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14U/16U: Lessons from the Stanley Cup Playoffs

09/08/2021, 9:30am MDT
By Michael Rand

There's plenty to learn just by watching, particularly for 14U and 16U players

Dan Jablonic was in New York in late June for USA Hockey’s Select 17 boys’ camp, and he noticed something that made him smile: Elite hockey players were watching – and hopefully learning – from even more elite players.

“I was so pumped the first night we got here, all the kids were in their dorms watching playoff hockey,” said Jablonic, a regional manager for USA Hockey’s American Development Model. “They’re getting better just by watching it. Are they watching the reads, decisions players are making away from the puck? Not just offensively but defensively what are the little things. If I’m watching a star player, what am I learning from the way they play?”

There is plenty to learn just by watching, Jablonic says, particularly for 14U and 16U players on the cusp of advancing their games to another level and particularly by watching the highest level of competition: NHL playoff hockey.

Dealing with Adversity

Jablonic mentions one of the defining moments of the playoffs as a teachable moment and something from which young players can learn.

In Game 3 of the conference finals, with the series tied 1-1 and his team leading by a goal late, Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury had a careless misplay that led to Montreal tying the game and eventually winning it.

While that play had a major influence on Montreal advancing to the Stanley Cup Final, Jablonic says Fleury’s reaction to it – shrugging it off while vowing to stay focused and keep working – provides a valuable lesson. 

“Even though it’s the highest level of play, even they make mistakes and how they bounce back is important,” Jablonic said. “Fleury misplayed the one puck, but his intention was right. A guy like that is going to bounce back. Those are lessons to understand. Things happen to you. How do you respond to it and learn from it and go forward?”

Believing in Yourself and Teammates

On the flip side of that series is a lesson to be learned from the Canadiens. Montreal had the fewest points (59) of any of this year’s 16 playoff qualifiers, but that didn’t stop the team from going on an amazing postseason run.

“Everyone was in awe to see Montreal win in overtime, even though that’s the highest level,” Jablonic said. “In youth hockey you might have teams that are favored, but you always have a chance to compete and show another team that you’re better as a team. That’s a mindset and that’s what we love about USA Hockey. Line up every day as a new opportunity.”

That opportunity starts with a belief that you can compete and trust in teammates to help you succeed, he says.

“Here at National Camp, we want to compete in every zone, not just offensive. How do you track back to the puck in a turnover? Do you come all the way back to the zone to make your team successful? That’s a big picture to learn from the NHL — that team success,” Jablonic said. “Individual success takes members around you. Playoff hockey is the elevation of being a good teammate and believing in the other guys. Those are lessons that are huge for 14U and 16U.”

Efficiency in Your Game

From a technical aspect, Jablonic says one thing young players should watch for in high-level games such as the NHL playoffs is the efficiency with which the best players perform.

“Looking at how the game is played, it’s so fast now. Taking yourself out of position is not going to work. Good body position is key. How are we using sticks to win pucks? Those are things we really see that can translate into efficiency in their game at 14U and 16U,” he said. “How they can add deception, technical skills of stick-on-puck to go win the puck and make the plays in the most efficient manner.”

Relishing the Moment

Playoff hockey can make even viewers nervous, so imagine what it’s like to play in such high-stakes moments. Jablonic sees an opportunity for young players to learn that pressure means you have accomplished something and that relishing those moments separates players who can perform in key moments from others who can’t.

“You can still tell why these guys play, because it’s fun. Those that relish the fun and competition are going to succeed,” Jablonic said. “They’re not freezing in the moment, they’re embracing the moment. They’ve put in the work with a purpose with their teammates. Every step they take is to try to win the world’s hardest cup to win.”

Part of loving the sport is watching it.

“I think the kids that truly love the sport are looking at any form of hockey,” Jablonic said. “I was pleasantly surprised to walk down the halls seeing kids on their laptops watching the games. They love the sport and want to watch it.”

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Tag(s): ADM Features