The novice hockey season is about to wrap up and it was the first year with two half-ice games going on at the same time on the same sheet of ice for Novice-aged players (7). If you aren’t aware of some of details with the changes made from Hockey Canada from full-ice games at the first year Novice level, here are the highlights. These changes will be for all Novice-aged players across the country starting next winter season.
4 v 4. Each team sends half its players to each end. Plays against another team that does the same.
90 secs shifts
Penalties are called but no stoppage in play. Offending player sits out a shift after a line change.
No scoring stats are kept.
No standings are kept.
Rosters of around 18
No full-time goalies.
The goal of sharing my thoughts is not to change your mind if you don’t like the new way Novice is being played. By sharing my thoughts I simply want to prepare those who are going into the program next winter and help those who are currently in it. It was new for everyone this year and I wish I knew now what I didn’t know or understand in September.
I was the head coach of one team and the assistant with another for first year Novice. We were lucky to have a lot of committed parents who became coaches, managers and volunteers. That makes a huge difference! If your child is involved in any sport and you are not volunteering, take a second to see if you can help out in some way. When it falls on one person or a group it can burn them out and make them rethink their commitment.
So where to start with the first year of half-ice novice hockey as a coach/parent? The format of playing half-ice games actually makes it really easy to figure out. There were no winners and losers in the games. Did the kids and parents keep score in their heads? Sure. But there was no website that said which team was winning or losing.
With no winners or losers, I think this actually should have changed the year-long plan for the coaches. In the past, with full ice games at Novice it was understood that spending time on a breakout or forecheck was needed so there was some order to a game. Learning icing and offside was very important as those rules were called and enforced. Teaching a 7-year-old these concepts could be tricky and very time consuming. Without the need to address those areas coaches could change their priorities.
The coaches could now focus 100% on player development, though still slowly introducing the kids to all of the different hockey penalties.
This concept of working on skill sets took the pressure of winning away from the coaches and it freed them up to really go after developing players, which is where I believe the focus should be at this age. Now the coach shouldn’t wonder if he is doing the right things for his team to win. He can focus solely on if he is doing the right things to make the players improve. Then the games become the stage for the players to show off their improving skill sets.
So where to start with a half-ice practice plan?
We had more practices than games. I love that ratio. As a coach, I believe the practices are for the coach and the games are for the players. If we can have organized and well thought out practice plans the players will have success in games. Not the other way around.
I believe there should be a practice template. As coaches, we don’t need to re-invent the wheel from practice to practice and come up with new drills all the time. First off, coming up with all new drills for all 30 practices would be impossible. The group of coaches would spend a lot of time teaching the drills. That wasted time means less time to actually do the drills for the players. The players also need to figure out the drill before they can actually work on the skill the drill is attempting to improve.
To start the season all the drills and practice plans will be new to your team. After a while, everyone will get comfortable will the drills and they will get to understand how you want to run the practice. Coaches, don’t feel guilty about using the same practice plan for back to back practices. The players will get a lot more out of the second skate knowing what to expect and the coaches can now spend more time coaching the skills involved in your drills rather than coaching the drill. As your team gets used to your drills you can mix in some previous drills in each practice so the players can work on their basic skills. Then introduce new drills with new skills required one or two at a time to keep challenging your players.
There should be a structure to the practice that the kids come to expect. I believe the players like the structure and thrive under it. Ask a teacher — they are the ones who clued me in. Here is an example of what each practice can look like. The drills can vary from practice to practices but the template stays the same.
10 mins…small area game
10 mins…skating drills
8 mins…passing drills
Break into four stations. Each station is 7 mins:
a- skating station
b- stick-handling station
c- passing station
d- puck race station
Any remaining time becomes a puck pirate game.
At this Novice level, I would concentrate on skating and passing. I know, I don’t have shooting in there. I didn’t spend any time teaching shooting once this season. The kids shoot a ton of pucks when they get on the ice. It is the one skill you don’t need to ask them to do. Have you ever seen a kid jump on the ice with pucks around and decide to instead work on their tight turns or Mohawk turns?
I believe if a player can skate and the coaches put a strong emphasis on coaching the skill of passing and preaching for players to pass in games, they will get their chance to shoot on net. If you spend a lot of time teaching shooting and not enough on skating and passing they will never get to use that shot. Every drill I come up with finishes with a shot on goal. That gets the kids excited. I don’t care about the shot. I care about the four tight turns and two passes they do before they get to take the shot. They work on the skills you want and they still get their shot. Everyone wins!
Coaching skills are a big part of the role coaches have, but there is also the need to work with the players to be coachable. When the season ends, have you passed on better hockey players and better people? I am talking about getting the kids to listen to the coach and each other.
Respect. This is an area I think we need to address more as a coach and quite frankly it is the harder part.
When a coach blows the whistle does everyone come in to see the coach? When the coach is talking on ice, is everyone on a knee and looking at the coach? When there is a line change do the kids push and shove to be right at the door? Do the kids support each other or do they tear each other down when a play goes sideways?
These skills of being a good teammate is something that extends into their everyday life/school/family. It is a lot of responsibility for a coach, but we should pass the kids from our team off to next year’s coach knowing we had a positive impact on them as people.
I loved the ice time for the game. With a roster of 18 players, the kids were on the ice every other shift. Each team dresses two goalies. Each team puts eight skaters on each side of the rink. That means four players on the ice and four players on the bench rotating every 90 seconds. I found the kids tired out as the game went on. There was no complaining about ice time because they knew they were right back out there.
The puck touches were great on the half-ice. Shots are frequent and passing is needed. It is difficult to really grab the puck and go through a whole team on half-ice. Players are always around you and able to close the space on you faster than on full-ice. This allows the coaches a great opportunity to preach passing. It isn’t easy, but when you see four passes in a row, it’s so beautiful you almost start to cry!
At the end of the day, hockey is about having fun. That is why kids play it and we coach it. We can’t forget about that. Every coach can have their own way to create fun. You need to find yours. I do believe players have fun when they know they are improving and touching the puck in games. Focus on those skills and the smiles will come.
I welcome any feedback or questions. You can send me an email at [email protected].
Good luck next year with the half ice!