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12U: The Art of Passing

03/08/2021, 1:00pm MST
By Michael Rand

Tips for stepping up your passing game at 12U

Hockey at its essence is a sport that requires constant mental processing. Players don’t get repeated 30-second breaks to think about plays that will last five seconds, like a football player might. On the vast majority of actionable plays in baseball, nothing happens except one person throwing and another catching.

With the exception of infrequent stoppages, hockey is in perpetual motion. There might not be a more important function within that motion – at least when it comes to determining success or failure, wins or losses – than the art of passing the puck and receiving those passes.

How is your team supposed to maintain possession without those skills? How do you get the puck out of your zone or move it into the truly dangerous offensive zones without both the physical and mental skills needed to make split-second passing decisions?

Short answer: Not much good happens, at least by the time a player gets to the 12U level, without a good handle not only on how to pass but when and why. Dan Jablonic, regional manager for USA Hockey’s American Development Model, has some tips on how to step up your passing game at the 12U level.


The fundamental skills of passing are critical, and we are going to get to those in a little bit, but perhaps just as essential to learning about passing is understanding when to pass a puck and not just how to do it.

“That’s the important thing for kids to think about – not just passing for the sake of passing, reading the play earlier than later,” Jablonic said. “The game is about speed and the more you can process, even at 12U, and advance it to set your teammate up to be in a better situation, the more success you will have.”

It’s the sort of skill that can best be achieved through repetition and simulating game situations – which often involve fractions of seconds and small amounts of space, both of which are key tenets of small-ice situations preached by the ADM.

“It’s a fine line because there are times you want to possess the puck and wait for it,” Jablonic said. “But it’s all about not looking around or waiting around in order to put yourself and your teammates in a good situation.”

Passing and Receiving with a Purpose

If making a pass is about timing, it’s also about having a purpose with the puck – what we might refer to as the why of the situation.

“When we say passing, we think of the technical aspect, a nice flat pass and the transfer,” Jablonic said. “But what’s the purpose of the pass? How are you reading the plays? How are you anticipating plays and advancing the puck? Are you passing with a purpose to set your teammate up for success?”

For instance: If you’re in your own defensive zone, your purpose is to advance out of the zone with a pass – either to create a counterattack or merely to take the heat off a dangerous situation. If you are in the offensive zone, are you making a pass that’s getting you closer – even if it’s just five percent – to a scoring situation?

Conversely, if you don’t have the puck are you putting yourself in a position to receive a pass that achieves those goals?

“We talk about team speed and when we look at it, it’s the movement of the puck – how fast, with a purpose, into the areas we want to advance to,” Jablonic said. “It’s the same thing defensively. Are we a team that can keep an opponent to the perimeter? Those are things we hone in on and teach. Give (12U players) the why instead of just working on some technical aspect.”

Technical Skills

That said, you can have all the best intentions and understanding in the world. If you can’t physically execute plays, it doesn’t matter. The technical skills are certainly essential to both delivering and receiving passes.

“You still need core fundamentals of good positioning, especially at 12U, along with the skill development that sets you up for success later on,” Jablonic said. “That means hands away from your body, head up in a good athletic position and, with today’s sticks, putting a little force behind it. Players need to feel comfortable.”

Jablonic has participated in information exchanges with Sweden’s federation and how they approach the underrated but important facets of body position in relation to the puck and how players transport the puck.

“If you’re stiff legged, hands too tight to the body, you aren’t going to be able to pass very well,” Jablonic said. “It’s important to have balance in a sport that’s moving all the time. Very rarely are you standing still in our game. The more you can practice with movement, the better.”

It’s All Complementary

The notion of movement relates to a final point: How much all skills in hockey work in concert with one another – and how individual skills mesh with team skills to achieve ultimate goals.

“When you go to average 12U games, the kids are doing amazing things with puck because their puck control is incredible. They see Patrick Kane, they want to go in the yard and stickhandle and make sure they’re working, controlling it, passing it,” Jablonic said. “But it’s also about the anticipation – really the process of decision-making and reading situations. I think that’s the beauty of 12U. You really start to figure out hockey is a team game – it’s kind of the introduction to that.”

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