Coach Nielsen's Ice Hockey Drills

Psycho parents ruin the game for kids

Courtesy of Justin Bourne

Sports parents, in general, have a tendency to take their child’s sporting life too seriously. These hyper-involved “helicopter parents” (a term used to describe the constant hovering) frequently suck the fun out of kicking a ball, chasing a puck or eating dandelions and picking your nose while wearing a jersey.

Hockey is awful for this.

Having played the sport myself, I thought I saw the worst of the worst. Then I got a job working at a sports store owned by the president of minor hockey in my home town and was witness to the backdoor-campaign attempts of parents with children younger than 10.

There was the Dad who, between summer and winter hockey, had his kid on the skating treadmill down at our city’s new training facility. For those of you who haven’t seen one, a skating treadmill is a huge plastic-floored version of a normal treadmill they pulled from the depths of hell, put on an incline and loaded with harness straps. It’s used for improving cardio and building strength, both goals it easily achieves.

What it also does, is suck gigantic eggs.

It sucks in every conceivable way and in my own opinion (and, from what I’ve heard, the opinion of every person who isn’t selling them), it isn’t great for your stride.

The kid loves it, he just can’t get enough,” the Dad would tell me when I’d ask some questions.

Then there’s the Dad who comes in around close, with a case of beer and “just wants to BS.” Before a top can be popped, the idle chitchat is on the upcoming tryouts. And he wants to know where his kid fits in.

“But he’s better than that Smith kid, right? That kid doesn’t know which way he’s going half the time.”

Then there’s the burning mad Dad, who just bought his son top-of-the-line skates and a couple Easton Synergies, looking for the “president” to straighten out the latest slight his son has received from what, in his opinion, appears to be an intentional campaign to keep the man’s family down.

“F*** him and his personal agenda…”

And it’s not just Dads anymore. Moms would flood into the store around hockey season, looking to buy the best skates possible for their little Gretzkys. We didn’t carry Bauer the first year the store opened, as another dealer in town had the exclusive rights to sell their lines. Parents of kids without full sets of adult teeth were furious that we had the audacity to run a hockey shop without Bauer skates. What kind of a sham were we trying to pull, anyway? We couldn’t fool them with our silly RBK witchcraft.

One Mom brought in her very own skate-measuring tool, the same one we used to make sure the edges on the blades were of equal height. We did a premier sharpening job, of course, but the Mom felt inclined to purchase her own tool and measure the edges before paying for the sharpening, just to be sure.

Eight-year-old kids are worried about the hollow in their blades? I’m skeptical. I’m skeptical because Jarome Iginla brought his skates in for me to sharpen that same summer and didn’t know what hollow his skates were done to.

Me: “How do you want them done?”

Him: “Um, I dunno, regular?”

Me, slightly flummoxed: “Hmm.”

I’m sure it was just that his trainer knows his needs better than he knew his own, but still, he genuinely didn’t know.

What this means is, one of the greatest players in the world isn’t sure, but the eight-year-old’s Mom needs to measure her son’s edges. Got it.

So what does this create?


It creates pure, awful, misery, for a kid who just likes to play some puck.

Nobody likes being told what to do and most people feel the need to rebel against something their parents pushed. I can’t think of a quicker way to get your kid to quit at 13 than by making his on-ice performance directly related to the type of off-ice relationship he has with his parents.

I never had a clue when I played well or not, because my parents told me I did every single game. Honesty is probably the best policy, but what the crap did they care if I sucked at hockey? They were paying a fortune (as all hockey parents do) in gear and fees so I could play, so they wanted me to enjoy it.

And so, I grew to love the game in my own right. I liked scoring goals. I liked getting assists. I just liked hockey.

Not once in my life was I worried about my parent’s reaction to how I played. I wanted to impress them, but knew I didn’t have to.

For parents, sports are a fertile ground for teaching points. You can use them to explain to your child “what you did to that kid was wrong and here’s why.” Or “it was great that you shared the puck on that play. Teamwork is effective.” Passing the puck doesn’t emasculate your son, Dads. It makes them better.

