I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what to write for this post. I wanted to specifically discuss what happened at the USA Hockey 15’s camp in St. Cloud. However, I have come to realize that it would be incomplete without providing additional context about the entire women’s college recruiting process. As a result, for this post I am mostly just going to stick to the facts and data I collected. Separately, I will soon publish a detailed post about what I have figured out so far about the end-to-end recruiting process to give the perspective needed for any individual event.
What became obvious quite quickly, is that coaches from all over the country were flocking to St Cloud to see the top 216 15-year old female players. Kristin Wright stated at the opening parents meeting that 90% of schools would be at the Development Camp at some point during the week. Based on all the logos I saw that number must have been pretty close.
Here are the schools I saw first-hand, but I am sure this is not a complete list:
At a basic level coaches had two objectives for attending the event:
Watching players already on their list and track their performance/development
Identify new players to add to their follow list
Since I was sitting in the stands with most of the coaches I had a few observations. Some coaches were very social and others kept to themselves. Some showed up just the first couple of days, others just for the last 2 or 3 days. Unlike 16/17s camp which took place a couple of weeks earlier, coaches can’t talk to the 15’s parents – so there was almost engagement between coaches and parents. Schools that I did not see their logos seemed to have on-ice coaches represented at either the 16/17s camp or the U18 camp. Many coaches had printed rosters or iPads to identify players and take notes. But quite a few did not appear to have a method to take notes or remember players. Each school seem to have a different scouting strategy/plan. Some schools had multiple coaches, while other only had one representative. As well, some scouts only watched games, while other watched all the public practices and scrimmages.
A couple of schools really stood out to me during the week
The first was Boston University head coach Brian Durocher who spent the first three days watching almost every practice and game. He would just stand on his own down along the glass quietly taking notes on a little piece of paper. And when there was a break on one rink he go watch players on the other rink. He was very unassuming, but clearly using his many years of experience to evaluate players and take copious notes.
The other school that impressed, was the team of Ohio State coaches (at least four in total both on-ice and off-ice) who were making sure they watched all the girls on both rinks throughout the week. They typically sat in a group around head coach Nadine Muzerall and watched a lot of hockey together. As a Michigan grad it isn’t easy for me to say nice things about OSU, but clearly they have prioritized scouting and their recruiting process as a key to their success.
In my next post I will discuss what I have learned about different stages of the women’s college recruiting process. This will help answer many of the questions I have received about how much should a player be seen in the spring and summer at showcases and events compared to their regular season team.
At the start of camp, Kristen Wright helped provide perspective on how to think about the bigger picture for what the week was about. The 15’s Camp is really just the first step in a USA Hockey player’s journey at the national level. For many it can be a multi-year process including their college years as the they try to be included in the conversation to make the National Women’s Team.
Realistically, in the short term, for most girls, the ultimate goal of attending any of the girls camps (15,16/18 or U18), is to be invited to the Women’s National Festival which includes players from all age groups (National Team, U23 and U18) being considered for a national roster.
However, for the week of camp, unless something truly exceptional occurred, this Covid year, there would be no decision on advancing or further outcome beyond the camp for any of the players in attendance. Everyone would just head back home richer from the experience and will go though a similar process next year to make the 2022 16/17s camp or if they we one of the top players, potentially go directly to the U18’s camp.
Given the above, what did I think were the objectives for the camp from a USA Hockey perspective?
Learn about the USA Hockey national program for girls/women and understand what it takes to compete and potentially make a national team (U18, U23, Women’s National Team)
Get seen & scouted by USA Hockey Coaches (to help get on the radar for the U18 Camp for 2022)
Get feedback on strengths and development opportunities
Get a benchmark of how good a player is relative to their peer group
1. Learn about the USA Hockey National Program
During the parent meeting, Kristen Wright shared the three core values of the USA Hockey program:
And from what I could sense as an outside observer, all the activities for the week centered around these principles. In addition, the theme of the week focused more on helping players be the best they can be rather than solely focus on what it would take to make any of the different age-specific national teams. Given the size of the camp, on balance, that seemed like a more realistic focus. Better to focus on the values that players would need to consistently demonstrate to make a team rather than hockey-specific attributes that may not resonate at this time for most of the girls.
