Coach Nielsen's Ice Hockey Drills

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, , , ,

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