We’ve all heard horror stories about the kids afraid to get in the car with their Dad after the game; how the Dad always yelled and got upset when his child screwed up. I’d quit in a heartbeat if playing the game made my life that miserable.

No kid whose age is in the single digits should be playing hockey in the summer. Kids need well-rounded life experiences to learn to think creatively, play effectively and appreciate the game.

They’re still kids, remember? Let’s let them have a childhood.

Filed under: General, , , ,

Army Black Knights Practice Drills

Coach Haberbusch of the Army Black Knights was kind enough to share a few of the drills that his team runs at practice with me. Each of these drills stress timing, skating and shooting. Take a look and maybe you can incorporate one or all into your practices.




Filed under: coaching, Drills, Forwards, Passing, Shooting

Questions: Goalie Full-Time | Splitting Ice Time

Brent from Irondale Youth Hockey asks, “At what age is it appropriate for a young player to be solely dedicated to goaltending?  Is there a benefit to making young goaltenders skate out?”

While young players should start focusing strictly on goaltending at the squirt level, a mite who loves the position and only wants to play goal should not be discouraged from doing so provided that the young mite does see time outside of the crease.  Coaches must make sure full time mite goaltenders are getting enough time practicing the fundamentals of skating.  There are benefits for mite goaltenders that take time to skate out.  On mite teams with two goaltenders coaches should have the backup goaltender skate out during the games that he/she is not playing.  This will help him/her develop as a skater and give him/her a feel for how the game is played.

Domenic asks, “What do you think is the best way to deal with two solid goaltenders on the same team, split each game 50/50 or play full games?  Additionally, what would justify pulling a goaltender during a game?”

Goaltenders should play full games, alternating from one game to the next.  A big part of development for a goaltender is learning how to stay focused and sharp for the entire game.  Each game presents a goaltender with a new challenge.  It is the goaltender’s responsibility to be ready for whatever the game presents.  Playing the entire game helps goaltenders develop the mind set they will need as they move from one level to the next.

At the youth level a goaltender not competing would justify the decision to be pulled.  Goaltenders need to battle and compete for the entire game no matter what happened on the previous shot.  A next shot mentality needs to be established and goaltenders need to stay competitive no matter what the situation is that they may be facing.

Filed under: Goaltender

Head Contact – IIHF Video

As many of you know, head contact and concussions are a serious problem in the sport of Ice Hockey. There are many efforts being put forward to educate our players, coaches and parents on the seriousness of the issue.  Team Comcast has even taken the extra step to test all of their players prior to the start of the season, so they will have a baseline result should any player be concussed during the season.

I applaud that effort and I am encouraging all member clubs to consider doing the same. We will gather more materials and will be asking the AMHL Board to make preseason testing a requirement for Peewee classification and above.

Please see the attached video that was created by the IIHF and passed onto us from Mike Litchenberger of the USAH Coaching Program.
I encourage you to share this with your coaches, managers, parents and players.

I am sure you can see the seriousness of this issue and will support a comprehensive effort within your club.

Filed under: General,

Secrets to Success in Goal

The secret to goaltending success isn’t really a secret.  The problem is that the key ingredient to success is very difficult to attain.  That ingredient is consistency.  If you want to be a successful goalie, and by that I mean the best possible goalie you can be, you have to be consistent.  Consistency itself is formed from other components such as, focus, desire to win, good habits, and hard work.
It seems almost pointless to argue over who was or is the best goalie of all time.  When I think of the best, I think of Patrick Roy, Dominic Hasek, Jacques Plante, Glenn Hall, Terry Sawchuk, Ken Dryden, Bernie Parent, Tony Esposito, and Grant Fuhr to name a few.  Each reader will have their own list, but regardless of which goalies you believe to be among the best of all time, look closely at your candidates.  The first thing you may notice is that they all had or have different styles.  None of the above goalies played the position the same way.  Some were butterfly goalies while others were stand up.  They all have different statures, as well.  Some were (are) quicker and played a more reaction style while others played a more solid positional game.   Although all the best goalies have had differences, they all had consistency in common.  Thus, the main ingredient for greatness would have to be consistency.