2. Get seen & scouted by USA Hockey Coaches
As mentioned in my previous post, the on-ice coach to player ratio was about 1:3 with somewhere in the range of 70-100 USA Hockey representatives participating in the camp. I am assuming that USA Hockey leadership had some type of scouting information collection capability from both on-ice and off-ice observers at both games and practices. In addition, team coaches, team leaders and interns all got to observe their players both at the rink and outside of the rink during the week of camp. Given all these points of data, I would expect that there is some type of player tracking tool with a summary of the information that was collected on each player. There must be some type of report card (beyond the testing results) that was being kept on each player. Ideally, this database would be used to benchmark players if they return to another USA Hockey camp.
As Kristen Wright alluded to the parents on the first afternoon, roughly speaking players are group into A’s (Top 25 or Top 50), B’s (the next ~100) and C’s (the lowest ~75 players). However, the messaging was clear, it really shouldn’t matter right now for players to hear what level they were evaluated. The girls were there to learn about what it took to make it to the next level in USA Hockey and they need to take those learnings and go back and work hard and get better for next year. This year’s evaluations would primarily be used as a way to track development and improvement in a year from now.
3. Get feedback on strengths and development opportunities
Each player received some type of feedback from one of their coaches during the week. Depending on the team and coach, the feedback session occurred during the second half of camp and was a 1-on-1 meeting with one of the two team coaches. Since I was not a player, I could only gather information indirect accounts from players or parents, so my sample size may not be big enough. Evaluation was almost entirely qualitative than quantitative. However, the one consistent theme I heard was that the feedback session wasn’t that great. Comments ranged from advice being too generic (e.g. “go back home work hard, get better and come back and show us what you can do next year”) to not offering any real thoughtful insights to putting the onus on the player to self-evaluate and then mostly agreeing with the player’s evaluation. The consistent theme that I heard was that not enough effort was put into preparing for the feedback session.
In my opinion, this was an area that is an area that the camp could have had a bigger impact.
My personal thoughts are there should be some type of formal feedback process. Ideally with a standardize report card by position (goalie, defense, winger, center). Each player should have received written, detailed feedback on their strengths and key development opportunities (e.g. 3 for each) to help take their game to the next level (which would be personalized to the appropriate for that individual player). I realize this is a tremendous amount of work, requires a lot of coordination between all the coaches and has some pretty significant risks if not properly implemented. And I agree 100% with Kristen Wright the goal is build and maintain player confidence is key. However, given how much players and parents are invested (in every sense of the word) in their hockey development, having some type of tangible, standardized evaluation would be invaluable for these players. To be clear, I thought the week was exceptionally well-run and a great experience for all involved, but this was my one disappointment as a parent.
Since we didn’t get that feedback, I ended up doing it myself using footage from the games available via HockeyTV. I’ve started break down the video and comparing them to the top players from the U18 camp who made the National Festival. Most parents probably won’t do this level of video analysis, so there will be a gap in direction for many of the players. It’s disappointing that not all the girls will get a deep dive on their performance.
4. Get a benchmark of how good a player is relative to their peer group
My impression was that while the standard deviation at the 15’s Camp was much smaller than at Pacific District camp (where the gap from top to bottom was pretty significant) you could still see big differences from the elite players to some of the marginal players. Depending on the cohesiveness of the team, it was apparent where some players focused more on showcasing their individual talents rather than trusting their teammates and playing as a team. It was great to see multiple passes between teammates being well-executed to create scoring chances. However, in many games missed passes and turnover-after-turnover was occurring on a frequent basis, especially for the first couple of games.
One thing that really stood out to me quite frequently after I saw a player make a great play and I would then look-up where they were from, was how often they were a Minnesota High School player from a school I had never heard of. It was the first time I saw first-hand the high level of players produced by Minnesota hockey on the girls side of things.
In terms of benchmarking, if a player was observant of their teammates, they could pretty easily see which ones were more effective than others (and why). And they could also see the ones who either struggled on the skills side of things (e.g. skating, passing, positional play) or playing a team game. This was on the skater side of things. Since I am no expert on goalies, I am not sure how puck-stoppers would self-evaluate relative to their peers, but hopefully they could see the wide range of styles and abilities that different goalies demonstrated during the goalie-specific sessions.
