Coach Nielsen's Ice Hockey Drills

Defensive Zone Coverage

Players need to accept defensive responsibilities as a crucial part of the game and understand the importance of keeping things simple and basic in your own zone. If you make a mistake in your own end, the opposition will get a direct scoring chance. Some key elements of Defensive Zone Coverage (DZC) is proper positioning on the ice, hard work, communication with your teammates, and keeping things basic.

There are several systems that teams use for their DZC, but the end result is the same; to get back possession of the puck and go from defense to offense. There is not one system that is better than the other; it is just based on what the coaching staff is comfortable with and the strength of the players.

At an early age, all players must work with some form of Zone Defense, so they get familiar with their basic positioning on the ice. As players get older, they will probably get familiar with more advanced systems, such as man to man, or Box plus One.

I will be discussing a system which is called “The Combination”. The name originates from the fact that this system is a combination of zone defense and man to man coverage.

Combination DZC
The “Combination DZC” is a system that many PRO and Junior teams use. Although some teams might call it different names, this system is basically a combination of Man to Man coverage with a Zone Defense.

This system includes both conservative and aggressive elements, which make it very useful for teams to be successful. The conservative aspect is that each of the 5 players is responsible for one of the five areas in the defensive zone (Zone Defense), whereas the aggressive aspect comes from the fact that players are given the freedom to leave their area and help out a teammate in another area (when you are out numbered in a certain area of the zone). Players are encouraged to pressure the puck and be pro-active in the defensive zone, not re-active.

– move in and challenge the puck carrier
– pressure/contain/stall your man
– keep your eyes up on his chest
– stay between your man and the net (defensive side positioning)
– keep a tight gap if possible

– protect the front of the net area
– control opponents stick, play tough, keep defensive side positioning (referees allow more physical play when battling in front of the net, be aggressive)
– if your man moves away from net area (high slot), you need to stay in his shooting lane, and take a few strides in his direction
– if puck changes corner, or area, you have to read your defensive partner, you can either wait for your partner to come protect the net area and then you go and pressure the puck carrier (release), or you can stay in front of the net and let your partner go and pressure the puck carrier in the opposite corner. Either way there always needs to be a defenseman in front of the net (Communication with your partner is very important).

– the first forward into the defensive zone (not necessarily the center) plays down low supporting D1 battling for the puck
– always stay in between your man and the net
– do not over commit where one pass can beat two players (yourself and D1)
– if defenseman gets beat, play the 2 on 1 and stall play as much as possible
– if puck changes corner, you need to follow the puck to opposite corner and continue supporting defenseman (stay down low)

– the second forward back into the zone should cover the weak side slot area, secure middle of the rink
– keep your head on a swivel, know where puck and your point man is at all times
– your main responsibility is to protect the front of the net (slot area), and your second responsibility is the weak side point man (although this can vary depending on coaches philosophy)
– make sure weak side point man does not sneak around you and rush to the net
– Be ready to block shots

– the third forward back into the zone should cover the strong side point.
– keep your head on a swivel; you are responsible for strong side point man, make sure he does not beat you to the net by going around you
– stay in between your man and the net, staying away from the boards to take away the lane to the net
– be ready to sag down low if necessary if a teammate gets beat and your team is outnumbered in the slot area
– you are responsible for defending the high cycle, staying with your point man
– Be ready to block shots

Overall Key Points to DZC:
– ALWAYS protect the net area
– Always stay in between your opponent and the net (defensive side positioning)
– Never give up a second scoring opportunity
– Team work is key
– If back checking forwards are not sure where to go  ALWAYS go down to the slot area and figure it out from there.
– When blocking a shot you must get directly in front of the shooter.
– When the puck is along the boards the first defender takes the body and the second get the puck
– For F2 & F3, always be ready to SAG to the net/slot area if a teammate down low gets beat
– Some teams (coaches) switch F2 & F3 responsibilities (example they have F2 cover the strong side point). Either way, forwards need to understand the importance of having all 5 players back in the defensive zone as quickly as possible
– Some coaches want their weak side defenseman (in front of the net) to play man on man with the player in the slot area and follow him wherever he goes (man on man)

