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12U: Winning the Draw

02/07/2020, 10:15am MST
By Michael Rand

Advice for players as they begin to think about the nuances of the sport

It’s hard to imagine a 90-minute session on faceoffs – and only faceoffs – would be all that riveting, but several years after it happened Dan Jablonic still remembers it vividly.

Oh, and it probably doesn’t hurt that it was led by Hall of Fame center Bryan Trottier.

“All he did was talk about faceoffs,” said Jablonic, a regional manager for USA Hockey’s American Development Model. “So here’s a Hall of Famer, NHL level, but it was so cool how he related it down to younger players and what they could take away.”

Many of those takeaways translate perfectly to 12U players as they begin to think about some of the nuances of the sport.

Be the Commander

Part of taking a faceoff is attitude – making sure that everyone on the ice knows that you’re the one in charge.

“No matter who’s stepping in to take the faceoff, you’re the captain,” Jablonic said, recalling one of Trottier’s lessons. “Be ready to be the commander – making sure the other players are ready. Because a lot of times it’s not just winning it cleanly back but reacting quickly to where it’s going. That was probably the biggest thing was to understand that you’re directing things as the captain.”

Within that, getting everyone on the same page is key.

“Have a little talk before you go in with your players – hey, I’m going to try to push it forward, or I’m going to try to win it back,” Jablonic said. “Communication with teammates is really important.”

Be Ready

On the technical side of things, so much of winning a draw is timing.

“Everything starts from the hockey ready position,” Jablonic said. “Get some leverage with your knees bent and assess the situation.” 

Part of that assessment is the flow of the draw. Is it imminent? Is there a delay?

“Figure out where the referee is in relation to being ready to drop the puck,” Jablonic said. “I could be standing there for 10 seconds ready but nobody else is ready, and that’s just wasted energy.”

When you get in the ready position, keep your eye on the puck. Every official drops the puck a little differently, so pay attention and follow their hand.

Once the puck is dropped, players should use their hips and inside edges to turn and pull the draw back either to their forward or backhand, if that’s the goal. Having a low center of gravity will help maintain balance, body positioning and maneuverability.

Declaration of Player Safety

Have a Plan

Jablonic believes it’s essential for coaches to allow players to try different things when it comes to trying to win draws.

“Allow the players to be creative. I think if we go in with just one mindset, it doesn’t take into account where you are in relation to the nine faceoff dots,” he said. “Be creative. That’s what we want to see in our players.”

Winning a draw is one thing. But what are you going to do with the puck once you get it? And what is your first move if you happen to lose the draw?

“I’ve seen kids so focused because their coach is drilling in ‘don’t lose the faceoff, don’t lose the faceoff,’ and it’s OK to lose the faceoff. But what do you do with your body position once you do lose it?” Jablonic asked. “Are you doing a stick on puck mentality to react. Battle and take a look around. … There are guys even at the highest levels who lose faceoffs but they’re so good at reacting to where the puck is that it’s essentially a neutral faceoff and then it’s a 50-50 battle and they’re set up in a good position.”

Possession Game

Hockey at the highest level has evolved into a game where puck possession is valued greatly, and that influence has trickled down to the youth levels. As a consequence, the value of faceoffs in both offensive and defensive zones has increased.

“If we’re on the defensive side of the puck are we in a position to really get after the puck?” Jablonic said. “Same thing offensively, what are we going to do and how creative are we going to be once we get possession. … It’s all about possessions, and at (12U) you are going to have some set offensive plays especially if you have a kid that can really shoot the puck and try to work the path of least resistance to get that player the puck. It might be pulling it to your forehand or backhand.”

Overall hockey skills of quick sticks, high battle level and teamwork will go a long way in the dot.

Oh, and it doesn’t hurt if you like pizza and believe in one more piece of advice from a Hall of Famer.

“Maybe it’s better to have the mentality that the faceoff dot almost as a pizza pie – something Trottier said,” Jablonic recalled. “You want to take one slice at a time, quick as you can. Take your slice and run. That stuck with me. Our game is so fast and you have to develop those fast twitch muscles.”

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