So how does a goalie become consistent?  Well, as previously stated, there are many components to consistency and we’ll touch on a few of the most important ones here.

HABITS. The first main ingredient is developing positive habits.  We’re all creatures of routine and we have both good and bad habits.  To become consistently good in goal, you must develop positive habits.  That means that you have to perfect the fundamentals of the position so that in games, you respond to shots on goal with flawlessly executed saves as often as humanly possible.  This is what coaches mean when they say the old adage, “perfect practice makes perfect.”  When you consistently perform your saves without a glitch, over and over again, you have taken another step closer to consistency.

WORK ETHIC. Going hand in hand with perfecting your fundamentals is developing a solid work ethic.  Since you will have to perform the fundamentals over and again to perfect them, you must have the desire and work ethic to keep the pace.  Of course, your desire to be consistent is also of the utmost importance.  The desire to improve and to achieve consistency will help your work ethic develop and it will also help make the task seem less daunting.

FOCUS. Lastly, a goalie must be able to maintain focus throughout practice and games in order to reach a successful level of consistency.  Let’s not pull any punches here.  Sometimes, depending on the team you play for, goaltending can actually get boring.  At times, the mind begins to wonder and you catch yourself thinking about pizza and locker combinations rather than the puck.  It as at these times, that the goalie has to bear down and keep his or her mind where it belongs, on the ice, on the puck, and thinking about reacting to make the very next save. At practice, if there is a lull in the action, discipline yourself to do something constructive.  Work on an aspect of your game that you know needs fine tuning.  Or challenge yourself to stay still and keep thinking about the puck and watch the play at the other end and see how long you can stay focused.  The more you do it, the longer you be able to maintain your focus in games.

If you begin practicing toward the perfection of your saves through desire, a good work ethic, and focus, you will start to gain consistency, which is the key to longevity and even greatness as a goalie.  But make no mistake, it isn’t easy.  There are a lot of very good goalies out there who never reached the heights for which they seemed destined and the main reason is consistency.  It is not enough to take the Randy Moss, Vikings’ wide receiver, approach of playing when you want to.  Not if you want to be great.  You have to do it night in and night out to reach the highest levels.  It doesn’t do you any good to have all the tools and not use them.

Contributed by Darren Hern

Filed under: Goaltender, , ,

How to Make the Most of Practice (A Goaltenders Point of View)


Practice time should be productive and fun. However, not all teams have goalie coaches who understand this unique position and who can design good drills for goalies. As a result, goalies may be neglected during practice drills that may be okay for forwards and defensemen, but not for goalies. Goalies need to be proactive when it comes to their approach to practice time, which often calls for self-instruction and self-motivation. This article provides several suggestions and tips on what to think about before, during, and after practices so that these workouts can be more productive for you.

Before Practice

How productive a practice is not only depends upon what you do on the ice but also what you do before you even get on the ice. Here are some things to think about before you put on the pads:

(1)   Rest – Getting enough sleep prior to your practice is crucial to maintaining a high intensity level during the workout. If you’re tired during practice, you’re more likely to develop “lazy” or bad habits. You’ll also need to take more breaks, which means less time stopping pucks. Plus, it will be more difficult to concentrate and maintain focus. With plenty of rest, you won’t feel as if you’re fighting an uphill battle during practice, and you’ll have more fun.

(2)   Diet – While you cannot control how many sprints your coach will ask you to skate during practice, you can certainly help yourself immensely with good eating habits before you get to the rink. A smart diet not only involves what you eat but also when you eat. Eating carbohydrates (e.g., pasta) on the day before your practice (or game) will give you energy on the ice. Try to avoid lots of sugar right before practice – sugar can provide a deceptive energy “buzz” but will also deliver a “lull” soon after. (Eating anything immediately before a practice or game is usually a bad idea.) Drinking plenty of water before your workout – not just during it – is one of the best moves you can make.

