Speed and pace of game
Posted by Dean Holden at December 1st, 2012
By John Russo
I was recently on vacation in Florida and read an article in the Fort Myers News-Press that praised the demise of the “goon” in pro hockey. The article stressed the change to a much faster game with more skills involved. I hadn’t realized that the NHL has had a 600 minute per team, per season decrease in penalties over the past 15 years. In the minor leagues, such as the ECHL, the decrease has been over 800 minutes. That’s seven to 10 minutes of penalties per game less! Not only was there a substantial decrease in penalties, but at the same time, penalties are being called much more closely. There is little tolerance for interference or sticks on the body (hooking) any longer.
This translates to a much faster game where speed and skills (at speed) really do count. That is not to say that tough, Cal Clutterbuck kind of play no longer exists or is not important. Toughness will always be part of the game. We’ve finally moved to a place where toughness is not defined by fighting, slashing, interference and hooking.
So, what does that mean to a youth or high school coach? It means that speed and pace are even more important. Coaches can help their teams become faster, in a very substantial and impactful way.
Having a good in-season and off-season workout program in place and monitored is important for individuals. Making certain that players understand that the legs are the most important workout item is critical. Making certain that players understand that leg squats (or hip sled work), as well as jumping, sprinting and plyometrics, are the single most important workout item is also critical.
However, without downplaying any of the above muscle, strength, agility, speed and development items, there is one thing that coaches can do to provide the most impact. That is to teach their players to put out 100 percent all the time. I have said this many times in the past and will repeat it here again. A fast player at 85 percent is not as fast as an average speed player at 100 percent – and not as determined. An average speed team, if pushing at a 100 percent pace will overwhelm most opponents. As I have watched games as a coach and mentor/consultant over the past 40-plus years (since I quit competitive hockey), it is obvious to me that teams with the best pace (higher effort) generally win. Even two exceptional teams in the finals of their divisions will have one team faster (trying harder) than the other – and generally winning.
What are the characteristics of a faster/harder trying team?
• Their forwards put a considerable amount of pressure on the opposition D’s when fore-checking, often getting to the puck in time to disrupt breakouts or intercept passes.
• They skate all the way to the puck when going after it. They do not coast in the last 15 to 30 feet; rather, they compete hard for it – all the way to the puck.
• Because they skate all the way to the puck, they are much more physical in competing for the puck. They make much more body contact.
• They win almost all of the short races to the puck; into corners, behind the net, in all small areas.
• They win most of the skirmishes along the boards; mostly because they are a half step quicker after the puck and, at 100 percent effort, are more determined.
• They seem to have more momentum at more times during the game. They are actually pushing hard all the time and when the other team lets up even a little, they take over.
• They often bottle the opposition up in the offensive zone. They seem to be on the puck at all times. The other team ends up icing the puck several times during the game to end this dominance.
• They get fewer penalties. The other team gets more penalties because they are trying to slow them down by hooking, holding and interference.
• They don’t look tired, even though they seem to be going faster. They change often and on the fly. The players coming off and going on are full tilt.
• They seem to be able to break out of their own end easily most of the time, while the opposition is struggling with their breakouts.
You probably noticed that I use “fast,” “hard trying” and “high pace” all pretty interchangeably. If you think about it, they all refer to teams that have a fast pace; what for an individual is called a “fast motor.” I like fast motor players and fast motor teams. That doesn’t mean that they are literally naturally faster; I just mean they try harder. It’s the Pete Rose, the Cal Clutterbuck. And were they good as well? Certainly – but they really tried hard. Clutterbuck might well be in the minor leagues without his motor, his desire.
Now, we get to the important question for youth through high school coaches. How do you create this exceptional effort, this team pace? I’ve had to look back sometimes at my practices to see what I was doing in detail because my teams always have had great pace; an overwhelming pace in most cases. It mostly happens in practice. While there are some drills that need to be slower to teach; to practice power play, for example, all the rest need to be at 100 percent. It’s simply an offshoot of short interval skating training, where the drills are short but at “overspeed” – i.e., at the edge of being uncomfortable.
An example might be a 3-on-0 flow drill: just simply going down the ice 3-on-0, criss-crossing, passing, one shot at the end. For me, it is a pace drill. I want it at 100 percent, and I give my team a rating every time down the ice: 85 percent, 90 percent, 100 percent, etc. The whole “pace of drill” concept also takes care of all conditioning.
It really is a matter of demanding that your players practice at 100 percent all the time – and compete fully all the time – and push their teammates all the time; in practices and in games. The players that won’t do that end up on the lower lines. They learn fast to compete for higher lines.
It’s a little uncomfortable for coaches sometimes. It requires constant pushing in practice for more effort, more competition. It is also a matter of choosing drills that help create the pace and create skills at a higher pace. It is impossible for a player to develop skills at a fast pace by practicing them at a slower pace. I’ve told a thousand players to not practice shooting on the ice standing still or by shooting easy. Practice shooting with feet moving and shooting full tilt every time, just like games.
The 3-on-3 tag up drills can be great effort teachers, as can in-zone three forwards on two defense drills with time limits. Coaches need to find or create small game situation drills or competitions where they can ask the players to go 100 percent. Every drill that requires a player to try as hard as possible is a good drill for effort and pace.
I like to start and end practice with simple, skill teaching but very full effort drills. The practice opener is just starting at the hash marks on the boards, coming across the top of the circle at full speed (enforced by the coaches), shooting with feet moving (enforced by coaches). The next player should start every 1-2 seconds.
The practice-ender is started at the blue line, 1-1/2 trips around the center circle, coming out at the same blue line on the opposite side; but three at a time and with full contact. Then the opposite direction; then backwards both ways. Its effort, agility, balance and fun. Coaches have to monitor 100 percent effort and control contact (turn sticks around).
I also encourage coaches to adjust their drills to be realistic and to allow 100 percent effort. It is impossible, for example, to have full-ice 3-on-2’s with full effort and have very many rotations without tiring out the players (tired players don’t create pace). Instead, have the 3-on-2’s off the side boards (every 10 seconds), forming on the neutral zone and attacking at absolute 100 percent speed at the blue line – just like a game. Now you can do many rotations at full pace. Have the D’s also take turns passing to the three forwards at the start (hard passes!).
Well, hopefully the message is clear. Coaches do have a say as to whether their teams are fast (hard trying) or not. Pace (hard trying) comes from practice. Except for the very rare fast and hard trying player, SPEED IS A CHOICE!