DEVELOPING MORE SKILL...

Jason Gregor
August 27 2013 01:36PM

Developing skill is one of the main objectives in hockey, and it should be the second most important factor for minor hockey associations. Ensuring the kids are having fun should be the first objective of every minor hockey parent, coach and association.

Before we get to the Oilers signing of Linus Omark, let's look at how Edmonton is hoping to develop even more skilled players.

The Edmonton Minor Hockey Association will announce that all pre-novice and novice practices will now be done on half-ice. Also atom teams will have 11 practices on 1/2 ice, while peewee teams will have 7 practices on the smaller rink.

This is an outstanding decision.

I know that cost and lack of ice was a main reason the EMHL decided to go this route, but the kids will actually be the biggest benefactors. Some teams have been using half-ice practices for a few years, but it wasn't mandated across the city until now.

The benefits to half-ice practices are immense.

In confined spaces the kids will be turning more frequently, handling the puck more often and they still have ample room to skate.

I would argue that kids in pre-novice and novice would improve their skills even more if they played games on half ice. Many other sports change the dimensions of their playing fields to accommodate the age of the players. Should six, seven and eight year olds really be using the same size rink as NHL players?

One of the new phrases in hockeyby coaches is they want players who can make plays in confined spaces. If kids are playing games in smaller rinks, they will have more opportunities to enhance those skills. It should make the game more fun, because the kids will become more adept at giving and receiving passes, thus having the puck on their sticks more often. Having the puck is fun. Constantly chasing the puck down the ice after another errant pass isn't as much fun.

Here are a few easy drills coaches can use, up for any age, on half ice.

1. Quad Passing:
1. Players 1 and 2 execute five passes between themselves (soft hands!)
2. After the fifth pass, player 1 does a touch-pass give and go with player 3, then another touch pass to player 4.
3. All players rotate as shown.

2. Cycle Give and Go:
1. Player from line 1 leaves with the puck and walks up the boards, then cycles back to player from line 2.
2. Player from line 1 drives through the seam for a give and go pass, receives the pass from player 2, then one-touches to player 3 or 2 for a one-timer.
3. Figure 8 Shooting & Deflection:
1. Forwards line up in corner with pucks.
2. Three defensemen across the blue line. Two have pucks, one doesn’t.
3. First forward passes to the defenseman without a puck then skates around the top of the circle and drives the net.
4. Far defenseman times it and fires a low, hard shot that arrives just as the forward gets to the net.
5. Forward deflects the puck then continues down around the other circle.
6. Forward continues up around the top of the circle then drives the net again.
7. Defenseman who received the initial pass times it and fires a low, hard shot that arrives just as the forward gets to the net.
8. Forward deflects the puck then stops in front of the net to screen the goalie and get ready for the third shot.
9. Middle defenseman fires a low, hard shot. Forward deflects it then drives in any rebound.

4. Perpetual Cycle:
1. Coach dumps a puck in – first player goes into corner and picks up the puck, and cycles it back.
2. A second player follows him in to pick up the cycle.
3. After cycling it back the first player cuts across the top of the circle and drives the net – second player passes out for a one-time shot.
4. After the pass is made, the first player from the other line dumps it in his corner.
5. The player who just made the pass continues up around the top of the circle, then drives into the corner to pick up the dump, and start the cycle from the other corner.
6. Drill continues perpetually.

5. Stop & Start Shooting:
Great drill for younger players. Simple, but effective!
1. Players execute starts and stops with a puck, as shown.
2. After the stops and starts, players execute a power turn, then take a shot.
3. Make sure players face the same way with each stop.