-Defense at the Posts  when opposing player is behind your net with the puck
-Defense at the Posts (DAP) is making sure to cut off the opposition at the goal line, by preventing the offensive player from attacking the net from below the goal line.
-If opposition is set up in back of the net, have both defenseman protecting one post each, facing the puck carrier behind the net.
-F1 should be in the low slot area, ready to protect one of the posts that are left vacant by a defenseman that has attacked the puck carrier.
-F2 & F3 should sag down in the high slot, with a head on a swivel making sure they are aware of their point men.
-Always try to make attacking player come out behind the net on his backhand.

Filed under: coaching, Defense, Defense, Systems, , ,

Passing and Good Team Play

During a recent pro hockey game that I attended in California, I was reminded just how important passing is to the overall success of any team. Why is passing so important? Because it sets up almost every scoring opportunity. Passing is the quickest and most effective way to move the puck around the playing surface because puck movement is faster than player movement.

There are many reasons for passing the puck during a hockey game: to quickly bring the puck out of your defensive zone, to defeat a defender and create a numerical advantage (an essential on a power play), or to set up that great scoring opportunity. Each type of pass serves a unique purpose in terms of catching your opponents off guard and gaining positional advantage. The speed and change in flow provided when making a pass allows your offense to open up many exciting opportunities to put the puck into a scoring situation.

Accuracy, Timing, Deception

Three factors to consider when executing an effective pass are accuracy, knowing when to pass and deception. Following a good pass, don’t stand around congratulating yourself, get back into the play!

1. Accuracy is essential when passing the puck. If you don’t put the puck on your teammate’s stick, you may have just given possession to the other team. To be accurate, you must be able to lead a moving receiver with the puck; that is, you must pass the puck far enough ahead of the moving receiver to give him time to catch the pass.

2. Knowing when to pass. Deciding when to pass the puck should always be based on improving your TEAM’s offensive situation (remember there is a direct relationship between passing and team play!). If a teammate is in a better position than you are, don’t keep the puck,pass it.

3. Deception. Many players spoil their passing attempt because they telegraph their intention. Telegraphing a pass occurs when the passer is looking at the potential receiver and lining up the passing play without any deception. This gives a defender an easy opportunity to steal the puck. Passers can use their peripheral vision or a deceptive move to confuse a defender providing valuable time and space for the receiver.

Three passes you can use to catch defenders off guard include the flip pass, around-the-boards pass and give-and-go pass.

Flip Pass

The flip (or saucer) pass is one technique that can be used when you cannot make a direct pass to your receiver due to a defender’s stick.

The key to making an accurate flip pass is rotating the puck, which is created by rolling the puck from the heel of the stick blade to the toe as the pass is made. This will ensure that the puck lands flat and does not bounce or roll.

The flip pass requires a short follow through to put the puck 6-18 inches off the playing surface and over a defender’s stick. No deception is needed with this type of pass as the puck going airborne takes care of it.

Around-the-Boards Pass

Like the flip pass, the around-the-boards pass allows a passer to indirectly reach a receiver; and since you are using the boards as a guide, it is very accurate. It is particularly effective when used by a defenseman (D) to move the puck from behind the net to an open forward (F) positioned along the boards (as part of a breakout) or when moving the puck in your offensive zone to a teammate on the far side of the net (Figure 2). The pass should be low and not too hard so the receiver can handle it. Since this pass goes around a defender, deception is built right in.


The give-and-go pass (really a passing play) is designed to deceive and defeat an opponent and move the puck into a scoring opportunity.

The give-and-go pass can be used in any area on the playing surface. In the defensive zone, the pass can be used in conjunction with a breakout. In the offensive zone, it can be used as part of your offensive zone strategy. If the defender is expecting (reading) a give-and-go pass, you can still deceive him/her with a give-and-no-go (pass the puck and have the initial receiver fake the return pass).

