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The Details of Making a Great 14U/16U Player

12/17/2019, 10:00am MST
By Michael Caples

Dan Hinote credits his college experience for learning how important it is to do the little things right as a hockey player.

The former NHL forward and current assistant coach for the USA Hockey National Team Development Program played for Army during his NCAA days, which means ‘attention to detail’ wasn’t a suggestion – it was a requirement.

“They pound home attention to detail, because there, if you don’t pay attention to detail, people die. You lose lives,” Hinote said. “So, they take it to the nth degree – that your hangers are tilted properly and things like that. But what you come away with is how important every little detail is.”

Like a Pro

That translated well during his professional hockey career, as the Leesburg, Florida native, suited up for the likes of Bob Hartley, Joel Quenneville and Andy Murray, all notorious sticklers for details behind the bench.

“All these coaches are very detail-oriented, so it was perfect for my career,” Hinote said. “I understood well before I got into pro hockey that I had to do everything exactly right. I didn’t have any skill whatsoever, so if I didn’t do everything right, I was never going to make it. Even then, when I did every single thing right, there was still a good chance I wasn’t going to make it. I had to give myself the best chance, which was to do everything how they told me to do it. The details are the most important thing.”


A Game of Inches

These days, Hinote spends his days in Plymouth, Michigan, explaining to some of the best young hockey players in the world why, despite their skill, that they must pay attention to the little things and execute exactly as planned. “Doing the little things right” is Priority No. 1 for the NTDP, as it should be for all developing hockey players.  

“That is our main focus here, because it’s that important,” Hinote said. “The things you might think are trivial, like stick position, going all the way to the line, sprinting to your spot in the D zone – they seem somewhat trivial in the grand scheme of things, but when you slow the game down and watch it from up top or on video, you come to learn that there are patterns in this game for a reason. These systems are developed for that exact reason. If you are just an inch off, it leads to a goal against. If you are just an inch off, it hits the post instead of going in. It’s a game of inches, if you will, the ‘Any Given Sunday’ speech, it’s exactly true in hockey. What seems like mundane details are actually the most important part of the game.”

Separating Good from Great

At the 14U/16U age levels, the playing field is starting to level off. The players who grew faster than the rest can no longer out-skate or out-muscle their opponent just because of a size differential and things are becoming more competitive when it comes to roster spots and opportunities. 

“Coaches are always looking for smart hockey players,” Hinote said. “Some of that measurement is in the details. He’s always in the right spot, his stick’s always in the right place. If you’re just a fan and you watch, you think, ‘man I can’t believe that guy gets so lucky, the puck always bounces to him’ – after a while, you start to realize that it’s not luck. That guy’s in the right position all the time because he’s smart and he pays attention to the little things. He knows where to go. That, ultimately, if you’re a coach or a scout or a GM, that’s what separates great players away from good players. Is he in the right spot, is he doing the little things right? When the NHL teams come here to interview our guys, that’s a lot of what they talk about. When we watch his game, it seems like he’s got all the details down pat. He does all the little things. That goes a long way.”

More on Hinote


Building good character goes hand-in-hand with the aforementioned subjects.

“It used to be part of the deal, and now, it’s something that can set you apart. Character isn’t fighting, it isn’t being tough, it’s more, ‘Will he block shots? Will he take a hit to make a play for his teammates? Will he battle in the corner even though he knows the guy is seven feet taller than him?’ These little things all check a box when it comes to winning championships.”


That character was on display every day for Hinote last year; his first season behind the NTDP bench was with the 2001 birth-year group that produced 17 NHL Draft picks – eight of which came in the first round.

“It’s kind of a progression – in the D zone, they’re in the right position, and that causes a turnover,” he said. “Then they skate their routes properly from that D-zone turnover on the odd-man rush, they finish their routes and that’s how the puck ends up in the back of the net. All these things go hand-in-hand, and it’s kind of like a building block where we can show our current NTDP Under-17s, from the defensive zone, this happens, this is what happens in the neutral zone and this is what happens in the offensive zone, and it ends up in the net. The 18s, the ‘01s, had that in spades. They were all very committed, they were all very hard on each other. That’s another thing that you won’t see in the stats sheet, is how hard they practiced against each other every day. It would get to the boiling point where the competitiveness was so high, nobody wanted to lose, that they pushed each other that hard, which was awesome. It’s what made them great, as individuals.”

The 'Why'

For his fellow coaches, Hinote recommends explaining ‘the why’ when you’re trying to get a player to pay attention to all the details.

“I think in today’s game, players need to understand the ‘why.’ If they understand the why, they’re not just soldiers anymore. They don’t just put their head down and do what you tell them. They need to understand why, and to me, if you can get that across to a kid – and usually the why, if the why ends up in offense, then they really understand it. Here’s why we commit here in the D zone, because ultimately, it works here. Then you score goals. So, they’re like, ‘Oh, OK, if I stand here, I can score a goal down there? I can do that.’ Get them to understand the why, and my theory to connecting with today’s kid is that’s the most important piece.”

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Tag(s): ADM Features