6. Give & Go Shooting:
1. First player passes out to point man – then attacks
2. Point man bank passes back to next player in line
3. Receiver executes a give and go with point man
4. Point man shoots
5. Player who attacked becomes new point man
7. Center Line Boundary 2 on 1:
1. Set up a 2 on 1 in each side.
2. Nobody can cross the center line.
3. When the defender gets the puck back, he/she must pass across the line to the forwards on the other side.
4. Start with 2 on 1, work up to 3 on 2.
8. Figure 8 Angling:
1. Players start facing each other on dot
2. ‘F’ picks up a puck and drives wide
3. ‘D’ skates around cones as shown, then angles
4. ‘F’  has to drive around lower cone before cutting to the net

Variations: (a) take out the cone at hashmarks (b) allow forward to cut inside earlier


9. Larsen Give and Go:
1. First player leaves hash mark, turns the corner and receives a pass from the next player in line.
2. He then carries the puck around the next cone, and does a give and go with the passer (P) at the red line.
3. After receiving the pass back from ‘P’, he does another give and go with the ‘P’ in the corner, then fires a one-timer on net.

TIP: have your players use the inside mohawk to round the turns!

I did a quick Google search and found these here. There are numerous other drills coaches can use to keep their kids attentive and entertained while still developing their skills.

Over the years I've listened to many parents complain when their kids had to have a half-ice practice. They felt they wouldn't learn the game. I don't agree, but at the Hockey Alberta Summit former Calgary Flame player, Jim Peplinski, shared a story on the topic that summed it up nicely.

Peplinski told me that Bob Johnson used to run half-ice practices for the Flames. "He'd put us through the paces for 45 minutes, and we'd be bagged. Way more stops and starts, turns and battles in small spaces. It was a great change of pace from regular practice, but it allowed guys to keep improving their skills and it also was a great way to maintain cardio," said Peplinski.

I'd suggest if NHL players can benefit from half-ice practices, then minor hockey kids will as well, as long as the coach running the practice knows how to effectively introduce drills.

To me that is the key. I hope EMHL and on a bigger scale Hockey Alberta email every coach some practice plans. I know they are available on websites, but take the initiative and give volunteer coaches even more resources to make their practices enjoyable and beneficial.

The best advice Peplinski said during the Hockey Alberta Summit was, "Don't mix amateur and pro hockey." He gave a pretty interesting example. "You don't need to be at the game 90 minutes early in atom and peewee to prepare. In the NHL we were playing ping pong before the game, we weren't sitting in our stalls for 90 minutes mentally preparing," said Peplinski.

I chuckle when I hear stories of coaches telling parents their kids need to be at the rink an hour or more before a game. Do the coaches give the kids instructions on how to "mentally" prepare?

OMARK RETURNS....

Some one by the handle sweet69ification is clearly an Omark fan. He made a video showcasing Omark's best goals. There is no debate that Omark has world class puck skills. He also isn't lacking in confidence or creativity.

The Edmonton Oilers have no shortage of offensive skill amongst their young forwards, and added to that today when they re-signed Omark to a two-way contract.

This was a smart decision by Omark. He still needs to prove to the NHL that he can play here, and the best way to do that is by playing in the NHL, even if it is only preseason games.

The issue isn't that Omark has skill; it is whether the Oilers have room for another small, skilled forward. I just don't see this team winning if they dress Omark, Hall, Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins, Perron, Gagner, Hemsky and Yakupov every night. You can't win with all similar players in your top-nine.

I do understand, however, why both parties would sign this contract.

The Oilers might have to move Taylor Hall to centre for a few games until Ryan Nugent-Hopkins returns, and Omark's skills fit those of a top-six forward. He hasn't proven he is a regular top-six NHL forward, but he does possess the high-end offensive abilities necessary to fill that role. 

Maybe he slots in on the left side while Hall moves to the middle. If he plays well, other teams might take notice and that could, possibly, enhance his trade value. If he doesn't he likely will be sent to OKC, spend the season there, and then next summer he'll become a UFA.

I'd be very surprised if the Oilers had all eight of the aforementioned forwards, when they are healthy, in Edmonton for an extended period of time this year.

Omark is very creative, but like many young players he still struggles with consistency and if he plans to make an impact on Dallas Eakins' team he'll need to be reliable in both ends of the rink.

