What Comes First, Fun Or Goals?
Posted by Dean Holden at May 11th, 2016
by Jack Blatherwick, 25 February 2016
A month or two ago, as the Minnesota Wild labored through a mid-season slump, every reporter was saying, “The Wild need to trade for some goal scorers.” However, they already had plenty of goal scorers, several who have scored in playoff games, just not many who get 40-50 during the regular season.
Superstar goal scorers are not as important in the playoffs as gang scoring – everyone believing they can score as well as fulfill responsibilities in other areas of the rink. Gang scorers like Matt Dumba, Erik Haula and 11 others in the first four games of Coach John Torchetti’s tenure.
The Wild have surged recently, and the same reporters were now raving about newfound goal production, yet there had been no trades to bring in scorers. So what has changed?
Smiley faces. Energy that is palpable. And “FUN” as expressed by every player and coach during interviews.
“Freedom to make offensive plays,” they claim. “It’s fun. We’re all responsible on defense, but the big thing is we feel free to try things on offense.”
It is conventional “wisdom” of recent years that asserts creative offense and solid defense are mutually exclusive, ruling out offensive playmaking that risks a turnover. Football coaches believe dozens of repetitions will reduce that risk; hockey coaches reduce offensive creativity and say, “Keep it simple. Dump the puck.”
When the intrinsic fun of creating “hockey plays” (an expression used by retired legendary Boston University coach Jack Parker) – when that fun is removed – goal scoring is reduced; wins are harder to come by; video sessions become counterproductive; mistakes are exaggerated; confidence is eroded; practices are drudgery; and players are disengaged.
That is how mid-season slumps grow. It’s not the word “December” that produces losing streaks. It’s the erosion of FUN – often by coaches who emphasize mistakes. Hall of Fame coach Bob Johnson was successful because he always found great effort and skill, even in the worst losses. He’d walk into the next morning meeting armed with highlight video of their best plays and declare, “It’s a great day for hockey.” The result? No slumps.
In youth hockey, it’s devastating to eliminate fun with the puck; it’s the end of development. Fun does not require a soccer game on the ice to replace practice. Hockey itself is the most exciting, fun game in the world, but only if the joy of puck control and playmaking are encouraged by coaches. Forechecking and backchecking alone won’t do it. They’re important and self-rewarding, but they’re not the main source of FUN.
It’s the puck. That’s where fun starts. Coaches steal that fun when they insist on total control – handing the puck over to the other team when you get to center ice. After all, it’s that next half of the ice that triggers the imagination. Highlight goals are in the dreams of every kid – and that includes those kids with beards in the NHL. The best coaches understand that fun comes before goal scoring