Perfect your passing technique (accuracy, knowing when to pass, and use of deception) and your team will improve its offensive effectiveness with the flick of a stick.

Filed under: coaching, Passing

Line Chemistry

Certain great hockey players are remembered as much for the lines they played on as for their own individual accomplishments. The French Connection. The Triple Crown. The Kid Line. Even the Red Army’s famed KLM line is etched as a unit in our hockey memories.

Sometimes, when the chemistry is right among three players, it seems like there’s no stopping them. And before you know it, they’re tagged with a nickname that links them together forever.

Ron Mason, the winningest coach in U.S. college hockey, has put together many line combinations over the years. The Michigan State Spartans former head coach has learned from experience that finding the right line combinations helps improve both team chemistry and individual performance.

Balance your lines

Every team should have checking lines and offensive lines. Within the line itself, you like to have personalities that mesh and can play together. The fact is, some kids just relate to and interact with each other better than others. This is important not only in games, but also in practice where they can work together on a regular basis.

“I like to have a playmaker, a checker, and a scorer on one line, to give it balance,” Mason explains. “The checker gets the puck to the playmaker and then he gets it to the scorer. This is a balanced offensive line. But,” he adds, “you won’t be able to have all your lines like this.”

Therefore, the key to assembling successful line combinations is to make the best possible use of the talents and chemistry you have on your team.

You might want to put together a line strictly for defensive purposes. You will want three checkers on your defensive line, and will use them in specific situations. “You will want this line against (the opposition’s) best line when the games are close,” says Mason.

Combinations aren’t just for forwards either. You should pair your line combinations up front with specific defenseman, as well. Offensive defensemen tend to work better with an offensive forward line. “If you have a defensive defenseman there to start your play up ice, he will never get the puck to the offense,” offers Mason.

Blueline pairs, too

To go along with your line combinations up front, you’ll want effectively paired defenders. Usually that means a strong defensive-minded defenseman paired with one who is offensive-minded. “I don’t like to have two offensive-minded defensemen playing together. I would rather split them up,” says Mason. “You are more likely to give something up defensively with two offensive-minded defensemen.” But by pairing one with the other you can often achieve a nice balance of offensive punch and defensive security.

Mason notes that being able to find two or three lines that are compatible and successful is a real blessing. If you are that lucky, then only slight adjustments will probably need to be made to your lines during the season. But if the trios you’ve put together aren’t gelling, Mason suggests changing line combos until you feel they are working well. “The year we won the National Championship, we changed our lines on a regular basis,” says Mason.

Youth coaches also need to know what position kids should play. While most parents probably want their kids to play forward (and score all the goals!), Mason disagrees. He feels it is an advantage for kids to play defense at a young age because players will be forced into doing more things on the ice.

The defenseman has to skate backwards, pivot, react, and handle the puck in his own end. Plus, defenders usually get more ice time than forwards. Think about rotating youngsters on defense. You’ll often find that an offensively skilled player can develop even more while playing defense.

Youth players should start to think more about what position they should play on a permanent basis when they reach the Pee Wee age level. However, it is not uncommon to change positions at a later age. Mason recalls moving one of his advanced players to forward from defense, and that player went on to play in the NHL for 10 years.

While picking or assigning a position isn’t an irrevocable decision, it is something that must be done in order for players to fit together as a team. In order to find the right blend. The right balance. And hopefully in the end, the right chemistry.

Filed under: coaching, Forwards, Offense

One Piece Hockey Sticks Worth the Cost or Overpriced Headache?

Are you like me and fed up with paying $200 for a hockey stick and having it break after only a few weeks? One of my sons plays college hockey and the other plays 18AAA. So far this season I have purchased 9 composite/one piece sticks! I know I’m the fool for continuing to purchase a product that lasts four or five weeks at the most. Twice this year the stick company replaced the stick because it broke within the first 30 days. Twice the stick broke between the 30 day and 45 day mark and three times the stick broke within 60 days!

I coach two high level teams and every game I will see two or three broken sticks and each time my first thought is “I bet there’s a parent in the crowd thinking, there goes another $200”.