The addition of Omark will increase the competition at training camp, so that is a plus for the Oilers. Signing an NHL contract gets Omark much closer to the NHL than playing in the Swiss Elite League, so that is a plus for Omark.

I see this as a "more of the same" addition for the Oilers, and while it is good to have skill, you can't win on skill alone.

For me the best case scenario is that Omark fills a void until RNH is healthy, and in doing so improves his trade value so the Oilers can potentially move him for another asset.

That would be a win-win for both Omark and the Oilers, or it could be just another signing that doesn't impact the organization. Time will tell.

3RD ANNUAL SPEC'S DECK 

We are 56% sold out in less than four days. If you are thinking about entering, I'd suggest getting in fast.

Two years ago I came up with an idea to raise money for charity, while including a great night out. We hatched the idea Spec's Deck, where my good buddy from Sportsnet, Mark Spector, would host a party on his deck.

The past two years have been great, so we are doing it again...This year it will be at a secret location, but all the details are the same.

The contest works like this. You donate $100 to help end MS and you get in the draw. We will have FIVE winners and we cap it at 100 entries. You can enter as many times as you wish. $100 gets you one entry; $200 gets you two and so one. Last year we sold out in less than three weeks, so if you want to win, get on it.

The party will be on Friday, September 20th....

Here is what you get:

The winner gets to bring three friends.

Prestige Limos will pick you up, (Each group of four has one pick up spot) and take you to Spec's deck in style.

Vons Steak House and Oyster Bar will be catering the event. BBQ steak, chicken, potatoes, veggies, etc...And Oysters.

Big Rock will supply beer all night long and in the Limo.

Yellow Cab will ensure everyone gets home safe and sound. They, like me, don't want anyone drinking and driving.

The party will start around 6 p.m. and last for as long as we like. Joining Spec and I will be Brownlee, Strudwick, Ryan Rishaug, Meg Storms and maybe even Wanye. I've also secured a few SPECIAL GUESTS. A few current and former pro athletes will take part in the festivities.

The past two years have been very fun. Last year we had Brett Kissel perform live on Spec's Deck, and it launched his career (maybe his singing ability had more to do with it, but we are certain Spec's Deck really gave him the confidence to go to Nashville), and today he has the #1 song in country music in Canada.

We will have some great live entertainment on the 20th as well.

A huge thank you to all the sponsors and to those who enter and support MS. Good luck.

You can enter by going to Gregorridesforms.ca and click pledge me online.

RECENTLY BY JASON GREGOR 

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One of Canada's most versatile sports personalities. Jason hosts The Jason Gregor Show, weekdays from 2 to 6 p.m., on TSN 1260, and he writes a column every Monday in the Edmonton Journal. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JasonGregor
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#1 vetinari
August 27 2013, 01:40PM
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Those goals are positively "Omarkian"...

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#2 vetinari
August 27 2013, 01:57PM
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Spydyr wrote:

Developing more skill should be fist on every teams list.

Edit: missed it by that much.

Saw ya coming Spydyr... keep your stick down and your head up! ;)

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#3 trentonl
August 27 2013, 02:05PM
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I love the signing and expect Omark to play. Small or not talent, is most important. JF Jacques was big and played in the top 9 at one point. Look how that turned out....

Would like to maybe see Omark-Gagner-Yakupov put together and play the soft parade leaving toughs to Hall-RNH-Eberle and Perron-Boyd-Hemsky

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#4 tileguy
August 27 2013, 02:49PM
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Watch the Omark goal video, guaranteed to put a smile on your dial. When he drops the puck lacrosse style down the goalies back is the best trick goal I have ever seen.

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#5 tileguy
August 27 2013, 02:55PM
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justDOit wrote:

That was a good one, but the one I enjoyed the most was the least flashy of them all - the slapshot. When you're known for your puck wizardry, sometimes you just have to blast one, top-cheese, to keep the goalies thinking!

That also blew me away. A guy like Omark you can only hope for the best for him, if not with us, some other city so he can keep on entertaining the NHL. Make the team damit!