(3)   Plan – Practice should be more than just putting on your equipment and stopping pucks. You should have an idea about what you’d like to work on, what you’d like to get out of practice. What are some areas in your game in which you’d like to improve? What didn’t go so well last practice? How did the pucks go in last game? How is your stickhandling and shooting? Are there any drills that you’d like to suggest to your coach? To get the most out of practice, you need to be less “reactive” (only doing what the coach asks you to work on) and more “proactive” (stepping on the ice with a plan about what you want to work on). A proactive approach to practice (and your whole game for that matter) is especially important when your team doesn’t have a goalie coach. Also important is having a plan for the “downtime” that arises during practice – the time during which goalies aren’t included in drills or in the instruction (e.g., when the forwards are practicing face-offs). If you get an extra ten minutes during or at the end of practice, how will you use that time?

In the Locker Room

Although it’s not always feasible, it’s a good idea to give yourself a little extra time in the locker room before practice, whenever you can. Here’s why:

(1)   Stretch – Knowing that you’re going to stretch when you get on the ice, why should you stretch in the locker room? There are several reasons. For one thing, you really can’t stretch too much. This is especially true as you get older and you lose a little of your flexibility. Stretching in the locker room with or without your equipment on will also allow you to target certain muscles that you may not be able to hit when you’re on the ice.  Another reason to stretch before practice is because you never know if you’ll get a chance to stretch on the ice: what happens if, for example, you discover an equipment problem right before you step on the ice and by the time you fix it the practice is already underway? Bottom line is that it never hurts to stretch before practice.

(2)   Equipment check – Extra time before practice will allow you to check your equipment and take care of the little things that often make a big difference. For example, you can use this time to tape your sticks, tighten the screws on your mask, sharpen your skates, and put bandages on your blisters. Plus, you never know when it’s time for your skate lace to snap!


The warm-up is one of the most underrated parts of practice, but one of the most important. It is also a time that you don’t want to get caught “going through the motions.” During the warm-up, you’ll want to focus on three things: stretching (again), breaking a sweat, and breaking in your equipment.

(1)   Stretch (again) – Most teams gather at the start of practice to stretch as a group. Ideally, you will have skated a couple of laps so that your muscles are warmed up before this stretch. By all means, do not treat the stretching time as “resting” time. At every session at our camps, we observe many goalies taking this part of the practice seriously, but we see just as many goalies that don’t. Even if you’re tired, force yourself to stretch well. Hold each stretch for at least a six-count, and do not “bounce” or make any sudden movements. You’ll never know when you’re going to push your muscles to the limit during practice (or try-outs, or games).

(2)   Break a sweat – You’ll be more effective in the net once you warm up and get the blood working. And, the best way to avoid cooling off (and catching a chill) during practice is to keep moving!

(3)   Break in your equipment – Not only do you want to take the stiffness out of your equipment, but you also want to use your warm-up to make sure that your equipment is on properly: no straps dragging on the ice, gloves tightened, etc.

During Practice

The structure of practice depends upon coaching styles, strategy, schedule, and talent levels, among other things. Generalizations are difficult to make. Nevertheless, no matter how your coach designs the practice, here are some suggested things to work on during practice:

(1)   Have a good attitude – Be willing to work on your weak areas and make mistakes. This is often easier said than done as goalies are often judged by the number of pucks that go in the net rather than by technique and effort. There is often a lot of pressure on the goalie to stop everything sent towards the net, which leaves little time for working on skills and experimenting. This is why goalie coaches can be so important to your development. Take criticism and suggestions with an open mind and an eye towards improvement.

(2)   Maintain a high energy level – Show your coach and, most importantly, your teammates that you’re working as hard as they are. Be a leader by setting a good example for your teammates.

