Coach Nielsen's Ice Hockey Drills

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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 www.minnesotahockey.org 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 www.usahockey.org

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, , , ,

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.

Responsibilities:
D1
– 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

D2
– 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).

F1
– 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)

F2
– 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

F3
– 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, , ,

Leadership in Coaching – Red Gendron – UMASS

Red Gendron Assistant Hockey coach at the University of Massachusetts has given me this PowerPoint presentation to share with all the coaches that read this website. It has some very informative information on the role of the coach in a leadership position. Red has given this same presentation at many of the USA Hockey coaching clinics.

Download PDF File of the Presentation

Download PowerPoint Presentation File

For more coaching information from Coach Gendron check out his “Coaching Hockey Successfully” book

Click Image to go to Amazon.com and Purchase

Filed under: coaching, , ,

2 v 1 Drills

I like to dedicate time each practice to 2 v 1 work. We all know that from time to time a pinching defenseman gets caught up ice and his partner has to defend a 2 v 1. I think it’s really important to make sure the defenseman are comfortable with their ability to defend in those situations. Another thing that comes from these drills is as a coach you can see what defenseman are good at defending the 2v1. For instance, if you have a defenseman that just can’t defend the 2v1 very well, it might be a bad idea to pair him with a defenseman that is very offensive minded, because he is likely to be defending 2v1’s because the other D is pinching to make a play.

I have added a few 2v1 drills to the database that you can use to practice the skills needed to defend the 2v1. Make sure you coach the defenseman on proper technique and also how you want them to defend the 2v1. Some coaches prefer to let the puck carrier have a clear shot at the goaltender while the defenseman takes away the passing lane. Others like to force the shooter to make a pass once the rush has reached the top of the circles by having the defenseman attack the shooter. Whatever your philosophy is, be sure that your defenseman know how you want them to react and the goaltender knows what the defenseman is going to do or he will be caught out of position.

Filed under: 1 x 1 - 2 x 1 - 3 x 1, , , , ,

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