When parents ask Joe Bonnett about 8U kids using blue pucks, his explanation involves a different sport entirely: cricket. There’s a video he saw awhile back featuring adults attempting to use equipment far heavier than the standard bat and ball. Not surprisingly, the participants could hardly play the game.
Bonnett, a regional manager for USA Hockey’s American Development Model, says it best demonstrates why children between 5 and 8 years old shouldn’t use the standard 6-ounce black puck. Instead, they should embrace the 4-ounce blue puck the ADM has adopted for 8U programs.
“Hockey traditionally hasn’t been known to do age-appropriate, kid-specific modifications,” Bonnett said. “But consider other sports. Using a smaller soccer ball has always been considered normal. Using a smaller basketball hoop is normal, a smaller basketball, a lighter baseball bat and T-ball. All of that is kind of ingrained in our society, and USA Hockey just introduced hockey’s version of that.”
What is now the new normal in American youth hockey programs has been a staple of child development classes overseas in places like Sweden and Finland. And while Bonnett says students and parents alike have received the blue puck well, there are still more than a few myths to dispel.
A lighter puck does not mean USA Hockey isn’t focused on strengthening younger players. For an 8-year-old, the ADM recommends an off-ice program designed to help children enhance their balance, agility, coordination and core strength. The goal is to build athletes first, hockey players second. Until those muscles mature, using the blue puck will help ensure that children are developing the correct shooting and stick-handling form – tools that are necessary for success beyond 8U.
“With a black puck, it weighs a young kid down,” Bonnett said. “Their skill development is hindered because their bodies just aren’t strong enough to move that puck efficiently enough across their body in a way that mirrors a pro or fully grown adult.”
Those skills aren’t just necessary for budding skaters, but for young goalies, too.
If those in 8U aren’t strong enough to lift a standard 6-ounce puck when shooting, it will impede on the goalie’s ability to improve as well. Instead of practicing how to catch pucks with their glove or stop shots from going over their shoulders, goalies will only get to focus on slow shots that stay low across the ice. The blue puck allows shooters to keep their heads up, practice accuracy for each corner of the net and help goalies learn to defend those areas – all while simulating the type of play athletes can expect beyond 8U.
“A parent might say that the blue puck bounces too much,” Bonnett said. “But if you watch a pro game, the black puck, because of the weight, bounces and behaves very similar to the blue puck. There are still bounces in an NHL game because those guys are pretty strong.”
Since USA Hockey made the blue puck a staple of its youth development programs in 2009, the benefits have mounted. Kids are developing better form on the ice, preparing themselves for when their bodies mature. They’re also playing a safer game – Bonnett has yet to hear of a goalie injured because of a blue puck.
“The amount of acceptance just in the past year, it’s become really a non-issue right now,” Bonnett says. “It’s pretty much universally accepted. We used to take the occasional email that asked about it and now it’s really not even a point of discussion.”