Coach Nielsen's Ice Hockey Drills

Message to Coaches from Jay Bylsma

Interesting Perspective from Jay Bylsma; father of the Pittsburgh Penguins Head Coach Dan Bylsma


So You’re Going to Coach My Grandchild?

I’m so grateful that you’ve volunteered to be the coach of my grandchild’s ice hockey team.  I’m getting a bit too old to be out on the ice with these young kids and without you volunteering, it’s possible my Bryan wouldn’t have an opportunity to play this wonderful game that’s meant so much to his father and uncles and myself.

My Bryan made it through tryouts.  You might have thought that the tryouts were to see whether or not Bryan was good enough to make your team.  That wasn’t it at all.  It was to see if you were good enough to be entrusted with my grandchild.  You see, I don’t really care if you know much about hockey, or whether you have a winning record.  I don’t know or care if you’ve ever coached a kid that made it the NHL, or Division  I college hockey, or even high school.  But I know that every  one of the kids you coach will have a life to lead after hockey.  You will coach far more doctors and lawyers than professional hockey players.  So I’m more interested in what kind of a role model you are and your ability to teach Bryan life lessons than whether you can teach him the left wing lock or backwards crossovers.

Let me explain why I don’t care if you have a winning record.  Think back over all the games you played in organized sports as a kid – any and all the sports.  Can you remember any of the scores of any of those games or even if you won or lost?  If you’re like me you can’t remember many – if even one.  But I can remember every coach I ever had.  Mr. Sterkenberg, Mr. Naerebout, Mr. VanderMey, and others.  I can even picture them in my mind.  Images of good men who taught me (whether they knew it or not) sportsmanship, integrity, to play by the rules, and to have fun.  They made a lasting impression on me, just as you will have a lasting impression on my little Bryan.  But apparently winning wasn’t important enough for me to remember.  Bryan hasn’t been enrolled in the youth hockey program to win.  He’s been enrolled to have fun, to increase his athleticism, and to learn life lessons.

What kind of a lasting impression will you have?  You are his coach, a position just bit lower than the angels.  He will hang on your every word.  He will skate into the boards for you.  He will never forget you as you’ve never forgotten your coaches.  And he will learn from you, perhaps as much by what you do as what you say. You are the potter and Bryan is the clay.

For example, if you pick your team based on talent and ability you will show Bryan that talent and ability are the criteria that a person needs to be successful.  If you pick your team based on the associations you have – that is, your GM’s kid gets to play, your brother-in-law’s kid is on the power play – each regardless of ability – you will show Bryan that you get ahead in life by who you know, accomplishment and achievement don’t count for as much as connections.

If you tell the kids, “Every one pays equally, everyone plays equally” and then only some kids get on the power play and play in the third period, you influence kids about the meaning of honesty and deception.

If you say disparaging remarks about the other team, the other coach, or the officials, you demean the game and incidentally yourself and you teach Bryan that it’s okay – perhaps even manly – to be disrespectful and pejorative.

If you need to put ringers on your team to be competitive in an out-of-town tournament, you are influencing your players about your standard of honesty and the importance of winning at the cost of your integrity.

If you say a disparaging remark about education, you may depreciate the value of education – this in a sport where if you aspire to play at a higher level, good grades may be as – or more important than – your hockey skill.

Your demeanor, your language, your deportment, your values, your aspirations, your character becomes the role model.  You are the potter, Bryan is the clay.

You see, I don’t even think this is about hockey at all.  It’s about teaching Bryan life lessons.  It’s about re-enforcing the lessons he learns at home.  Hockey is just the blossom we use to attract the bees.  And we attract the bees to teach them to respect the game, to respect their opponents as worthy competitors, to respect the officials and their decisions, to teach them fairness, and how to main self-control.

If he’s a good player, I hope you won’t aggrandize him or over use him but help him be a team player.  If he’s a poor player, I hope you won’t demean him but give him his fair share of ice time and help him become a better player.  I hope you will remember he’s just a child and your career as a coach isn’t riding on his back.  I hope you will remember that a word of encouragement after a mistake is worth more than a pile of praise after a success.

My son Dan and I started the IT PAYS initiative because for all its inherent good, changes in youth sports are very disturbing to us.  There are the well publicized instances of cheating, abuse, assaults, and even murder.  But these are only the tip of the iceberg.  The sport is having ever increasing difficulty attracting and keeping officials because of verbal abuse and assaults by coaches and parents.  Skilled players are leaving the game because of violent play by bigger less skilled players who are instructed “take them out” instead of improving their own level of play to compete successfully.  A win-at-a-cost mentality demeans less skilled players who may rarely see ice time in the third periods of close games – which ironically impacts their ability to improve.

