level best describes your player? Every kid is different and your mileage may vary:
Level 1 – Low Passion:
Lack of dedicated commitment on or off the ice
Consistently shows up late to practice and is last on the ice
During practice lines up at the back of the line for drills
Does not appear to have fun during games or scrimmages
Is not having fun
Behaviors show that the player probably doesn’t want to be at the rink
Picks and chooses optional practices/skills sessions
Spending time with friends is as important as hockey
Once in a while trains on own
Level 4 –Passionate Player:
Plays hockey at almost every opportunity
Happily trains with coaches or friends
Wants to keep playing even when tired
Opts-in to extra training sessions
Will wake up extra early /stay late to go to optional practice
Occasionally works on skill development on their own in the garage or backyard
Listens to feedback
Will train on own if given structured guidance
Level 5 – Off the Charts:
Eat sleep drink hockey (e.g. sleeps with their stick)
Ultra-competitive at everything
Goes out in the driveway, backyard, garage and plays hockey consistently on their own
First on/last off the ice
Plays with intensity on every shift
Always looking to get better
Fire in the belly
Hates to lose
For Most Kids Their Passion Tends to Grow Over Time
Most kids I knew or coached at U8 (Mites) or U10 (Squirts/Atom) who continued on to play at a high level of hockey (AA or AAA) were Level 3 or 4 at that young age. Only a handful of kids started at Level 4. Level 5 is pretty rare, and those are the Sidney Crosby or Ryan O’Reilly’s of the world who were just genetically programmed to want to be a hockey player from Day 1. You know these players, the ones where there are multiple childhood videos of them in diapers holding a hockey stick, skating on the ice before they can ride a bike and blowing out candles on their hockey birthday cakes each year.
In my opinion, a great player should be moving up these levels as your child ages. They do not need to start at level 1. Hopefully their love of the game will increase as they move from U8 to U10 to U12 etc.
Being a Fanatic Hockey Player is Rare
I can tell you this, those Level 5 behaviors to this day still do not resemble my kids, even at the U14 (Bantam level). My kids now love hockey, but they certainly don’t have OCD about playing it. They also didn’t start out that way. My daughter started playing hockey when she was 8 years old when she didn’t like sitting in the rink lobby while her younger brother was on the ice. My son has always liked hockey, but he has and continues to play several other sports, but prefers hockey to all the others. It is only now that they reached their teenage years, that they are starting to narrow their focus on hockey and reducing the other sports they are playing. So, over time they have been moving up the levels to Level 4 these days.
Next Up: Ice Time
While a love of hockey is necessary to become a great hockey player. It isn’t sufficient. Next, I will discuss my perspective another critical ingredient to achieve hockey greatness: TOI (Time on Ice).
What does it take as a hockey parent to help your player become truly elite? So, the reality is I don’t really know from first-hand experience just yet how to develop a great hockey player. In addition, it also really depends on what your definition of “great” is. But I do feel that I have figured out a few things so far as a hockey parent who was watched not only his kids go make it halfway through U14 (aka Bantam) hockey. This series of posts will discuss five different factors that in my opinion contribute to becoming an above average hockey player. While I haven’t gone through it just yet with my kids, from everything I can tell is that the major separation of the top 10% of players really comes at the midget age level and above.
Hockey is a Late Development Sport
While I haven’t gone through it just yet with my kids, from everything I can tell is that the major separation of the top 10% of players really comes at the midget age level and above. There are lots of books and podcasts which discuss hockey being a late development sport (unlike early development sports like gymnastics and figure skating).
The best current example I have seen so far is Brendan Brisson, an incoming freshman at University of Michigan, who was recently a first round draft pick by the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2020 NHL Draft. While it is clear he was always an elite player, playing AAA youth hockey with the Los Angeles Jr Kings, when you look at his stats from when he was 13, 14, and 15 years old, he was not even in the top 3 or 4 on most of his teams in scoring, let alone the division he played in. He averaged less than 0.5 points per game in each of those years. It was only in his second year of Shattuck St. Mary’s and then continuing on when playing for the Chicago Steel in juniors did his point totals go exponential. This shows you how much a player can develop AFTER they turn 15.
Many Kids Peak Too Early
Recently former NHLer turned parent coach, Patrick O’Sullivan wrote a couple of tweets how size and speed early in a player’s youth hockey career can actually work against them, as it is too easy for them to score goals at 10U (Squirts/Atom) and 12U (Peewee) by just leveraging these assets.
However, as other kids catch up to them in both size and speed, these early bloomers didn’t develop the other attributes needed to maintain that dominance. I have seen this myself on both my kids teams and players on other teams they play. There is almost always a very high correlation to the leading scorers and how much bigger they are than the other team. This is especially noticeable when watching the finals of the AAA Quebec Peewee tournament. Even from just watching video, it is pretty easy to see that the best teams have the most kids that have already gone through their growth spurts. Of course these kids also have skill, but what helps separate them is their size and/or speed at 12 years old.
The Long Road of Development
To use a cliché (well, this is a hockey-related post, so I’ll allow it), hockey development is “a marathon not a sprint.” Recognizing that most important development happens at 15 and older, you still need a solid base to build from just to get the opportunity to accelerate when you get there.
For the Love of the Game
In the next post I will discuss what the first factor, which I also believe is the ante, for becoming a great hockey player: a love for the game. I will also try to dimensionlize what that love looks like.
Top 10 Podcasts for Girl Hockey Players (and their Parents)
When the The Minor Hockey podcast was cancelled by TSN Radio a couple of years ago I was very disappointed and was searching high and low for another youth hockey podcast. Almost immediately I stumbled upon The Hockey Think Tank’s fifth episode with Kendall Coyne Schofield (before she appeared in the 2019 All Star Game). Since then I have been one of their biggest fans and making sure my kids listen to their podcast in the car when we are driving to the rink. Topher Scott and Jeff Lovechio are former players who both now coach youth hockey. They are both positive, likeable, sincere & knowledgeable and their guests are spectacular.
Girls Hockey Talk
When they do have a female hockey player on the show there is always a nugget or two I get from the episode specific to the girl’s game. Alyssa Gagliardi was a guest who provided good insight on her hockey journey starting with boys hockey all the way to the U.S. Olympic team. This past summer, in collaboration with the PWHPA HTT had a series of shows and online programming specific go the women’s game. Interviews included Hockey Hall of Famer Jayna Hefford and University of Minnesota-Duluth women’s head coach Maura Crowell.
Must-Listen for Parents
One of the best parts of the Hockey Think Tank are the discussions about what a successful hockey journey looks like for most kids from youth all the way to the pros. It usually isn’t a straight line. So many of the guests discuss the struggles they faced and the grit they had to have to make it. Most parents can relate to not having an ‘early-bloomer’ player and how to navigate the bumpy road by focusing on player development versus wins. Guests like Patrick O’Sullivan and Martin St Louis discuss being youth hockey coaches and what really matters in player development from 8-18 years of age – which is different from what most coaches practice and preach.
Recently, The Hockey Think Tank published their Parent Survival Guide. It is an excellent resource for hockey parents who want the straight goods about navigating the complex world to from youth to junior to college hockey. While it primarily focuses on the path that boys take, many of the principles apply to women’s hockey (without the extra step of junior hockey between high school and college).
If you are going to listen to only one podcast as a youth hockey player or parent, The Hockey Think Tank is the one we would recommend.