I can only say that if any other business sold a $200 product that lasted on average 45 days, they would be out of business pretty quickly. So why do we continue to buy these products? I know I am living proof that the marketing of these items is what is selling them. My sons believe they play better with the latest one piece hockey stick, but is that really true. Do these sticks really improve a players game significantly enough to pay so much for a stick? I see mite and squirt players playing with sawed off composite sticks that cost $150. Have we all gone mad!

I would like to hear some of your stories about these sticks. My plan is to try and get enough people involved to see if we can change the warranty from these manufacturers to 60 or 90 days.

Filed under: General,

Most Popular Drills on the Site (selected by the coaches)

With the beginning of a new calendar year I wanted to share some of the interesting information I have accumulated in the four months since I started this website. Back on September 2nd I finally put this simple site live with the hope that I could reach a few coaches around the country and help them with the chore of “what to do at practice tonight”. During the first month of existence I received 515 hits and thought that was awesome. As of January 11th, 2010, I have had 3,886 hits in the first eleven days of January. The chart below shows how you have helped this site grow from its very meager beginnings to a pretty successful website in just four months. I thank each and every coach that stops by to pick up some small amount of information every day.

When I started the site I wasn’t sure what type of information coaches would be looking for, but through the statistics kept by the web hosting company I can tell you exactly what the most viewed information is.

The most popular drills are the Cycling drills followed by

Cornerstone (Defensemen Section)
Breakout Options (Breakout Section)
3 Pass Drill (Breakout Section)

The most popular sections follow true to form from the above drills


The drills supplied by the coach of the Army Black Knights are charging up the leader board, and they have only been on the site for about three weeks.

I have received over 200 emails from coaches all over the US and Canada asking for my opinion/advice on many subjects and it has been a trill corresponding with each one of you. I have learned many things myself through those new contacts. Remember, there is always something new to learn in this great game.

Once again, thank you for turning my “little project” into something much more substantial than I ever thought it would be. I started this site with the opinion that I would share my information for free and I continue to adhere to that principle. If you have something to contribute, please feel free to send it along to me, we can all learn from each other.

Coach Nielsen

Filed under: General

Golden Rules for Goaltenders

My Golden Rules for defenseman and for forwards began many years ago, al-though each gets some fine tuning occasionally. It didn’t take long to figure out that it was appropriate to have Golden Rules for goaltenders, too.

It is interesting to note that several of the rules are the same or similar to those for defenseman and forwards.

These are items that coaches should be using to teach goalies and to monitor their progress. They are things that players should strive to master as they progress up through the youth ranks and on to high school, juniors or college.

1. Stay alert at all times, no matter where the puck is on the ice. Of course, that does not mean you have to be in a crouch at all times, but it does mean that the eyes and the mind have to always follow the play.

2. Learn the basic moves and techniques as soon as possible and work to excel at them. The basic moves and techniques are skate saves, pad stack, V drops, stick or pad saves with puck control, blocker saves, catcher saves, covering the puck, puck movement with the stick (shooting, passing and clearing), slides, glides and skating.

3. Understand and work on angles and distances. This is knowing the distance and angle from the goal to take away the maxi-mum goal opening away from the shooter. This is a matter of constant practice and monitoring.

4. Learn to analyze each situation — especially when being attacked — then act accordingly. There are innumerable possibilities for situations that, by analysis, involve understanding the options of the player with the puck, as well as attackers without the puck, plus the level of support available from teammates.

5. Work on major segments of the goaltender’s arsenal: feet, gloves, pads, stick. Work must be more than just taking shots; it must often be specific isolated segments. Don’t let any segment be dominant because another is weak.

6. Just like other hockey positions, master the skating skills and major arsenal segments so that the thinking portion of the posi-tion can be concentrated on. If you don’t have good mechanical skills, the critical mental portion of the game will not develop.

7. Work, work, work on skating skills. Invariably, the best goaltenders skate very well and have great agility and balance.