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#6 Henry
August 27 2013, 02:48PM
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Mr. Gregor,

Do you think it's possible that Rajala's agent got word that a deal with Omark was imminent and that caused him to ask to void his contract?

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#7 Hayek
August 27 2013, 08:31PM
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"You can't win with all similar players in your top-nine."

Why does anyone believe this is true. Give me lines that outshoot the opposition, and draw more penalties than they take, and they can be 5'6 170lbs, or 6'4 225lbs. It is irrelevant.

Also confused how guys like Omark are "similar" to guys such as Hall or Yakupov, who seem more like power forwards. Also Gagner is listed at 200lbs. Generally guys under 6'0 and over 200lbs would not be considered small players.

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#8 justDOit
August 27 2013, 02:51PM
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@tileguy

That was a good one, but the one I enjoyed the most was the least flashy of them all - the slapshot. When you're known for your puck wizardry, sometimes you just have to blast one, top-cheese, to keep the goalies thinking!

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#9 Spydyr
August 27 2013, 01:40PM
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Developing more skill should be fist on every teams list.

Edit: missed it by that much.

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#10 Lochenzo
August 27 2013, 02:32PM
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I was very surprised at the Omark signing. Now that I've had a moment to think about it, I think this is a positive.

Omark is obviously highly motivated to play in the NHL. He'll do whatever he has to do to show that he can play.

So with that in mind, the worst case scenario is Omark playing good hockey in the AHL, replacing the talent that they lost in Rajala. Get the Barons deep into the playoffs, giving young guys like Marincin and Kelfbom good experience in pressure games.

If Omark walks next summer, we'd have the entire free agent period to shop for AHL forward depth.

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#13 sammy27
August 27 2013, 02:10PM
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I heartily agree Gregor. A good practice can be delivered on half ice. The coaches who feel they need full ice, full time are not dealing with the reality of available ice. Some teams struggle to get ice at reasonable times, so let's develop more kids within the restraints of the available ice. Maybe a team that gets half ice more often as opposed to a team that gets full ice less often has some benefits. On another note if Omark can add something to the team or create a trade asset, why not? Its more than we had yesterday.

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#14 Knight
August 27 2013, 05:09PM
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Although using the ice properly and implementing fundamental skill drills are very important the most critical aspect is to make sure as many as possible are fun and competitve. Most kids get bored very quickly without some competition in it.

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#15 oldhippy
August 27 2013, 06:50PM
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When I was coaching I attended seminars by Roger Neilsen and Perry Pearn. They were big on early arrival to the dressing room. Mostly for practices. The idea would be that the practice should be planned beforehand and gone over in the dressing room. It became funny to watch other practices where the coach would bring in the players and huddle, while the next drill was explained. With one hour of practice time we could see 10 to 20 minutes wasted. That is skating time. Doing stretches that could be done in the dressing room. Another 4 or 5 minutes wasted. Don't get me started on the negative effect of going over practice or game prep, with 14 kids dressed and ready to go, while one or two parents hurriedly tried to dress there kid. In novice and atom, no big deal, and one hour is way too much. (quite often the dressing room would not be clear from the last group, that early) At peewee and older, I don't think the coach is asking too much to have every player dressed and ready 15 minutes before they hit the ice. BTW that was standard practice taught to coaches at the level one and two coaching clinics. Ice time is the one thing we did not have enough of to waste.

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#16 westcoastoil
August 27 2013, 02:51PM
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JG one thing you missed on the 1/2 ice sharing is that the coaches can agree to split the ice lengthwise or even diagonally from one corner to the other for all or some of a practice. This can give them the benefit a full zone inside the blue line and the length to spread out and get some skating in.

There are a number of terrific drills for kids using the ice this way as well. Good coaches who plan their practices with creativity and good pace will not be hindered by this change to ice usage.

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#17 John Chambers
August 27 2013, 05:59PM
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This was a great read, Gregor. Thanks.