Sadly, some coaches have taken the fun out of the game for the children by exerting too much pressure, being too critical, being demeaning, and being too vocal in an inappropriate way.  The consequences of losing sight of the purpose of youth sports – that is as a game of childhood, a wonderful pastime – is that the life lessons that are being taught are less than wholesome and sometimes destructive.

Dan and I hope that you will wholeheartedly continue to support goals of IT PAYS – for the good of this great game, for its reputation, and for the positive influence we hope you’ll have on the child we entrusted to you.

Jay M. Bylsma

Filed under: General

You and the Coach don’t see Eye to Eye

If you play hockey long enough you will run into a Coach that decides, you’re healthy but you’re not going to play. So you become a "HEATHLY SCRATCH". It may be for a shift, game, consecutive games, or an entire season. How you respond could dictate not only your season but your entire career.

In my opinion there are 3 scenarios that lead up to riding the pine.

Option A: The coach benches you because he thinks you’re a liability on the ice.

Option B: The coach thinks other players are better than you. (You perceive said players to be plugs. They’re your teammates so you would go through the wall for them, but yeah plugs.)

Option C: You see no reason why the coach benches you. He/She must be out to get you.

Option A: First take a look in the mirror. For the "most part" coaches are rational people with the same goal as you. WINNING GAMES. If you’ve had a string of bad games or shifts then the coach is going to look to another player to get the job done. Yeah it hurts sitting on the bench as your line mates mix it up out on the ice. You wouldn’t be getting this newsletter if you didn’t feel that way. But a coach can’t afford for you to find your way out of this black hole in game situations.

How to solve the problem: Work your way out of it in practice. Go over the past couple of games where you stumbled. If you have video, review it. If not then try to reconstruct the mistakes in your mind. Learn from them. Then forget them. You need to have a positive mindset as you move forward, not listening to the negative voice inside your head, playing tentative and afraid of making mistakes. Go back to the 80/20 rule from the book and focus on your strengths. Over the next couple of practices and on your own time work extra hard and put in some overtime. It will pay off and you’ll get out of the coaches doghouse.

Option B: Look to Option A. Are you in a slump or hurting the team when out on the ice? If so, then as stated above, work your way out of it through practice. If you don’t believe you’re playing bad then set up a meeting with the coach. If you are old enough to understand and read this email then talk to the coach yourself, not your parents. At least at first. And make sure it’s in a RESPECTFUL WAY. Once you get his/her side of the story and realize that he’s not punishing you because you have red hair or some other crazy thought your brain has cooked up, then you have a workable option to get out of this mess. 99% of the time there’s something you can fix. If after a week or a couple of weeks you feel you have worked hard and nothings changed then meet with him/her again. Coaches will notice your work ethic and give you more opportunities.

Option C: If you talked with the coach in Options B and didn’t like his answer. Basically he said something to the effect of "your never going to play no matter what." Then you have a problem. This is very rare but he/she may not like you as a person or feel that he was forced to put you on the team for political reasons. Talk with your parents/agent/prior coaches and develop a plan of action. The most important thing is to remain positive. It’s not your teammate’s fault that you and the coach don’t get along, plus no team is going to want you if you’re not a team player. If you’re absolutely stuck in the current situation then make the most of it. The coach can’t stop you from practicing. And you’re doing the same drills as everyone else. A player will handle the puck for an average of less than 1 minute per game. In practice you will handle the puck at least 10 times that amount. Prove the coach wrong by giving 100% percent in every practice. It’s your only option if you love the game.

Unless you’re Wayne Gretzky you will run into Option A and even he was probably benched in his career. Unless you’re a superstar you will run into Option B. I feel for you if you run into Option C.

The main thing is to stay positive-no matter how hard it may be- and use practice to better yourself.

Good luck with the season,

courtesy of Brett Henning

Filed under: General, , ,

Accountability on the Ice

The New Plus/Minus

Hockey is the ultimate team sport. The only thing that matters at the end of sixty minutes is adding two points in the standings. But you know as well as I do that as a player you analyze every shift after every game in your mind to gauge how well you played. Goals and assists are a good measure of a players offensive contributions to the team. Hits and face-off wins can be a good measure of a player/teams energy. And taking too many penalties may be a sign of undisciplined play.

However coaches, parents, and players reference the plus/minus stat for accountability on the ice which I think is very misleading. Yeah Bobby Orr’s +124 signifies that he had a godlike season. But how many times have you stepped on the ice right when a goal is scored. Might as well jump back over the boards before the statistician can get your number.

Baseball has adopted the complicated sabermetrics system to get an objective measure of a players talent. Bare with me here. If a ballplayer hits the cover off the ball but a defensive player makes a great diving catch, then it’s essentially considered a hit. If a ball player strikes out a lot then it’s counted against him more then putting the ball in play. 