8. Learn what it takes for you to prepare yourself to play a good game. Find the appropriate process that gets you focused.

9. Learn to control the puck whenever possible. That means controlling shoot-in pucks behind the net, freezing the puck when-ever it’s loose around the net, deflecting shots or loose pucks to the corners, getting the puck to teammates and controlling rebounds.

10. Play with confidence and shake off goals allowed to maintain focus on upcoming action. Non-emotional, clear thinking is one of the basics of good goaltending.

11. Strive for consistency. The best way to do that is to control emotions and have a good grasp of physical skills.

12. Be aggressive and force the attacker with the puck to shoot when and where you want. Challenge the play any time possible.

13. When you are not involved in a team drill during practice, work on individual skills, such as shooting, handling the puck and skating skills and techniques. Good shooting skills are especially important because they allow you to become part of moving the puck out of your zone.

14. Ask for help from coaches and goaltender teammates if you are having problems.

15. Don’t retaliate from contact around the net — whether legal or not. Retaliation often results in penalties to you and your teammates who feel obligated to defend their goaltender.

16. Communicate with your teammates, especially those defending around the net. It is a critical aspect of successful goaltending. Don’t ever communicate with opposing players; it is seldom of value and exposes your emotions.

17. Look for opportunities to get shots. Every shot is an experience that makes stopping the next puck easier.

Courtesy of John Russo

Filed under: coaching, Goaltender

Golden Rules for Defensemen

These Golden rules are the key items players should be striving to master as they progress up through the ranks to high school and college. The best players at the highest levels of hockey follow the Golden Rules most often.

A player of average skills and speed will do very well if these rules are mastered. While the rules are basic and seem obvious, it may take many years of concentrated effort for most players to automatically perform them properly. This automatic reaction is what coaches should be teaching and players working towards.

1. Always back your partner — on the offensive blue line, in the neutral zone and especially in the defensive zone.

2. Always one defenseman in front of the net when the opposition has the puck in your zone or there is danger that they may gain possession. For young defenseman, (mites through early PeeWees) the rule should always be one defenseman in front of the net when the puck is in your zone.

3. Do not leave the offensive zone too soon. Leaving too soon is a much more common mistake than leaving too late for a large percentage of defensemen from mites through high school. It backs the defense up too fast and too far and makes “pacing” the attacking forward much harder.

4. Always play defense first. If attacking with the puck, only go deep into the offensive zone until the prime scoring opportunity is over — and you are part of it.

5. Never play a 1-on-1 head on. Give the attacker a little room on one side to force him to go where you want him to go.

6. Stagger one defenseman up a little farther than the other in 2-on-2 and 3-on-2 situations. The up man will generally be nearest to the puck carrier.

7. Shoot intelligently from the point. The best shot is always low, generally not too hard (so it stays in the scoring area for rebounds) and accurate. Defensmen seldom are shooting to score, but rather to put the puck into the scoring area so that forwards can score. Always look up so shots are not into opposing players and so that passes to wide wings or partner can be made when appropriate.

8. Do not “tie-up” with people in front of the net, rather gain position and control.

9. Do not ever “tie-up” with an opposing player anywhere when your team is a man short. As the players on the team with a penalty tie up and are out of the play, the odds get better on the power play, i.e. 4-on-3 is better than 5-on-4, 3-on-2 is better than 4-on-3, etc.

10. Do not stand looking for someone to pass to, especially in the defensive zone. Look-move-look-pass. This reduces the chances of being surprised from the back or side, makes the pass more accurate and forces the opponent to begin retreating.

11. When turning with a player breaking around the outside, keep the feet moving — do not lunge or reach without moving your feet. Young players have an especially hard time with this, mainly because of their lack of skating and turning skills.

12. Work, work, work on backwards skating and turning. A defenseman must be as comfortable going backwards and sideways as forward. Young players all the way through college must continue to practice these skills as their bodies grow and change.

13. Do not pass to covered forwards – carry it, cross-pass to partner or “eat it” if necessary. Defensemen must gain confidence in cross-passing and in carrying the puck to open up the attack, allowing their forward to get open. Feeding the opposition’s point has been a weakness at all levels since day one.

