Coach Nielsen's Ice Hockey Drills

Evaluating Officials

I was wondering what different leagues around the US and Canada do to evaluate their referees. Where I coach I have never once been asked to evaluate an official after a game. I plan on bringing this up at the league meeting in two months and was hoping to get some feedback from my readers on how this is done in their leagues. I have a friend from Michigan who tells me that their league has a website that all coaches can access and leave an evaluation of a referee for each game he coaches. I’m certainly not looking to find a way to dismiss any official. I understand how important they are to teams being able to play games. I just think it’s odd that the two leagues I coach in don’t have a way for the coaches to evaluate a referee. So, let me know how it’s done where you are from. Any feedback would be much appreciated and hopefully help our leagues build a better system of evaluating the referees. Thanks for your help.

Filed under: General

Coaching to Develop Players

I have received numerous questions lately asking me about ways to improve a team, or how to “make my team better” in certain areas. I thought I would publish this article to reinforce my belief that every player becomes better when the core ability of a player is developed properly. This is something you can keep in mind when next season comes around and you need to build a plan for the upcoming season.

Hockey is a game of high speed problem solving and the players who have developed the best skills usually are the best problem solvers and dominate. Coaches can have a great impact on their player’s ability to solve problems like 1 on 1 or 2 on 1, but to do so a coach needs to understand the basic idea of teaching players to solve problems. As you plan your season and practices remember you are coaching individual players rather than a team. Each player has slightly different needs and by addressing those needs the team will improve.

In North America we are very anxious to teach even our youngest players all about offsides, breakouts and forechecks. These positional drills all to often make up the bulk of the practices. This is deemed necessary to prepare for the upcoming games which parents and coaches feel need to be won. Unfortunately this short sighted approach robs the players of the opportunity to develop the necessary skills required to play at a high level in their later years.

I would like to suggest that there is a higher level of coaching that should be practiced. Since the game is about problem solving, the coaching staff should focus on helping the players find solutions to specific situations. You might also refer to this as learning to react to common reoccurring situations. Either way, a new approach to coaching youth players is needed.

So let’s take this to the next step and assume that in order for individual players to be able to solve problems they need resources. Those resources include skating power, speed, fitness, and puck handling skills. The players also need to be able to use these resources in tight areas from behind the net or in the corners where there is lots of traffic.

Understanding that player’s need resources, coaches may proceed with exercises and training that will help their players strengthen their resources. At the elite levels of the game it is recognized by most coaches that “puck handling and skating are the key to player success”. In order to improve the skating and puck handling of the players the coach needs to spend a considerable amount of time working on these skill sets.

Fundamental skating comes first with the younger players and as the players get older more advanced skating with pucks that incorporates lots of lateral movement, spins, cut backs and escape moves are all part of the development process. Practices need to be customized to meet the needs of the individual players. Even individual drills or exercises may need to be modified for each player on the ice.

The objective is to achieve skill mastery at which point the players have the freedom to create. The ability to be creative is determined by the level of skill mastery each player possesses. How often have we heard coaches talk about being creative and yet they do not provide the necessary resources to the players so they can play in a creative environment?

Skill mastery is achieved by using creative individual skating and puck handling drills that simulate game like situations. These drills will allow players to develop coordination of their arms and legs as each part works together. With ongoing attention to these concepts, drills and exercises the players will develop instinctive moves because they have done them thousands of times and developed the muscle memory required to execute them instinctively. This allows them to free up their mind to be creative.

To start on this process I suggest that youth coaches spend the first month of the season working on fundamental skating and puck handling skills. As the season progresses reduce emphasis a bit depending on age level. In order to take your players to new levels design drills that force your players to move laterally four to five feet and then accelerate to the next problem that needs solving. Hockey nets positioned in small areas make great problems that need to be solved.

Minnesota Hockey provides skills videos on that you can download onto your computer that demonstrate how to teach skating, puck handling skills and checking. USA Hockey offers a skills DVD available at

Remember, play-offs do not start until February. The teams that are the best prepared and possess the best skills will advance. If you want to put your team into the best position at play-off time, spend most of season working on skill mastery concepts and encouraging your players to use their imagination as they play the game.

