In thinking about skills hockey players possess that have definite, unquestioned value, a few come to mind quickly. Is the player a good skater? Does he or she defend well? Perhaps most importantly, does the player have a keen ability to score goals?
Those things don’t go out of fashion and are reasonably easy to quantify.
What about those things that fall below the radar – that are critically important when we think about them but don’t hold as much immediate sway?
Dan Jablonic, regional manager for USA Hockey’s American Development Model, has been thinking about the subject a lot lately.
Something that falls into a bit of an intangible quality is a maturing young player’s willingness to give maximum effort no matter the situation. It’s a quality that can turn a good player into a great player and a great player into an elite player, Jablonic says.
“It’s the ability to consistently compete,” he added. “Every coach loves a player that does that every day in practice. Are they driving to be better every day?”
Paired with that is a focused energy – not just competing hard but with a purpose.
“Can they assess their game?” Jablonic asked. “Can they say, ‘I have strengths and weaknesses and I’m working on them to get better?’”
Along with that comes the mentality of a 14U or 16U player that says they realize they are in charge, at least to a large degree, of their own destiny – that what they put into the game will determine what they get out of it.
“These are the things that we really need to look for in our players,” Jablonic said. “They’re starting to take responsibility for their development.”
An overlooked component of that, in his eyes: behavior off the ice.
“You might have a great practice, but are you doing the right things off ice. Are you approaching nutrition the right way so all that hard work stays with you?” Jablonic said. “Some kids have a great practice, then go straight to the vending machine and not take the time to get the right nutrients. Even bigger than that, the right rest plan. It takes a holistic approach to really understand that.”
Those things might get overlooked because at the end of the day we tend to focus on results on the ice, but everything that goes into a young player’s life impacts their overall well-being and their play.
“There’s the social, academic and athletic components, and if those are out of whack or overlooked, it’s going to be tough to develop as a hockey player,” Jablonic said. “The more you can have that balance on and off the ice, the better.”
The next overlooked skill is again one that’s hard to quantify but often amounts to small differences that all add up to a big deal.
“It’s the ability to make plays and read plays the right way,” Jablonic said. “Knowing where your pressure is coming from and having that spatial awareness – things like that are really important for our players.”
It’s part of the reason players need to be put in situations at young ages in which they need to make fast decisions. If making the right play quickly becomes second nature, it creates better hockey players.
“That’s why we want to put things in small areas. Then they are going to understand the relationship with the puck and ice awareness, and that’s why it’s critical to give them those fundamentals,” Jablonic said. “Work to protect the puck because that’s a skill. There is physical ability and then there is the skill – the transfer of our technical ability. Put some constraints on players in practices like they are going to see in the games.”
The final area that Jablonic touches on is the underrated skill of knowing how to use body contact effectively.
The purpose of a body check is not to blow a player up or intimidate them, but in a fast-moving sport played by teenagers, sometimes players let emotions get the best of them.
“It’s a possession game but it’s also a battle. How do you win a battle to make a play? When you look through that lens, how efficiently and effectively am I winning the puck?” Jablonic said. “The whole purpose is to gain possession of the puck. If there’s a huge collision, my body is not in the right position and I’m not going to win that puck.”
Jablonic points to high-level women’s hockey as a great example of what 14U and 16U players should strive to do in order to deliver on this overlooked skill.
“Watch Canada vs. the United States in the women’s game,” he said. “It’s as physical as it can get, the hockey IQ and angling are great, there’s a terrific stick-on-puck mentality and they’re efficiently winning the puck to make a play. It’s a physical brand of hockey. I think at this age group that’s important to understand.”
Tag(s): ADM Features