14. Check only for purpose. Checking just for the sake of a hit is seldom of value and creates risk of self-injury, missed checks and open opposition players, as well as penalties.

15. Communicate — with your partner, to goalkeeper and your forwards. It is an important part of teamwork. Do not communicate with opposing players

— it seldom is of value and exposes your emotions.

16. Follow your attacking forwards closely (20 to 30 feet) and move quickly into the offensive zone after the puck goes into the zone. Many defensemen are lazy moving up the ice and allow the puck to turn around before they get over the blue line.

17. The blue lines are critical. Always clear the puck over the defensive blue line as a first priority – then move up to the blue line quickly. Defend both blue lines with as much vigor as is reasonable as the opposition attacks down the ice – they are natural points to stop the attack.

18. Learn the critical skills of flipping the puck (out of the zone) and deflecting the puck off the glass (out of the zone) at the earliest possible age. They are key puck movement skills.

19. Learn the skills and situations to cross pass and cooperate with your partner to move the puck out of the defensive zone.

20. Know your job in the defensive zone and do it consistently and well.


Filed under: coaching, Defense, Defensemen

Golden Rules for Forwards

The Golden Rules are the key items players should strive to master as they progress up through the ranks to high school and college. The best players at the highest levels of hockey follow most of the Golden Rules most often.

Players of average skills and speed will do very well if these rules are mastered. While the rules are basic and seem obvious, it may take many years of concentrated effort for most players to automatically perform them properly.

This automatic reaction is what coaches should be teaching and what players should be working toward.

1. Know what your job is — in all three zones — and do it each time. Don’t try to do a teammate’s job or you will fail at your own. Ask questions in practice if you are unsure about any situations during play of face-offs. Intelligent hockey is what wins games.

2. Backcheck at full speed until you have someone covered when coming back to your zone. Backchecking at full speed is simply the complement of attacking at full speed. Don’t be a one-direction hockey player.

3. When backchecking, pick up the most open man without the puck. If the puck is in your area, it may well be appropriate to go after the puck carrier. However, the player without the puck is often the most dangerous. Often it is most effective to let the defenseman take the puck carrier and to take away passes by covering the other open forward.

4. Put out a full and honest effort on each shift, then get off the ice. Maximum effort and short shifts have proven to be the most desirable at all levels of hockey.

5. Push the puck in the offensive zone or get a whistle when you or anyone on your line is tired. A tired line is most vulnerable — it is seldom productive to play tired. It’s always desirable to take a whistle in the defensive zone then to defend it without legs.

6. Always attack with the puck. Don’t make it easy for the other team to catch you from behind. A pressured attack is much harder for a defenseman to cover and results in more 2-on-1 and 3-on-1 situations.

7. Move the puck up ice with passes to linemates ahead that are open, then move quickly to join the rush. Don’t force passes to covered linemates ahead. Skating the puck up the ice is the slowest alternative.

8. Get into the habit of shooting when in the slot area unless an obvious pass is available. It is seldom productive to stickhandle further once in the slot unless to gain a better angle on the goaltender or let linemates move in for rebounding. Extra passes look good but often take away scoring chances. The key offensive strategy of hockey is to get shots from the slot. When they are available, they should be taken.

9. Always use a wrist or snap shot when shooting from the slot. Slap shots provide neither quickness nor accuracy from the slot.

10. Move away from the net when a teammate has the puck behind the opposition goal line or wide and deep on the boards and move toward the net when your defense or high forward has the puck in a shooting position. It is easier to remember to “move out when the puck is inside and move in
when the puck is outside.” The tendency is to move up close to the net when a teammate has the puck in the corner or behind the net. However, up close is where most of the congestion and close coverage is. A high slot position will result in more opportunities for clear shots. When a defenseman is in shooting position, on the other hand, moving to the net creates the best screening of the goaltender and also puts players around the net for rebounds. There are some details to be worked out by individual coaches, but the basic concept is important.