Filed under: General, , , ,

Off Ice Conditioning Program

From time-to-time I am offered to participate in different hockey specific programs because of all the hits this site takes each day. A coach I have known for about a year now is starting up what I think might be an interesting web based conditioning program for hockey players. Take a look at his website by clicking the image below and see if you are interested. This may be something you want to pass along to your players for the off-season.

Here is a short link you can give to your players if you think they might be interested

Between today and March 15th there will be different videos on the site to give you an idea of what’s to come. On the 15th there will be a video describing the program and how to join.

Jeremy Weiss the developer of the S3 program is an excellent coach out west and a former high level hockey player. He has a college education in athletic conditioning and nutrition and is someone I respect for his knowledge of the game and how to improve your ability. Check out the videos and move forward if you find it to be of interest to you or your players.

Filed under: coaching, Conditioning, , ,

Going to National’s

To all my readers. I’m sorry to take up space with personal stuff, but I told my son I would post this if his team was successful.

This weekend my son’s 18AAA Midget team won their district Championship and will now head to Illinois in early April to play in the 18AAA National Championship tournament. I’m very proud of my son and his team and very thankful to his coaches who helped make this possible.

Looking forward to my trip to Illinois in a few weeks, should be a very exciting four days!

Filed under: General,

Goaltending Topic: Stick Discipline

By Joe Bertagna

One of the key observations I find myself offering to goalies (usually early in the educational process) is that we are, at our core, a collection of habits. We are our habits, both the good ones and the bad ones. Hand-in-hand with this observation is another observation that is usually met by blank stares: a lot of what makes a successful goalie is the repetition of simple things. That means repeating skills over and over and over again.

A parent seeking state of the art goaltending instruction is hoping to hear some secret that no one has ever suggested to his son or daughter. They want to know how their child can move from good to great and there is an expectation that something exciting awaits them for their hard earned tuition fee. Yet in the end, it is fairly simple. Most goaltending coaches preach positioning, puck control, and a respect for basic skills. Nothing is more basic, and more deadly when not under control, than sloppy stick discipline. How many times do we see a young goalie go through the hard part: read a play and react with strong body movement to the right location, only to get beat because the stick came late? Or perhaps not at all, and an average shot finds five-hole space en route to the back of the net? There is also the scenario where the goalie reacts to a deke to his glove side. The leg pad is there, but the stick trails the play, preventing the proper rotation that allows the goalie to get more than just that pad into the play. It could even be that it’s a young goalie with stick right up against the skates, setting themselves up for a kicked rebound back to the shooter or, worse yet, a toppling over as shoulders get ahead of feet due to this poor stick position.

Goalies have to understand the dual roles of basic stick positioning: to help stop pucks and to help with overall balance. The stick blade should be positioned so as to cover the space between the skates, to stop a low shot, and comfortably ahead of the feet, to cushion a shot.

The goalie should be able to envision a “triangle” formed by lines connecting one skate, the other, and the stick blade. (No triangle exists when the stick is up against the feet.) This allows for the cushioning referenced above as well as good overall balance. Goalies are taught to

“receive” shots, which is facilitated by the hands being out ahead of the body. We are also taught to lead with our hands and follow our hands when moving in and around the crease. The stick leads the way.

And inherent in all of this is the need to KEEP THE STICK BLADE FLAT ON THE ICE. The emphasis is provided as an acknowledgement of the many goalie coaches who scream this endlessly at young goalies who straighten up out of their stance, lifting the stick at the same time, and making themselves vulnerable to getting beat along the ice or, perhaps, falling over as they lose balance by being too erect in their stance. This doesn’t even touch on the overuse of the “paddle down” technique, which further erodes stick discipline as goalies get caught between “blade down” and “paddle down” and have nothing to provide ice coverage. The more they use the paddle down technique, the more time they spend in transition.

Finally, parents and coaches have to know if a goalie’s stick problems come from their having a stick that is either too big or too small. Here is where a retailer that knows their stuff can be very helpful. And parents, unless it is your child’s very first adult model, do NOT cut anything off the top of the stick shaft. We hold the stick in the middle. The extra length is usually an asset for us. The one exception is when that first long stick seems to get caught in the net when a young goalie goes post-to-post to hi stick side.

Repetition of good habits will lead to a young goalie’s success. Go back to the basics, and you will become the goalie that you want to be.

Filed under: General



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