(3)   Communicate – Practice time is a great opportunity to work on your communication with your defensemen and even your forwards. Communication is extremely important, and to avoid getting “crossed-up” with your teammates during games, you want to make sure that you aren’t communicating with them for the first time in game-situations. Some important things to communicate with your teammates: how to handle two-on-one situations, what to do with pucks that you stop behind the net, when to cover the puck and take a whistle, how much pressure the other team is putting on you during their fore checks, etc.

(4)   Recognize drills that aren’t designed for goalies – It’s a fact of life that not all drills are good for goalies. And even if the intention is good, drills that aren’t designed properly can be counterproductive to your development.  It goes without saying that you should always try to do your best even when the drill is lousy. However, it is during these lousy drills that you need to focus more on your technique and less on the number of pucks that go in the net.

(5)   Use “downtime” effectively – As mentioned before, “downtime” often pops-up up over the course of a practice. For example, coaches often exclude goalies from forward-only or defenseman-only drills. You essentially have three options during downtime (at the Goalie Academy, we highly recommend the second and third options.)

The first option is to “relax” by sitting unproductively on the ice or talking to someone.

The second option (always preferred to the first option!) is to pay close attention to the instruction in order to learn as much as possible about breakouts, fore-checks, power plays, etc. At first glance, it might seem silly for a goalie to learn about different fore-checking strategies (how many times during your career are you really going to “dump and chase”?), but your ability to play the puck and make smart decisions behind the net will improve when you have an idea of what the other team may throw at you.

The third option is to stay warm by working on something on your own, if possible. You will go a long way towards showing your teammates that you have a good attitude by turning downtime into productive time. While it is not necessary to skate sprints during downtime, it can be a good opportunity to practice your shots (forehand and backhand), to work on your skate saves, to practice trapping pucks against your blocker, to stop pucks without your stick, or to work on any number of other skills.

For almost all of these suggestions, you can work with the other goalie on your team (your buddy). Furthermore, these ideas are much more fun than sitting around on the ice. We would make one suggestion to you during downtime: make as little disruption as possible as you practice your skills so that your coach doesn’t feel as if your noise is competing with his instruction. (For instance, instead of shooting pucks against the boards, “playing catch” with a buddy will give a quieter landing to your shots.)

(6)   At the end of practice (before you leave the ice) – Often, there is some extra time when practice ends but the Zamboni driver hasn’t kicked you off the ice yet. This is a great opportunity to get together with some shooters and take extra shots, and is also one of the best parts of practice. Make sure your form stays solid if your teammates want to have “contests” (e.g., showdowns, best-of-ten shots, etc.) Use a little caution, too. Make sure you are stretched out well enough (especially if your coach has just put you through sprints) so that you don’t succumb to a groin injury if you are participating in “high-stakes” showdowns.

After practice

Now is the time to relax – usually. However, as you are putting your equipment away, take note of any equipment problems (dull skates, broken straps, etc.) so that you can take care of them before your next practice or game. Also, pay attention to any bumps and bruises you may have gotten during practice and take care of them if possible.

Things to Remember

Practice time is precious and often expensive, so don’t waste it.  Be proactive at practice – challenge yourself to work on weak areas, and make suggestions about drills to your coach. Maintain a high energy level and work hard. Develop good habits both on and off the ice. And, have fun! Remember the old saying (that we also believe at the Goalie Academy): Practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect.