11. Take specific care not to go offside when attacking in advantage situations (i.e., 2-on-1, 3-on-2). While it is seldom good to be offside, it is critical to complete a 2-on-1 or 3-on-2 situation as many times as possible each game. It is best to be conservative going over the blueline in these situations.

12. When throwing the puck into the zone, shoot it to the opposite corner or off the end board where it will come out at a difficult angle for both the goaltender and defenseman to handle. Shooting the puck at the goaltender or around the boards gives control to the opposing goaltender who can easily feed a defenseman or wing.

13. Don’t tie up with an opposing player when your team is shorthanded. The odds of scoring get better as fewer players are involved in a power-play situation (i.e., 4-on-3 is better that 5-on-4).

14. Don’t retaliate from checks or infractions, whether legal or not. Part of the forward’s job is to take checks and keep playing. Retaliation often results in a penalty, and referees often miss the initial infraction.

15. Communicate with your linemates and other teammates. It is one of the most important parts of teamwork. Don’t ever communicate with opposing players — it seldom is of value and exposes your emotions.

16. Constantly practice your weakest skills. Get away from the habit of just shooting when you have free time in practice. Other skills are more important. If you do shoot, practice while moving.

17. Learn to be a good all around player — defensively as well as offensively.

Courtesy of John Russo

Filed under: coaching, Forwards, Offense

Dynamic Pre-Game Warm-Up

Courtesy of Peter Twist

Many players aim to be game ready where they feel athletic and skillful, fast and strong but also fluid and mobile. A player needs to enter the first shift ready to move with explosive power and rapid agility right from the puck drop. The pre-ice (and pre-workout) routine plays an important role in readying the player’s mind and body to exert best efforts skillfully. Historically, players would do a few brief on-ice stretches, however, the result is little more than a pre-skate ritual. Stretches are held in a static position like a statue. How can stretching like a statue prepare the mind and body to move explosively? It can’t. Research shows that in workouts following static stretching, strength and speed are actually lower.

To be game ready, static stretching is no longer the way to go. The goal of pre-ice exercise is to wake up the mind, warm the muscles, and link the mind and muscles to have a responsive body that is prepared to react quickly. A dynamic warm up is recommended pre-game, leaving static stretching for post-ice, when the muscles are tired and need recovery, the mind is also fatigued, and is ready to shut down and relax.

The more than 600 muscles in our body are the ‘hard drive’ with the brain and all of the nerves that connect the mind to the muscles acting like the body’s ‘software’. To prepare to move explosively and skillfully, both the software and the hard drive need to be turned on and warmed up. This is best achieved through balance, movement and strength exercises in a planned dynamic warm up that follows a number of progressive steps.

Use the dressing room, lobby, hallway, Zamboni bay, or any other location you can secure that provides space for movement. Players can warm up half dressed to minimize the time delay between warming up and stepping on the ice. A useful dynamic warm up should last at least 12 minutes and could be as long as 30 minutes. The end goal is for the player to be warm, a little sweaty, mind pumped up and ready to go. The whole body should feel awake and athletic but not fatigued.

The program starts with balance drills for a low impact method to activate many muscles and turn on the mind. These drills safely challenge the small stabilizer muscles key to reaction and physical confrontations. Balance brings focus. Players must think and concentrate to coordinate their bodies through each drill.

Next players go through specific movement skills where they move large muscle groups through slow, linear movements and progress toward faster, more dynamic multidirectional movements that require more thought. My athletes begin by walking up on their toes to wake up the calf muscles and ankles. Exercises move up the body until each muscle group has been worked. Add straight line movements, and then progress through angled patterns, lateral movement, and crossovers before advancing to multidirectional agility drills. This adds quick feet, stop and starts and reactive demands.

Finish with whole body strength exercises to help link the body together, activate muscles from toes to fingertips, and sequence the muscles in the order they will need to fire for shooting and body checking. It is valuable to step on the ice feeling strong and durable. Exercises could include wide body weight squats, standing partner stick pushes, standing stick pulls and standing partner ward offs. Initiate each rep from the legs and follow through with the upper body, engaging the trunk so the core is ready to be strong.