I had the great priveledge to play under Coach Jeff Jackson now at the University of Notre Dame. He adopted a similar system of plus/minus to provide accountability and measure progress for players. You can choose your own scoring system but here are some examples that I have used in the past:

Plus + Minus –

–Player scores a goal

–Player sets up a goal

–Player has a great shot from the slot area/ good scoring chance

–Player takes the puck wide and drives to the net for a scoring opportunity

–Player provides pressure on the forecheck that leads to a turnover and a scoring chance

–Player takes a big hit 5 feet inside his/her own blueline to get the puck out which creates a scoring chance

–Defenseman provides a great outlet pass that leads to a scoring chance

–Defenseman on the point gets the puck through a bunch of bodies for a screen/rebound chance

–Player provides a big hit that changes the momentum of the game

–Player wins a draw that leads to a goal or great scoring opporutnity.

–Player fails to tie up his man’s stick and they get a good shot off

–Player doesn’t tie up his man on the face-off and they score or get a good chance.

–Player is on the wrong side of his man down low and they walk out of the corner for a good chance/goal

–Player pulls a flamingo on a point shot

–Player is lazy backchecking which results in a goal/scoring chance

–Player takes too long of a shift that results in a goal or scoring chance

–Player makes a bad change that results in a goal/scoring chance

–Player takes a bad penalty

****The main thing is that it directly leads to a goal, great scoring chance, or game changing play. The top player on your team will usually have about 5 pluses in a competitive game.****

**There are a number of lapses that can be considered a minus in this scoring system but the main thing is consistency of the scoring.***


As a coach you may want your assistant coach to keep track of this in a notebook on the bench. If you’re lucky enough to have quality game film then you can break it down for the players so they can actually see the plus or minus.


As a parent it may be hard to provide objective judgement. Your son/daughter will undoubtedly feel you’re being too tough on them. I would suggest using the pluses as a positive reinforcement when your son/daughter explains every detail that went wrong after the game.


As a player you can use this to chunk down your game. What I mean by this is that every player measures themselves by goals and assists. This can be a tough yardstick when things aren’t going your way. A slump is compounded when your name doesn’t appear on the score sheet game after game. But you could be playing well/working hard and just not getting the bounces. If you look at your game in this perspective you can pull positives out to build off of.

The great part about this system is that it provides something players can measure their on ice progress. Coach Jackson would have a score sheet the next day during video that would list each player by number and their true plus/minus. Good game or bad game you wanted to see your "grade." It was kind of like the beginning scene in Tommy Boy when Chris Farley is scanning for his name outside the classroom.

Good luck in the upcoming games and stay positive.

courtesy of Brett Henning

Filed under: Defense, General, statistics, , , ,

Game Day Nutrition Part II


I was always told to "Carb" up the night before and during pre-game meal. Seemed good to me. I could crush all the French Fry’s, Coke, and chocolate bars I wanted in the name of creating an energy burst out on the ice. Not good. Lead me straight to the fat bike for 45 minutes after every practice in Juniors. Carbs can be complicated to figure out with the glycemic index, fiber, and cooking choices available. So what carbs do you want to eat and when? Here’s a little excerpt from the book 7 Pre-Game Habits of Pro Hockey Players.

Behind hydration, complex carbohydrates are next in critical importance for athletic performance. These are found only in products made from plants. If you’ve ever been on a hockey bus throughout Canada or the Midwestern US, then you’ve seen the fields of wheat, barley, beans, and others that go into producing complex carbs. Bread, pasta, cereals, grains, fruits, and vegetables contain complex carbohydrates rich in important micronutrients of vitamins, minerals and trace elements. In terms of athletic performance, carbs provide glucose for energy before and during performance. They also provide glucose for glycogen synthesis or energy storage for any future activity.


  • Athletes should strive to get 55-65% of their calories from carbs (20-25 cal per pound).
  • The best foods to choose are the ones least processed. In other words the fewest steps foods are removed from nature the better. Organic is a far better choice when available and the budget allows. 
  • Remember: Refining and processing grains reduces nutrient values and raises their glycemic index.
  • Look for 3g of fiber per serving or more on the label. If it DOESN’T have it, put it back and find something that does.

Digestion of Foods

Liquids as well as some foods get absorbed right away. Other foods are worked over by your intestinal track for hours before getting digested. If you want to feel light on your feet then eat the foods on the left side of the timeline below. If you want to feel sluggish and lethargic like you do after a Thanksgiving meal then eat the foods on the right side of the below timeline. Study this timeline and begin to develop pre-game meals and snack plans for game day.

