Youth Hockey Needs More Duncan Keith Spirit
Posted by Dean Holden at August 28th, 2015
by Jack Blatherwick, 5 August 2015
Duncan Keith has – so far – won two Olympic Gold medals, three Stanley Cup championships, two Norris Trophies as the best defenseman in the NHL and was the unanimous choice for the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. So … it might seem extraordinary that, with a dozen or more scouts per team, they all said “no” 342 times before the Chicago Blackhawks drafted him 54th in his second year of eligibility (2002).
As an 18-year-old, he was a medium-tall (6-1) skinny kid – some say 160 pounds was an over-estimate. Obviously, the potential of his skills was not over-estimated. Apparently, rink sense, stick skills, competitiveness and athleticism were less important than the number 160, and the collective wisdom of “talent scouts” missed a winner.
Or maybe they were turned off by his brash, over-confident style – those spin-o-ramas in the offensive zone, or one-touch passes through the slot in the defensive zone, or the long, accurate breakout passes to the neutral zone, instead of the painfully boring ring around the boards.
Keith breaks the mold of the cautious defensemen who complement the chip-it-out, dump-it-in, keep-it-simple “systems” that many coaches bring to the arena. It’s worth noting, however, his style has similarities to the other recent winners of the Norris Trophy, Erik Karlsson and PK Subban.
In fact, if you Google the list of all former Norris Trophy winners, you’ll see other defensemen who had the courage and temerity to make creative plays. Top of the list is Bobby Orr, eight-time winner, who was virtually a combination forward-defenseman for the Bruins, and often the first person attacking the offensive zone. Orr played defense while “backchecking” like a forward. For those who missed it, imagine lining up against four forwards and two defensemen whenever No. 4 was on the ice.
So the mixed message seems to be, “If you want to be drafted, don’t weigh 160 pounds, and don’t try crazy things with the puck – or, be so good at it that you win championships.” When looking for college recruits, Herb Brooks wanted players who made errors of commission, not omission. He knew those who were confident and aggressive enough to stick their necks out and ignore any possibility of failure would be leaders when the playoffs got really intense.
Players make mistakes – even defensemen – and when you’re coaching 12-year-olds you simply have to be patient. No, not just patient. You have to be enthusiastic and supportive of mistakes, because as John Wooden believed, “Those who make mistakes are taking the initiative,” and they’ll be winners in the long run.
Mike Milbury, the color commentator, former defenseman and former coach, was awed – as we all were – by some of the crazy, creative things Keith pulled off in the playoffs, and then he added, “… but don’t try that in youth hockey.”
What? Do we want a future without Duncan Keith/Bobby Orr creativity? Young defensemen are bombarded their entire life with the regressive, insulting message, “keep it simple.” So, it is a gift to the game of hockey when one arises from that environment to electrify the playoffs with brash, ingenuous playmaking.
Consider that young defensemen spend way too much of their practice time backing up and “handling” rushes by the forwards – as if they couldn’t learn how to maintain effective gaps in five minutes a month. It’s remindful of holding dummies in a football practice – making the offense better at the expense of valuable practice time for the dummy holders. Defensemen need to work by the hour on stick skills and agility skating moves to become more like Keith, Karlsson and Subban.
Of course, all D have to shut down the offense with near 100 percent dependability, and these three superstars do it well. But that’s a matter of passion, more than practice repetitions. When we dedicate more practice time to creativity and skills; when we have patience with mistakes; when we allow youngsters to experiment with moves they saw Duncan Keith make – only then will we develop more winners like him. And one last word for scouts: Hey folks, 160 pounds is fixable.
Category: age-appropriateness, art of coaching, Ask the Experts, athleticism, career counselling, communication, competition, creativity, decision training, defencemen, evaluation, game intelligence, genetics, growth & development, late bloomers, learning, LTAD, mindset, motivation, passion, perseverance, philosophy, practices, scouting, skill acquisition, tactics, talent, talent ID, talent selection, teaching