Coaches and athletes are encouraged to develop a dynamic warm up and use it before a practice to determine its effectiveness. A dynamic warm up routine gives players the confidence to jump into a game with a winning attitude.

Peter Twist, 11-year NHL Conditioning Coach, is now President of Twist Conditioning Inc., a company that provides franchised Sport Conditioning Centres, hockey training products and home study coach education. Check out

Filed under: coaching, Conditioning, General, , , ,

The wrong way to raise a hockey player

Courtesy of Ryan Kennedy

There are certain people who I hope will read this column, though by nature they probably won’t know it’s about them.

I’m talking about the dads who stand at the back of the rink purple-faced, banging on the aluminum walls when a goal is scored, screeching at their kids. I’m talking about the moms who incessantly shake plastic jugs full of pennies and, yes, screech at their kids.

You may think this behavior stops once the players leave their teens (Guh. How odious is it that the bulk of it is aimed at children?). But there are, in fact, NHLers tortured and haunted by overwrought parents living their failed dreams vicariously through their sons.

Yes, professional athletes make millions of dollars, but remember your early 20s? Not exactly a great time to be emotionally rattled.

The most well known case of psycho parenting is that of Patrick O’Sullivan, the Kings left winger whose father was criminally abusive towards him, even in major junior.

John O’Sullivan seemed to think he knew something about high-caliber hockey because he played 35 games in the Atlantic Coast League between 1981 and 1986.

There are others like him who still harangue their kids to this day (Patrick got a restraining order against his dad), even though they have no professional (or even major junior/NCAA) experience in hockey. And they are actually affecting these players’ NHL careers with their stupidity.

Can you imagine the embarrassment of an NHLer having their dad tell a Stanley Cup-winning coach their son deserves more ice time, or a spot on the power play unit? It happens!

It seems so simple, but here’s the rule: If you didn’t play to your child’s level, shut up. You have no idea what you are talking about. Whether you spend your day putting up drywall or doing complex accounting procedures, the one thing you are not doing is coaching a major hockey team. So shut up and stop ruining your children’s life.

Even retired NHLers who have young gun sons or daughters playing the game know better.

You won’t find a nicer person out there than J-P Parise, who played almost 900 games for the Isles and North Stars, among others. Parise learned long ago that yelling at children over hockey is a mistake. While raising New Jersey Devils star Zach and goalie prospect Jordan, Parise realized the following:

“I was hard on them at first and I felt terrible,” Parise said during an interview for Hockey’s Young Guns, a book I co-authored with Ryan Dixon. “I went home (one day) and thought, ‘Why the heck am I doing this? This is supposed to be fun. I always had fun playing hockey.’ From then on I would never yell at them. Players should look forward to the next game or practice.”

Sage advice. Should an NHL coach yell at a player? If they think the player needs it, then sure. That is a professional relationship and the player doesn’t have to see the coach at every Christmas or birthday for the next 40 years. And the coach has earned the right to voice his opinion through years of experience and hard work, running professional practices and watching hours upon hours of game tape. Not because they once scored a hat trick in a high school game 25 years ago.

Now, I’m not saying a parent shouldn’t push their child to be the best they can. Motivation can be a tricky thing, especially for teenagers who would rather play drums in a punk band (which was my downfall. No, wait, lack of talent was my downfall). And in the sleazy world of minor hockey politics, having your kid switch teams, leagues, whatever, may be a necessary step.

Obviously there is a balancing act. Get your kid that tryout with the rep squad, but remember there are too many teams out there for your child to be overlooked for too long.

In the meantime: support, support, support.

As Parise noted, hockey is supposed to be fun. Waking up before dawn and driving to a frigid rink an hour away means you have two hours of bonding time with your son or daughter, so use it well. And use it to talk about other things.

“We would never talk about hockey to or from games,” Parise noted.

This sport can change lives; make sure it’s for the better.

Filed under: General, , ,



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