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Marty St. Louis on Player Development, Pressure, Passion & More

06/21/2020, 8:30am MDT
By USA Hockey

Insight on the offensive zone, generating scoring chances & more

Ever wonder how a Hall of Famer sees the ice?

Former Stanley Cup and Hart Trophy winner Martin St. Louis shared his insight on the offensive zone, developing IQ, generating scoring chances and more for the USA Hockey Webinar Series, sponsored by Pure Hockey and BioSteel.

You can watch Martin St. Louis’s full webinar here. 

St. Louis has been coaching his three sons, all in different age groups. While many hockey players aren’t on the ice right now, he offered some advice for those looking to improve at home.

“Stay active,” St. Louis said. “You can work on your hands, you can work on your shot. To me, if I’m doing that, I’m trying to visualize where I’m at when I’m doing certain things. Don’t just do the move. It’s not just shooting 500 pucks. It’s how you’re shooting those pucks and how you’re stickhandling. It’s not just quantity, there has to be quality and purpose behind it.”

He shared more insight for 14U/16U families, including what separates good from great players, using video, parent pressures and more.

What Separates Players As They Get Older?

There are two really important things that separate good players from great ones, according to St. Louis: compete level and IQ.

“Competing is not working whenever you want,” he said. “Competing is every time you’re going against somebody, you have to show that you want it more than the other guy. That’s competing to me — not when you feel like it. It’s how bad you want to win that battle. It’s just a mindset and the will.”

The IQ is not easy to develop and athletes that matured physically and found success earlier than their counterparts might take it for granted. As players get into the 14U/16U levels, the other players will catch up.

“Coaches who have kids that are big and strong, faster than everybody else, you got to be careful about just letting them do whatever they want, because they probably just skate by every problem,” St. Louis said. “There’s no processing, there’s no solving the problem. Eventually, you’ll need the help from your teammates to solve your problems. A lot of those kids have the puck on their stick for a big part of the game when they’re young. The reality is that as they get older, you got to learn to play without it.”

“IQ is understanding that there’s more of a game than just your own little game. There’s four other guys out there and there’s five other guys on the other team. The game doesn’t just start when the puck is on your stick.”

Playing without the puck is a huge component of hockey IQ.

What I try to teach kids is how to play without the puck. It’s about layers. If the player has options, they’ll have plenty of reads to make. Usually over time they will find the right reads better and better — and that’s what separates players as they get older. Who reads the game the best? Eventually everybody’s fast, everybody’s strong and everybody can shoot. Who can read the best?”

Playing Fast, Filling Lanes, Covering Ice

St. Louis talks at length in the webinar about the importance of covering ice as opposed to just playing positions. He doesn’t want robots, he wants players constantly making reads, finding space, filling lanes and supporting the puck carrier.

“It’s about covering ice and not duplicating jobs. Sometimes kids are just so worried about getting to their positions that they end up duplicating jobs, instead of reading and reacting to where everybody else is.”

Possession vs. Generating Scoring Chances

St. Louis stresses the difference between possessing the puck and generating scoring chances.

“Play on the move. Don’t give [the defense] an opportunity to create a battle. If they create a battle they’ll try to outnumber you. Now you have to win a battle and make a play and that’s going to be hard, but if you go low to high or behind the net, change the point of attack, you’ll create chances and create shots.

“It’s not about possession — it’s about creating shots and scoring chances. How much are you generating? Let the puck do the work and play on the move. Let’s not be fooled if you’re spending all this time in the offensive zone, how much are you generating?

“If I have to make 10 passes on the power play before we shoot the puck, we’re not doing our job. It should be two or three passes, shot, retrieve, we do it again.”

Using Video

Part of making reads is making the wrong reads and making mistakes. Using video as a training tool can be helpful for players, but St. Louis advises caution.

“I think video helps, but you have to be careful,” he said. “You can’t just nitpick every read where nonstop they are just second guessing themselves. You have to let it happen organically a little bit. They’re going to make mistakes. If they keep making mistakes, maybe show them a little video, but then you have to go let them sort it out until it corrects a little bit. Unfortunately for some players it never clicks. That doesn’t mean that they can’t be successful. They are just going to have to check the boxes in a lot of other areas. 

“I think as a coach, especially a youth coach, you have to be careful in pushing so hard that you kill the passion. You have to keep an environment of developing the passion, but also some teaching. Kids will learn at their own pace — and that’s okay. But you can’t nitpick everyone about everything. You got to have a pulse on everyone — every kid is different. They’re mentally different, physically different. What we expect them to do and how to think is different for every player. It depends where they are in their development.”


Is there too much pressure on youth hockey players?

“I think there’s definitely an outside pressure. In today’s game, you have these spring programs and if a kid doesn’t make a spring team it’s like they’re falling behind almost,” St. Louis said. “It’s the perception they’re not as good or whatever, but it means nothing. Who cares at 10, 12 years old? It doesn’t matter. I think the pressure as they get older — social media brings a lot of pressure. This guy commits here, this guy commits there.

“And sadly, there’s probably a lot of pressure coming from home. That’s probably the biggest pressure. I’m pretty sure if you did a study, there’s probably too much pressure at home. I think parents don’t like to see their kids struggle. To me, struggle is step one of growth. It’s allowing them to develop at their own pace. If they stay passionate about the sport, they’ll keep developing. 

“Eventually, this is what happens. When you’re young, you drive them everywhere. You go to this, you go do that, take them all over. There comes a time when they get their license and they can drive themselves places. Where are they going to drive themselves then? Are they still doing that? Because now you’re not holding their hand and dictating what they’re supposed to do. So you have to be careful how you handle them in those struggling phases. Do not kill the passion.”

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