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#18 Tyler
August 27 2013, 07:27PM
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I use to skate at Perry Perns 3 vs 3 summer camp. All game type situations were played 3 on 3, blue in. Start on offence, the defenders have to skate the puck out with control, and they can change. Once that happens, the offence team becomes the defenders, and they can't change until they skate the puck out, repeat. It was incredibly tough, tiring, and the WHL use to send guys to this camp to work on skill. I played with jay bouwmeester there and it didn't seem to hurt him or any of the other guys there. GREAT drill/use of the ice.

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#19 Ari Gold
August 28 2013, 08:38AM
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Great article.

I think with Jonesuu and Lander, it'd be interesting to see if Linus can round out his game. I'd also support this kind of lineup:

1st line Perron-Nuge-Ebs 2nd line Hall-Gags-Yak Checking Smyth-Gordo-Jonesuu 4th line Omark-Lander-Hemmer

I know that'd be a demotion for Hemmer to the '4th line' but that's a 4th line that could score with the best of them. Then there'd be a true defensive checking line and a solid top 6.

Still the lineup lacks size but they have more than enough talent to skate with about any team. Eakins needs to feed them a bowl of blood before every game. Little guys like Marchand and Shaw initiate contact. It's fine to be small, but the boys need to play bigger, especially in the middle 6.

At the very least, Omark gives a few more options all through the lineup. Great signing at a decent price.

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#20 westcoastoil
August 27 2013, 04:45PM
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Jason Gregor wrote:

I'd be cautious that full ice, just narrower, allows for as many good drills. Pre-novice kids can get lots of great skating in on half-ice.

Do 6 or 7 year olds really need to skate the length of the ice to get a good skate in?

Other sports make surface fit to size of players, hockey should do this. I believe Novice and pre-novice games should be half ice.

I was thinking more for the Atom and Pee Wees. They get squirrely if they don't get a chance to have some good skating drills during a practice. Kind of like puppies who have been cooped up in the house all day!

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#21 Ryan2
August 28 2013, 11:12AM
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@ Jason Gregor - As a coach of my Novice age son, and a volunteer at a once a week skills development camp over the summer, I am peeved with this decision for half ice practices for one main reason - it limits the number of drills/stations you can work on for skill development in a practice. During the regular season, and during our summer program, we have three stations going concurrently to work on different skills - split up from blue line in, between blue lines, then blue line in again. It is even better during the regular season as you have fewer kids so they can spend more time doing the different drills and develop their skills faster. Using the multi-station full ice approach also allows you to work on position specific development drills with d-men and forwards separately.

Now, with just a half ice, we are not going to be able to do do as many skill development stations we were able to do last year. Instead of cycling players through three different skill drills for 10 to 12 minutes each, you are only going to be able to do one, maybe two stations. Unless our Novice team can secure additional ice out of town (competing with everyone else for it), our kids will not develop as fast as they would have in a normal season.

While we have always used the third to half-ice station approach in practices, there are still some systems and great full length of ice drills you need full ice for to do properly with speed. High tempo breakouts and attacking drills come to mind, as well as more complex full ice passing or forward and d-men 1-on-1 and 2-on-1 drills. You can't do everything you need to in just a half ice space.

FWIW, if they want to improve the skill level of players there is a simple solutions - 3 practices per week and only one game on weekends. Practice time is where you develop skills the fastest, not games.

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#22 106 and 106
August 27 2013, 09:26PM
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Whatever happened to the good ol' horse-shoe and 2 on 1's?

Kids getting tactical now!

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#23 Oilers need Ogie Ogilthorpe!
August 28 2013, 11:29PM
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tileguy wrote:

Watch the Omark goal video, guaranteed to put a smile on your dial. When he drops the puck lacrosse style down the goalies back is the best trick goal I have ever seen.

Yeah, it's good, but I have to disagree with you. Omark's goal vs Columbus was his nicest IMHO. First career goal too, if I'm not mistaken. At least as good as Eb's first goal, which made me wake up the wife from cheering too loud.

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