Courtesy of  Tom Sablak

Goalie Academy

Filed under: Goaltender

Goalies Need Validation

To keep their confidence high, many goalies need some sort of validation that they are indeed doing well. The best form of validation is to finish a game with lots of saves made and few goals allowed. This accomplishment can be particularly difficult for goalies on good teams who are not getting a lot of work. They may allow few goals but make relatively few saves. And in a 7-2 win, for example, they might wonder how significant their particular contributions were. There is a story of one established NHL goalie, in his prime, complaining in mid-game that the saves he made weren’t going up on the arena scoreboard’s “shots” section fast enough. He sent someone up to the operator’s booth between periods to make sure the saves were logged in as he made them. He drew confidence from seeing these saves recorded. That was part of his validation. The coach must be aware of this phenomenon should his or her goalie battle confidence streaks. One tack is to point out to a goalie that there are a lot of positive contributions made by a goalie in a game beyond saves. In one game recently, a goalie deflected six passes intended for the goal mouth in the last half of the game. Each one of those passes, had they connected, would have resulted in a prime scoring opportunity. None did and the goalie did not receive any “stats” to show for it. The same scenario comes about when a goalie smartly ties up a loose puck, for example, when his team is under siege. The act of getting a whistle amid chaos is something a goalie should be commended for but it is an act without visible stats. The coach can point these things out to a goalie, making sure he knows that those “little things” are important and they have been noticed. This provides much needed validation.

Contributed by Joe Bertagna

Filed under: Goaltender, , ,

Working with the Goaltender in Practice

Do you give your goalie enough work dealing with screens at practice? It is easy to fall into the habit of goalie drills being shooters vs. goalies, without the typical traffic in front of the goalie that causes so much trouble. Put a couple of attackers and one defender in front of the net. Feed a pass from the boards (or corner) to the mid-point and have the point shoot low. The two attackers in front should jockey for different positions in front, not only to screen the goalie but to give the goalie different deflection angles. Occasionally, have one of the attackers withdraw for a pass from the point. The goalie has to read when to drop and smother both the shot and the deflection or, if the point man passes to a teammate who has pulled away from the front, to move to the new angle and remain standing. The defenseman has to learn to be a help (moving someone out or covering someone) and not just another body in the way. (Another way to do this is to use the other goalie or goalies as screens if you want to save ankles.) The goalie learns to work hard to find the puck, to stay low, and also to react the right way: down and close to the screen or out on the more lateral pass.

Another question comes up in these situations: how involved do you want your goalie to get with these screening players? There must be a middle ground somewhere between doing nothing and getting too involved. Goalies can use their glove hand to push or make a quick jab with the blocker but getting their stick too involved eliminates a key piece of equipment in stopping low shots most likely to get through the screen. Also, stick work is obvious and can get called. And the stick can get tangled in legs and skates, hampering the goalie if puck movement necessitates lateral movement by the goalie.

Remember: the screener is trying to bother the goalies both physically (they can’t see the puck) and mentally (breaking a goalie’s concentration). The goalie must work hard and maintain his focus.

Filed under: Goaltender, ,


The D must create good gap control as soon as the play is identified as 2 vs 1 to limit the attacker’s options and slow down the attack. The fewer passes the attackers are allowed to make the easier it is for the goalie as it cuts down on the need for re-positioning.
The D’s initial positioning is between the attackers initially with one hand on the
stick and stick extended from the body.
The D must keep their head on a swivel to check the positioning of the player off the puck.
The stick can be used to push the puck carrier wider or lure him into
making a pass before he’s ready.
As play progresses below the tops of the circles, the stick should be pointed a bit more toward the puck carrier than directly in front of the body to cut down on
the space between stick and skates that attacker could use to pass the puck.
The defender should shade slightly toward the player without the puck. The D cannot allow a pass to get through once the puck is below the tops of the circles
If play continues below the dots, the D uses two hands on the stick to react on attempted passes. The D’s body positioning should be at a 45 degree angle to help in denying a pass.
At this point, the player with the puck will be forced to shoot. The D maintains two hands on the stick and is prepared to react to any rebound
Vodpod videos no longer available.

Courtesy of Drills etc.

Filed under: Defense, Defense, Defensemen

Scoring by Changing the Angle of the Puck as you Shoot Video

Here is an excellent video to go along with Brett’s post from a week ago on how to change the angle of your shot by simply moving the puck closer to your body. This is a simple thing you can teach your players that can make an immediate impact on their scoring chances.

courtesy of Brett Henning

Filed under: Offense, Shooting, , , ,



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