Have you ever watched an NHL game closely? Like, really, really closely? If you have, you’re likely to notice the amount of small-area games and mini battles that encompass a 60-minute tilt.
It’s Anders Lee and Charlie McAvoy battling in the corner; Jack Hughes weaving his way through a neutral zone traffic jam; Auston Matthews creating the tiniest bit of space to release his electric shot between the dots.
The game of hockey may be played on a 200-by-85 foot sheet of ice, but the real winning strategy is found – and taught – in small pockets around the rink.
“We can teach anything in a small-area game,” explains two-time U.S. Olympian and ADM manager of player development Guy Gosselin. “Small-areas allow for learning through puck support, attacking in the zone, and even teaching and developing decision making and awareness on the ice.
“That’s the way we develop hockey players. Simple as that.”
There’s going to be natural contact when you force 6-10 players into a small-area. It is critical for players at all ages to experience and learn from that.
“Kids need to understand that you’re going to get bumped out there,” Gosselin said. “From the moment you step on the ice, you’re going to get bumped. You’re well-equipped, you’re not going to get hurt, but there’s going to be physical contact all over the ice from the day you start playing. But it’s a progression, and so by the time you start getting into actual body-checking, it should be nothing new.”
Practice at every age level is all about puck touches and repetition. The more times you touch the puck, the more fun you’re having, and the more you’re improving.
“Everything at the youth hockey level is about repetition,” Gosselin said. “That doesn’t mean the same drills over and over, but altering things in order to get as many puck touches to each kid as you can.”
Getting 10U players comfortable and confident with the puck on their stick is an added bonus from small-area games and drills, where players are likely to get more than one minute of puck possession in the course of one 10-minute game. This also allows for an uptick in shots and saves for goalies.
Every aspect of the game is fast. Small-area games develop decision-making skills, spatial awareness and hockey IQ.
“Even players at our highest levels need to refine their skill sets and increase their awareness and decision-making,” said Gosselin. “Learning how to navigate through those clusters, and learning to think ahead is something really at the forefront of all small-area games, no matter what type of game you’re playing.”
Oh, and small-area games? They’re pretty darn fun, too.
“You play hockey to play hockey,” Gosselin said. “It’s not fun sitting on the bench watching, or standing in line. Small-area games keep them engaged and entertained. That’s what we want from every practice for every kid. That’s what it’s all about.