Digestion time line:

Shortest                                                          Longest       


Liquid fruits vegetables starches fats


  • The closer you get to game time means you eat items on the timeline’s left side. These foods and liquids require the shortest amount of time needed for absorption through the digestive system and excretion of excess waste.
  • It takes 1-4 hours for peristalsis to push food out of the stomach and into the first part of the small intestine. The foods on the right side of the timeline should be eaten 3-5 hours before the puck drops so enough time can elapse.

Game Day Hot Tip: Get back to grains, vegetables, and some fruit as your main source of energy versus the traditional steak and mounds of chicken pre-game meal. There’s more protein in some of the grains, fruits, and vegetables than you realize.

courtesy of Brett Henning

Filed under: Nutrition, , ,

Game Day Nutrition Part I

How come sometimes you feel like your flying around the ice and other times it feels like a piano is strapped to your back?

For the most part it’s the food you eat and fluids you down leading up to the game.

Although there is no substitute for good daily eating habits, the foods you eat and amount/type of fluids you consume in the 24 hours before a game will determine your energy levels.

I am in the finishing stages of putting together a book and one chapter deals very specifically with this concept.  Here is excerpt from the book that is a tip sheet for game day hydration. (It’s kind of long so foods will be covered next newsletter.)


Key #1

I’m sure you’ve all seen Man Vs. Wild, where Bear Grylls defies death in every region of the earth. That guy is world class lunatic. I have every episode Tivoed. Part of me wants to see the Nascar crash, where he battles it out with a carnivorous bear in some deep backcountry wilderness but that’s another story. While shooting an episode in the Australian outback he stated an amazing fact. He said that “humans can only survive a few hours in that heat without water”. In this episode Bear goes as far as drinking his own pee for hydration. (Please don’t try this at home.) But the fact of the matter is you can live around 5 weeks without food but without water a human can last only 5 days in normal circumstances. On average, the human body is about 60% water. Our brains are 70% water, our blood is 80% water and our lungs contain about 85% water. (It’s hard to believe, but Dicky Dunn wrote it so it must be true.) Only oxygen is more vital to sustaining life. Throughout the day we lose water through regular perspiration, going to the bathroom, breathing, and of course perspiration by exercising. Hydration is by far the most important factor in your game preparation. If you’re not properly hydrated your athletic performance will suffer. Even minor dehydration impairs contractile strength in the muscles, speed, concentration, coordination, reaction time, and stamina. Remember this, the human thirst mechanism is faulty, so waiting until you are thirsty to drink is TOO LATE. Hydration must be a priority for peak performance.


  • As a guideline try to drink 1/2oz -1oz per pound/per day.
  • 190 lbs = at least 95 oz fluid per day (2.75 – 5 liters per day).
  • Weigh-in before and after practices, training, and games. There shouldn’t be a drastic change either in weight loss or gain. (This is especially true for goalies. I remember hearing that Glen Healy lost 14 lbs in water weight during a game in the 1993 playoffs. Not only will this effect performance during the present game but also any future games.)
  • Given the nature of a hockey game with 2 intermissions, athletes should consume electrolytes to enhance absorption and prevent cramping. Choose a carb/electrolyte drink for 16 oz- of your replacement fluids perhaps during an intermission, but then the rest of your fluid needs should be met with water. You don’t need to replace all your fluids on the ice.
  • Carb/electrolyte drinks- the concern with a number of the electrolyte drinks on the market is they are a combination of non-purified water, sucrose, glucose, fructose (sugars manufactured by factories from corn) and artificial colors with electrolytes (potassium and sodium) thrown in. More research needs to be done on the nutritional value of them. (With the explosion of new drinks onto the market including “energy drinks”, you can drop a lot of money with little to no effect. (Might as well be drinking tap water) Some feel that they do more harm than good. You can’t go wrong consuming natural mineral or spring water, fresh vegetable juice, or diluted fruit juices. But good ‘ole water is still the best bet. Nothing replaces pure water for hydration. Try to get the other nutrients you need from your meals, not from marketed sugar drinks.
Pre-event Immediately prior to event During event Immediately Post event Post event recovery
1-2 hours 0-10 minutes Drink early (6-8 oz) & at regular intervals (10-15 min.) when possible Take in carb/protein drink (2:1 or 3:1 ratio) & banana Re-hydrate: 20 oz per pound lost during competition. Tomato juice is good choice for part of this replacement
17-20 oz 7-10 oz EAS -Myoplex
Water/shake Water/electrolytes Nutrilite – meal replacement
Make your own: see recipes

Game Day Hot Tip: Monitor your hydrations level by the color of your urine. The clearer the color, the better … if you have bright yellow urine or it has a strong smell, start pumping the fluids.

courtesy of Brett Henning

Filed under: Conditioning, General, Nutrition



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