You see it all the time in pick-up hockey. One of the better skaters out on the pond takes control of the puck in their own zone, makes a couple of nice moves to elude would-be defenders, heads toward the offensive zone and … dumps the puck in?
Wait, no. That last part just isn’t right.
“I’ve yet to see a kid playing pond hockey who skates 15 feet with the puck and then throws it into a snowbank after seeing someone coming at them,” USA Hockey’s Kenny Rausch said.
Rausch – USA Hockey’s director of youth hockey – has self-described “strong feelings” about the need to dump the dump-and-chase mentality in hockey, and he isn’t afraid to share them.
The root of all evil
The idea of getting to the red line and simply chucking the puck into the other team’s zone evolved, Rausch theorizes, during a time in the NHL when teams and coaches had a lot on the line.
“I think when coaches started getting paid more, and winning and losing started to determine whether you lost your job, guys found ways to make their jobs safer by playing a more conservative style,” Rausch said. “It started at the higher levels.”
As coaches and scouts analyzed video, he says, they realized that dumping in the puck was easy.
“They found ways not to lose,” Rausch said.
The puck is too valuable
But the tables have turned somewhat these days as possession metrics and other variables show that dumping the puck in without a plan is not usually a good idea.
“I would say it’s not only about being creative on offense but all over the ice,” Rausch said. “It’s so hard to get the puck that once you get it why would you get rid of it just for the sake of getting rid of it?”
Advanced metrics aren’t as readily available at 12U as they are at the NHL level, but the principle is the same.
“In youth hockey it’s been a little slow and go. But you look at higher ranks – junior, college and NHL – all the stats about puck possession and zone entries,” Rausch added. “You really are getting rid of the mentality of throwing the puck in.”
Doesn’t mean 1-on-1
From here, though, Rausch is clear to make a distinction: Eschewing a dump-and-chase mentality doesn’t mean every zone entry is going to be clean or every play is going to become a line rush fueled by 1-on-1 beauty.
Instead, here’s the message: if you need to get rid of the puck, be strategic about it.
“There is a difference between dump and chase and putting it to areas where teammates can skate to it,” Rausch said. “Dump and chase means get over the red line and dump it in and just go chase it like a dog. If someone is attacking, there is strategy involved. It can be an indirect pass – maybe a chip behind a defenseman where you know you have forward momentum and can win the race.”
The first goal should be to make a play, but the takeaway should be avoiding the misconception that it’s the only choice.
“It doesn’t mean dragging and beating guys 1-on-1, it means making smart decisions with the puck,” Rausch said. “I think that’s the biggest misconception is that ditching dump and chase means they’re just going to try to beat guys 1-on-1. No. But it’s not just firing the puck in.”
Remember the goals
Playing a dump-and-chase style might result in some short-term gains, Rausch concedes. But at 12U, that’s not the objective.
“You might win more because 12-year-olds are going to make mistakes. But what is your reasons for coaching? If the objective is to win at 12U, maybe you shouldn’t be coaching,” he said. “Kids want to play and get better. When you look back, how many guys can tell you what their record was at 12U. An NHL team has never drafted a guy because he was 65-1 at 12U.”
Coaches should always keep the big picture in mind.
“At 12 years old, we as coaches have to remember that we’re coaching to make all our players better so they’ll come back next year,” Rausch said. “The biggest part is to stress to 12U coaches that they shouldn’t be in it to win but to keep passion alive. They have fun by playing with the puck, not throwing it away.”