This year, my daughter was participating in the 16/17’s group (made up of 2005 and 2006 birth years). There was also a 15’s group (2007 players) just like last year, but in addition there was a 14’s group (2008 birth year). Each group was made up of 4 teams – typically 9 or 10 forwards, 6 D and 2 goalies.
Last year, 16 players from the 15’s groups were sent to national camp (8F, 5D, 3G); 8 players were selects for the 16/17s camp (5F, 3D, 0G) and 4 players picks to go straight to the U18s camp (2F, 2D, 0G). There are no exact numbers provided for this year other than the guidance in the USA Hockey Guidebook.
Unlike last year, the games were two 30-minute run-time periods. Last year it was only 24 minutes per period, and it really made a difference in ice time. Last year, a player would typically only get 10 or 11 shifts per game, this year it felt like it was between 15 and 20.
Quality of Play
In addition, I noticed a significantly higher level of play at the 16/17s level than last year at the 15’s age groups. This was likely due to a combination of factors. Since at this age group is a combined-age tryout, only the top half of players from each age group made the camp, therefore raising the bar on the quality of player to be selected to the camp. Also, with the players being a year or two older than the 15’s, the difference in development was pretty easy to see. I should note that several alternates from the regional tryouts were added to rosters as some of the original selections did not come – so you could see a range in talent on just about every team. Finally, unlike what I saw with the 15’s, the shift length for players at the higher level was much more reasonable. Rarely did I see 2 or 2.5 minute shifts. My general impression was that the overall level was pretty good with a few elite players, hockey in the Pacific District still has a long way to go to match the skill level I saw the previous weekend at a 3-on-3 Minnesota High School tournament.
An interesting twist in this year’s event, is that in parallel to the players camp, it was also some kind of camp/evaluation for referees. Not sure if it was USA Hockey-specific or IIHF. The good news, is that the refs took their job very seriously – and didn’t let many things go that you normally see in a summer showcase (e.g. offsides, icings etc.). Alternatively, there were several awkward moments, such as refs being out of position and running into players in the middle of plays, and being a little over-zealous with not permitting teams to make line changes before face-offs. There was one top player who got called for a penalty when the out-of-position ref caused her to lose the puck – and the player let the ref know she wasn’t pleased . I am all for better training of refs and helping them improve and certainly don’t expect perfection, but at this type of event, ref training shouldn’t be at the expense of the players who were there to try out.
I estimated there were between 20 and 25 coaches representing USA Hockey at the event – whether on-ice with the players or evaluating from their private viewing area. It seemed to be a similar mix to last year of DIII coaches, current NCAA players, Pacific district coaches and other USA Hockey representatives. From a parents perspective, it would be nice to know what some of the evaluation criteria are for each position. However, from all the experienced eyes on the players over the course of the four days, I am trusting that their selection process is reasonably objective and can truly figure out who the top players were to move on to the national camps.
A nice improvement from last year, was the fact that USA Hockey clearly declared the dates in which the results would be published, May 25th. So there was no ambiguity and confusion about what the expectations are for the outcome of the selection camp. Even better, it is less than 2 weeks from the event, unlike last year when it was almost a month delay.
Therefore, the first question I would ask is “What are your goals for attending the showcase?”. If you are just going to an event for fun, to get ice time or play with friends – then it really shouldn’t matter which showcase you attend. If you are using these events for development purposes, then as long as the player is receiving reasonable time of on ice-development with college-level coaches, then the specific event is less important. However, if you are going specifically to be seen by college coaches, how does it fit in with the women’s college hockey recruiting process that schools follow when engaging with prospective recruits?
As with many recruiting questions, the answer to which showcases to attend is…“it depends”. Specifically, as was told to me very early in this process, each player’s journey is a unique one, so it all relates to their specific situation.
Here are the three key questions I would use to develop a point-of-view…
1. Where are you in the recruiting process?
Are you before or after the rising junior (i.e. just finished sophomore year of high school) June 15th deadline when you can talk to coaches directly? If before, then your goal is really just to get on the radar of college coaches – basically get your name added to their tracking list. If after, would coaches at the event help your relationship or improve your visibility with them?
2. How good is your player?
Based on what you know and the feedback you’ve received from you player’s coaches, how does the player compare to their peers? Are they one of the best for their age in the country (e.g. attended one of the USA Hockey National Camps or play on a highly rated team)? Have they been the best player on most of the teams they’ve played on? Are they likely to have to decide between a lower ranked DI team vs a highly ranked DIII school? Or are they just an average player on an average team? Being realistic on where the player might fit into the DI/DIII range of teams would be helpful.
3. Which schools does the player have the most interested in?
Assuming those schools are a real possibility of tracking the player, then those events would be at the top of the list. If you haven’t narrowed down any schools and don’t have a preference yet, then do some research into which hockey programs and academic majors/departments overlap for the player’s interests. Also, location, school size and financial means are additional factors to consider.
Focus, focus, focus
If you are eligible (or close enough) to talk directly with coaches, then being very focused on your shortlist of targeted schools is key. I would recommend 3-5 schools on that list. The better the player, the more targeted you can be with the schools you believe you have a realistic chance of the college reciprocating the interest.
Most coaches state that they use showcases to help put players on their radar and to start tracking them. The typical evaluation by coaches takes place during the regular season with their fall/winter teams. Thus, many college coaches have told me they don’t need to see a player more than once or twice at showcases. Watching them 5 or 6 times over the spring/summer becomes redundant since the player rarely shows significant development in such a short period of time. However, not all coaches/schools attend every event – so it is tempting to go to at least 3 or 4 showcases/tournaments to cover all your bases.
Which coaches will be attending?
Given the above, which tournaments have the schools attending their events which best line-up with target teams? For example, the OHD Camp in Nashville has very different coaches from the PIP Boston Showcase. Finding the right match of events and coaches can be a little tricky.
Smaller can be better
From my experience last summer, for a player who is not allowed to officially talk to schools yet, the best showcases were the smaller ones (with 6 or less teams of players – ~100 attendees or so). This way the player can have meaningful on-ice and on-the-bench conversations with coaches and to create direct relationships with them. Some showcases have dozens of teams other just a handful.
Finally, this summer, for my daughter, we are prioritizing school-specific camps and the USA Hockey selects camp process over showcases and tournaments. Her unique journey has her focusing on her development this summer as she prepares to attend a hockey academy this fall. Since she will be “seen” quite a bit next year during the “regular season”, she can narrow her target this spring/summer on a small number of schools.
One last thought…you will almost always see DIII coaches at most of these events. Usually from schools that are a reasonable distance from the event site (due to travel costs). Once again, depending on your situation, location matters for DIII recruiting at showcases.
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.
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.