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6U/8U: Success is a Matter of Scale

01/28/2022, 12:30pm MST
By Michael Rand

As a parent of small children, one thing that has become abundantly clear is that success is often a matter of scale.

Can’t read a whole sentence? Work on a word. Can’t read the word? Break it down into parts. Can’t find Waldo? Shrink the page down into smaller sections until you find him by process of elimination.

The same logic applies to youth sports – and particularly hockey. The scale at which the game is played is critical to success for a number of reasons and has fueled an emphasis on cross-ice hockey at the 6U/8U level.

To gain a better appreciation for what a 6U/8U player should see while playing cross-ice hockey, let’s hear from Ken Martel, the technical director for USA Hockey’s American Development Model. 

The Puck

The most obvious thing is that young players are going to see the puck more. If you reduce the size of the ice surface, you put more players in the vicinity of the puck.

“You can talk about puck touches, which everyone is familiar with,” Martel says.

More puck touches are the backbone of the cross-ice revolution.

“What should young players see? They’re going to see hockey,” Martel says. “They are going to be allowed to make more decisions because they’re still part of the play. That’s probably the biggest thing. Proximity to the puck is proximity to all the other things.”

Greater Involvement

As we dive into all the related benefits, though, we find more nuance. For instance, Martel says, a smaller ice surface leads to a greater sense of involvement for everyone. Even if they aren’t touching the puck or particularly close to the puck at the moment, they could be soon.

“What is everyone else on the rink doing when they don’t have the puck? What are they trying to anticipate?” Martel asks. “That involvement and engagement when you’re still close enough to the puck to feel involved is critical.”

Feeling like you’re part of the action is important for a number of reasons. It helps players improve. It helps them have more fun. It leads to more teamwork.

“I think one of the biggest things is that no matter where you are, kids feel involved,” Martel says. “On a big sheet you can be really far away from the puck, and when you are that far away you aren’t really processing the game.”

Processing the Game

Let’s stay with that idea of processing the game for a moment. It’s related to greater involvement, but it is also a critical component of development.

Less ice means more quick decisions and thinking about the game – skills that will serve players well as they get older, when time and space are even more precious.

“Cross-ice helps players process the things about the sport. Space, where they might go, where they might anticipate going,” Martel says. “They’re just doing it more often when they’re on the small sheet as opposed to a big sheet. This is why we do small games and small area games in our practice sessions. There’s more play around the puck, everybody is pretty much involved. They’re thinking more.”

Again, it’s a matter of scale.

“As you scale things, there’s less individual technique and more game processing,” Martel says. “When you are in the vicinity of the puck you feel like you’re more involved in the play.”

The Modern Game

It all goes back to what Martel said originally: 8U players involved in cross-ice are seeing hockey – particularly as it is being played now.

Martel played in college in the late 1980s at Lake Superior State during an era where hockey was played very much station-to-station. When the puck was in the offensive zone, he says, he felt like he could “be on autopilot.”

That’s not the case anymore, with position-less hockey becoming prevalent. Defensemen jump into the offensive zone frequently. Forwards need to cover. Everyone supports the puck. That’s where the early processing from cross-ice hockey shows its value again.

“If players are going to be interchangeable on the rink, you have to do more processing. Not just standing on the blue line,” Martel says. “Where do I go to support my teammates? If you look at hockey, they tend to be short sprints inside the defensive zone, between blue lines. Red line to the net. Nobody is skating up and down the whole rink without pauses.”

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Tag(s): ADM Features