How much offseason hockey should be played at 14U/16U?
As players progress through the ranks, they face more and more pressure to be inside an ice arena more often. At 14U/16U, players are looking at summer showcases and other offseason events, trying to decide what’s best for their futures.
Rick Bennett reminds players and their parents, however, that as an NCAA Division I college hockey coach, he’s far more interested in how a player performs in-season than off-season. In the keeping-up-with-the-Joneses world of hockey, there’s a lot of pressure to not miss summer opportunities, but coaches are far more focused on what’s happening with potential recruits on their fall/winter teams than summer showcase events.
“We always like to see players who are involved with their team that they’re playing for during the winter months,” said Bennett, who led Union to the 2014 NCAA championship. “We put more emphasis on that than we do on the summer recruiting, just for the fact of pride within their program. That’s how we look at it.”
What to do?
Bennett says it’s OK to be on the ice during the summer, but your focus should be individual improvement, not competition.
“In my humble opinion, summer hockey, I think there’s a place for it, but to play in three, four, five, six tournaments a summer or showcases, I don’t really know how the player is getting better than if that player did something more specialized, like going to a skills camp or a power-skating camp,” Bennett said. “That’s working on areas of your game where you need to improve.”
Ferris State head coach Bob Daniels agreed, noting his staff is “very cautious” when evaluating at summer events.
"We're very cautious about making assumptions on players' talents at these camps,” Daniels said. “A lot of times, some of these young people haven't been playing for a few weeks or they've been playing non-stop and they look tired. We try not to make our decisions based upon the way players perform at these showcases. We want to see players during their (regular) seasons to make our decisions on the players we want to play for Ferris State."
Time to build the engine
The offseason is the window of time for players to make the most gains in their strength and skating, something Bennett wants all players to take advantage of.
“The weight room, the power skating and the weight room, is where you make the biggest gains in the spring up through when you show up for the next season in September,” Bennett said.
At 14U/16U, it’s time to ramp up the training and build the engine. Focusing on strength, stamina, conditioning and explosiveness at this age will pay off once hockey season comes around again.
Embrace the break
Much like the break you’re getting from school, the summer should serve as at least a temporary break from hockey, too.
“The season, as long as it is, I don’t think it’s different than anything else in life – you need a break,” Bennett said. “Step away from the game and get a fresh new perspective on it. You want to be 100-percent healthy, and you also want to be 100 percent in your mindset that when you do get back into the weight room or go to a camp, you’re ready to go. You’re 100 percent bought into it.”
Play other sports
Playing other sports can also help with that hockey recharge, and, besides the often-discussed physical benefits, being a multi-sport athlete can make you more appealing to those potentially recruiting you.
“A good friend of mine, Paul Vincent, who runs arguably the best specialized camps around the country, as far as power skating and skills, always is the first to tell me in recruiting to find athletes,” Bennett said. “I think that is valuable recruiting advice. Other guys who have played other sports, I don’t care what sport it is, I feel that any other sport is very helpful towards your goal of being a hockey player and not only helping the hockey player, but the mindset, too.”