These were my observations from the USA Hockey U15s girls camp and how I thought it met the objectives for the week from a USA Hockey perspective. While I wished there was a little more direction on the path to USA Hockey success, I fully understand why this is still the top of player funnel from a national team point-of-view.
In the final post about the 15s Girls camp, I will discuss the camp from a college recruiting perspective.
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.
I think every parent and player intuitively believes the more time you spend training on ice the better a player you will be. If you are figuring how to develop a great hockey player, then ice time is at the top of the list. We have all heard the stories of dozens of NHLers who grew up on in small towns in Canada or Minnesota and played on the outdoor rinks or at their local barn for hours and hours until they had to go home for dinner or bed. In addition, if you subscribe to the Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 hours theory on domain mastery then being on the ice must be directly correlated to enabling greatness. So that leads to the question, how much time on ice per week should a player need? (Note: this refers to training and development time, not how many minutes of ice time a player has during a game.).
It Starts With Skating
To me the biggest factor to be on the ice and develop into a great player is to become a better skater. Skating is the most important skill to play hockey. If you can’t skate, you can’t play. So, do you need to be the best or fastest skater on the team? No. But you to be a great player you should be in the top 25% of your peer group. Otherwise how can you keep up with the other players who are also striving to be great? Skating is a technical skill that can primarily only be improved with proper coaching and ice time to practice what a player needs to work on.
How Much Time on Ice?
While it would be great if ice time were free everywhere in North America and kids could get their playtime by just walking down the street or out into the backyard to get some independent ice time, the reality is that for most kids this isn’t possible. For many, ice time can be pretty expensive and difficult to access. Given all the innovations and scientific insights about hockey that have arisen over the last 20 years, there must be some optimized balance for players today to get a good bang-for-the-buck for limited ice time that is available to them.
In my humble opinion, you clearly need at least 7 hours per week (averaging one hour per day) at a minimum. Show me someone who is on the ice less than 7 hours per week when they are 11 or older, and I’ll show you someone who is not on pace to be a “great player”. Personally, I believe the sweet spot is more likely in the 10-15 hours per week. Of course you need to balance those hours between focused development and playing/fun (where development is just a positive by-product). Based on all the USA Hockey and experts guidelines, my guess it should be in the 3:1 development to fun ratio.
Expensive vs. Cheap Ice Time
Indoor ice costs money almost everywhere (unless you live in Warroad, Minnesota). Here are some ideas we’ve used to try and dollar average the cost of ice time from most expensive to free to getting paid:
Private and semi-private skills and power skating lessons (most expensive ice time)
Rink-run pick-up games
Skate and Shoot sessions (aka Stick time, Gretzky hour etc.) – only good if scrimmage or have someone pushing them to work on something skill-related. (Too many times I just see kids aged 10-14 just line up at the blue line taking breakaway shots on a goalie. That is working on a skill you may only use once in a blue moon.)
If you live in a cold winter climate, obviously well-maintained outdoor rinks are superb
Public skating (Note: our kids get free admission to their rink for public skates as part of their full-season hockey fees)
Find a goalie coach and offer to shoot on their students during their lesson
Volunteer as an assistant coach for younger age groups than your own
Referee (get paid to skate and watch hockey)
Be Coach-Friendly to Find Extra Ice Time
No one is saying you need to be like Auston Matthews’ mom and get a job at a rink so your child can get unlimited access to the rink and play as much hockey as possible. However, if you are creative you can find extra ice time. One of best ways we have dollar-averaged our cost of hockey was to ensure we had good relationships with most of the coaches at our rink, so my kids would often get invited to other team’s practices when they needed players or my kids showed up early (or were asked to stay late).
What about off-ice?
I am firm believer in the Long Term Athlete Development model. Kids should be doing hockey-related strength and conditioning, plus hockey-specific dryland training like stickhandling and shooting. But playing other sports, especially complementary ones like lacrosse, tennis and basketball has multiple benefits back to hockey. For my kids, now that they are teenagers they have slowly narrowed the number of sports and reduced their time spent on other sports, but my kids still play at least one additional sport to hockey every season (e.g. soccer, baseball, pickle ball, lacrosse etc.).
Skating On Lots of Ice
Bottom line, if you aren’t playing working enough on the inputs, the outputs can’t be great. On-ice training somewhere between 7 and 15 hours per week should be sufficient to become a top skater.
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.