Coach Nielsen's Ice Hockey Drills

Accountability on the Ice

The New Plus/Minus

Hockey is the ultimate team sport. The only thing that matters at the end of sixty minutes is adding two points in the standings. But you know as well as I do that as a player you analyze every shift after every game in your mind to gauge how well you played. Goals and assists are a good measure of a players offensive contributions to the team. Hits and face-off wins can be a good measure of a player/teams energy. And taking too many penalties may be a sign of undisciplined play.

However coaches, parents, and players reference the plus/minus stat for accountability on the ice which I think is very misleading. Yeah Bobby Orr’s +124 signifies that he had a godlike season. But how many times have you stepped on the ice right when a goal is scored. Might as well jump back over the boards before the statistician can get your number.

Baseball has adopted the complicated sabermetrics system to get an objective measure of a players talent. Bare with me here. If a ballplayer hits the cover off the ball but a defensive player makes a great diving catch, then it’s essentially considered a hit. If a ball player strikes out a lot then it’s counted against him more then putting the ball in play. 

I had the great priveledge to play under Coach Jeff Jackson now at the University of Notre Dame. He adopted a similar system of plus/minus to provide accountability and measure progress for players. You can choose your own scoring system but here are some examples that I have used in the past:

Plus + Minus –

–Player scores a goal

–Player sets up a goal

–Player has a great shot from the slot area/ good scoring chance

–Player takes the puck wide and drives to the net for a scoring opportunity

–Player provides pressure on the forecheck that leads to a turnover and a scoring chance

–Player takes a big hit 5 feet inside his/her own blueline to get the puck out which creates a scoring chance

–Defenseman provides a great outlet pass that leads to a scoring chance

–Defenseman on the point gets the puck through a bunch of bodies for a screen/rebound chance

–Player provides a big hit that changes the momentum of the game

–Player wins a draw that leads to a goal or great scoring opporutnity.

–Player fails to tie up his man’s stick and they get a good shot off

–Player doesn’t tie up his man on the face-off and they score or get a good chance.

–Player is on the wrong side of his man down low and they walk out of the corner for a good chance/goal

–Player pulls a flamingo on a point shot

–Player is lazy backchecking which results in a goal/scoring chance

–Player takes too long of a shift that results in a goal or scoring chance

–Player makes a bad change that results in a goal/scoring chance

–Player takes a bad penalty

****The main thing is that it directly leads to a goal, great scoring chance, or game changing play. The top player on your team will usually have about 5 pluses in a competitive game.****

**There are a number of lapses that can be considered a minus in this scoring system but the main thing is consistency of the scoring.***


As a coach you may want your assistant coach to keep track of this in a notebook on the bench. If you’re lucky enough to have quality game film then you can break it down for the players so they can actually see the plus or minus.


As a parent it may be hard to provide objective judgement. Your son/daughter will undoubtedly feel you’re being too tough on them. I would suggest using the pluses as a positive reinforcement when your son/daughter explains every detail that went wrong after the game.


As a player you can use this to chunk down your game. What I mean by this is that every player measures themselves by goals and assists. This can be a tough yardstick when things aren’t going your way. A slump is compounded when your name doesn’t appear on the score sheet game after game. But you could be playing well/working hard and just not getting the bounces. If you look at your game in this perspective you can pull positives out to build off of.

The great part about this system is that it provides something players can measure their on ice progress. Coach Jackson would have a score sheet the next day during video that would list each player by number and their true plus/minus. Good game or bad game you wanted to see your "grade." It was kind of like the beginning scene in Tommy Boy when Chris Farley is scanning for his name outside the classroom.

Good luck in the upcoming games and stay positive.

courtesy of Brett Henning

Filed under: Defense, General, statistics, , , ,

Keeping Statistics Yes or No

Game Scoresheet Click for Scoresheet

Many coaches ask me if it’s a good idea to keep player stats. MY response in typically, at the older levels, absolutely. At the younger levels,(12 and under) maybe not. I believe that by the time a player hits the age of 13 he should understand the meaning of statistics and how useful they can be.

I keep track of as many useful stats as I can without overburdening my coaches or players. I like to track


For the goalies I like to track


I ask my backup goaltender to track statistics for the game so that he isn’t just sitting around doing nothing. I track the Plus/Minus myself to be sure we get that right. I will ask the coaches to monitor things like turnovers and hits. I also like to know where the turnovers are happening. All this information can really help during a game. For instance, wouldn’t it be nice to know which center is winning the most face-offs so if there is a big face-off to be won you have the right guy on the ice? Many times late in a game I will have two centers on the ice in case one gets tossed from the circle.

Plus/Minus is a huge help in knowing who is allowing the most goals. Now, I understand that Plus/Minus can be a misleading stat at times, but over the course of a long season it really starts to paint a picture of who the better defensive players on the team really are.

Goal Location is another that I like to track closely. Most coaches know that the major majority of goals are scored within 10 feet of the net, but if you track the location of the goals you can see if there is anywhere else that you need to cover more closely. Two seasons ago I found that a significant number of goals were being scored from the top of the left circle against one goalie and not the other. I called in a goalie coach and he found a hole in the goaltenders style above his glove that we were able to work on and improve the problem.

Nothing beats good old gut instincts when you are on the bench, but having hard facts in front of you can really help. I know between every period when I speak with the team I let them know how we are doing in the face-off battle and where the shots are coming from our opponent. It gives the players a quick insight to in-game situations that you may not speak to them about without stats.

My verdict is to keep stats and make good use of them.

Filed under: General, , , ,



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