US Women Bring Home Another Gold Medal
Posted by Dean Holden at April 22nd, 2016
by Jack Blatherwick, 14 April 2016
Team USA proves that creative offense and solid defense are not mutually exclusive
The U.S. Women’s National Team has now won seven of the last nine IIHF Women’s World Championships, so one might think it’s easy to predict the winner. You’d be wrong. Canada won the first eight championships once the tournament began in 1990; and in the Olympics, after USA won the first gold medal in 1998, Canada won the next four.
Twenty-one of the 22 final games of the Olympics and World Championships have been fiercely contested battles between the USA and Canada.
Furthermore, the recent women’s Worlds were played in Kamloops, B.C., and a century of hockey history tells us that to beat a Canadian team in Canada (male or female) is a monumental accomplishment. With that Maple Leaf on their jersey, Canada competes with speed, skill, rink sense and relentless grit. You can’t outwork them; you just hope to match their compete level.
So, if Team USA can’t pin their hopes totally on individual skill, speed and feisty competitiveness, all that remains is interdependence – each player looking to use teammates to make themselves more effective. In this style, you pass when you CAN, not when you HAVE TO. The earlier you pass, the better your chance to get it back when you get open. The U.S. women moved the puck so quickly, there is no men’s team in the world that passes like they do. If you think I might be exaggerating, study a video of the game.
Interdependent attack leads to team synergy that is not possible in the NHL or any other level that fears turnovers so much that their offensive options are limited by the coaches. Rigid emphasis on team defense has crippled offensive attacks in men’s hockey, so players compete with one hand tied behind their back. Good defense should not require us to give up on creative offensive attack, and say, “Get it deep, forecheck hard and hope for a turnover by their D.”
The Team USA coaching staff practiced interdependence for months. This summer, their intra-squad games featured quick, deceptive passing, regrouping, puck control and creative playmaking. They stuck with it when there were turnovers, and won with it last week.
To help youth coaches understand the value of interdependence on the attack into the zone (not individuals carrying it until they run out of plays), USA Hockey should make a video of the game – available FREE. Team defense on both ends in this tournament was as good as it gets, and the goaltenders were superb. But neither team limited their offense in an attempt to avoid mistakes.
As a matter of fact, you’ll see this spring that in every playoff at every level, the one team that finishes with the Stanley Cup or another championship trophy will be the one that plays with brazen creativity on offense, and hustles back to play winning defense as well. They’re not mutually exclusive, in spite of the misinformation from so-called TV experts.
I dream of a color commentator who played like Wayne Gretzky or Igor Larionov. He’d have something to say besides, “Take care of the puck. No turnovers.” He might even tell us how many passes were completed rather than how many hits a team made.
<Congratulations to both teams for a wonderful final, especially to Team USA on their victory. I watched the game and agree: it was a tremendous display of passing.
In an earlier game during the first intermission, the Canadian TV host and colour announcer (both former Team Canada Olympians) mentioned that Canada struggled to contain Russia as Team Canada appeared too robotic and unable to make decisions outside of their patterns – these patterns were said to be heavily ingrained in daily practice and even in the game day skate. They went on to say Canada’s head coach encouraged the team to play within a certain structure; I believe the ladies did this to please their coach and not ‘let down their team’ at the risk of being scolded or benched… but if things don’t work, isn’t it time for a change (on behalf of the coaches game plan?) The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results and it could certainly be said here.
Even in the game against the USA, Canada looked more patterned and less adaptable, less creative. Good on Team USA for having the foresight and patience to adapt an uptempo, skilled style… it is good for the game! – DH>
Category: art of coaching, creativity, decision training, effort, environment, flow, game intelligence, learning, LTAD, mindset, olympics, over-coaching, patience, perseverance, philosophy, planning / periodization, play-making, possession, practices, professional coaching, Skills, tactics, talent, talent development, teaching, work ethic