Can Canadian Hockey People Handle the Truth?
Posted by Dean Holden at June 10th, 2015
by Craig Shaw, 8 June 2015
A version of this article was originally written at www.coachchic.com, an excellent site on hockey and sports development topics.
I have been doing a fair bit of thinking about hockey development in our country and the articles posted there and elsewhere are almost always consistent with what I have seen in my 11 years of coaching youth hockey in Canada and Japan.
As some of you will remember, in the 2014 World Junior Hockey Championships, Finland took home the gold. When you take into account the numbers of kids playing hockey in Canada and Finland, it would be the equivalent of a school with 600 kids competing against a school with 30 kids. You know the result: The school with 30 kids won, 5-1. Wow, how did this happen?
Perhaps the following two stories will shed light on the issue: I was the main hockey development coach for a youth club in Osaka, Japan in the late nineties. As a new coach, I dutifully pulled out my Hockey Canada manual and ran practices in a typical Canadian manner. My counterpart across the city happened to be a Finn — I know it seems a little too neat, but I swear that it is true — ran his program in a European fashion – not that I knew this at the time. The structure and numbers of our clubs were essentially the same.
Guess what? My teams would get blown out of the water as their skating, skills and hockey IQ were far behind the players from the other club. Curious, I picked the Finnish fellow’s brain over several meetings at the local pub.
He explained to me that Canadian hockey has been successful, despite having a weak development system. Most of the elite players are essentially self-taught on the streets, outdoor rinks and basements of the country or parents spend a ton of money hiring specialized individual ‘skill coaches’. When you have that many kids playing the game, you are going to get a few outliers every year such as Stamkos and Crosby. I believe these stars have obscured the truth about Canadian hockey development.
The Finn’s program was very similar to the American Development Model. I then switched models the next year and my teams became more competitive with his within a year. Not only that, but the kids were having more fun in practice!
Fast forward to the 2005-born team I have helped coach for the past 5 years at the Victoria Racquet Club (strange name, I know). We have been doing the following:
1) Majority of practices similar to the ADM practices
2) 3:1 practice to game ratio
3) Encourage kids to take breaks from hockey and play other sports (soccer, floorball, lacrosse, gymnastics, swimming, baseball, etc.)
In short, all the LTAD ideas.
(You should know we have had a small cohort of 19 kids born in 2005. Depending on the year, we may have a handful of strong 2006s or weaker 2004s join our team.)
- We had a 90% retention rate and had other players from other organizations join us without actively recruiting.
- As we share ice times with 2-3 teams at a time, we get more ice time than anyone else in the city.
- The kids seem to be having fun.
- Still, we would not likely be able to run a radical program such as this without winning. Luckily we have done that.
- In Novice, we have played in 8 tournament games against much larger organizations. We scored 104 goals and gave up 3. Our biggest problem? Finding teams to play. We could not find any appropriate cross ice tournaments, but we played a lot of it in our practices.
- In first year Atom, with a group of 8 first year players and 7 second year players (most of whom played on a team that was at the bottom of tier 4 the previous season), we were tiered in the top tier on the Island. We were middling in this group, but it was the first time in anyone’s memory that a B team was placed in tier 1. Our A team of second year players — who also use a lot of the same methods, but not to the same extent — were also in the same tier obviously.
- Our tiny club with 3 Atom teams comprised almost 30% of the tier 1 Atom players on Vancouver Island. We are perhaps the smallest club of 17 minor hockey organizations on the Island. Our C house team dominated their division as well and could easily have played in a rep division.
- Several of our players also play some “elite” spring hockey (I know; not very LTAD). Excusing that, the Island Stars just won the Challenge Cup, perhaps the biggest tournament in Western Canada. In other years, this group is somewhere at the bottom of the pack.
We have been met with some resistance along the way; some calling our coaching style a ‘circus’. I think that we may be silencing our critics, though. Like it was asked above, “Can [Canadian hockey people] handle the truth?”
Category: art of hockey, cross ice games, decision training, deliberate practice, diversification, education, fun, game intelligence, LTAD, metrics / measures, opinion, parents, philosophy, physical literacy, planning / periodization, practices, recommended website, small area games, sporting culture, statistics, teaching