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The Art of Deception

01/12/2016, 11:45am MST
By Mike Doyle - Special to USA Hockey

In just about any area of life, “deception” carries a negative connotation. However, on the ice, deceiving your opponent is an integral part of success.

Making a foe think you’re going to do one thing before doing another is a valuable, learned skill. Hockey deception is incarnated in all kinds of fakes and dekes. Like any skill in the sport, it is developed through practice. For players at the 10U level, mixing in evasive maneuvers in drills can help foster offensive skills that will help down the road.

“The kids who have that shoulder deke or that little look-off, the ability to move their hands a little different way, those end up being your best offensive players as they get older,” Harvard Associate Head Coach Paul Pearl said. “No question, if you’re going to be an upper-level player, you’ve got to have some [deception] in your game.”

However, before players get to the upper echelon, they have to start somewhere.

Maximize Puck Touches

Puck touches in practice are crucial at the 10U level. Training time should concentrate on skill development rather than positioning or trying to design set plays.

“If you’re coaching, and truly want to develop your team, things where kids are playing with the puck are going to develop them,” Pearl said.  “You certainly have to learn how to play without the puck, but that comes later. That will come as they get older. Spending practice time setting up a forecheck, when the kids are younger, is one of the crazy wastes that sometimes I see with youth hockey.”

Hockey is a game of puck control. Having it more than your opponent often leads to success. Players in the 10U classification need time in practice with the puck, so they’re prepared to execute when they get into a game situation.  

“The first thing a kid should learn is what to do with the puck, because that’s what the game is built around,” Pearl said.

Let Them Play (and Make Mistakes)

Children at this age are ready to add deception and creativity to their routines. Coaches need to feed their imagination, not smother it.

“When the kids are little, sometimes, we as a coaching community have a tendency to coach that out of kids — to try and keep everybody uniform and everybody do the same exact thing every time,” Pearl said.

Sometimes it’s easier said than done, but the goal is to develop players, not get hung up on wins and losses.

“In order to be confident with the puck, you have to try different things and get used to making plays with the puck, which means you’re going to make mistakes,” Pearl said. “Those mistakes, in a 9-year-old or 10-year-old game, might end up in the back of your net the first 10 times a kid tries it, but who cares, really? The whole idea of winning is important, I get it; you certainly want kids to be competitive and want to win, but skill development is more important at 10U.”

Competitive and Creative Environment

Small games to warm up, like keep-away in a small area, are a great way to foster creativity along with competitiveness.

“You have to operate drills and small games that reward hanging onto the puck. They’ll learn deception in a hurry or else they’re not going to have the puck,” Pearl said with a laugh. “The kid who hangs on to the puck the longest has the most fun.”

Vesey Very Deceptive

One of those kids who hung onto the puck the longest is Jimmy Vesey. A senior with the Crimson, Vesey is getting Hobey Baker buzz at Harvard. The third-round Nashville Predators draft pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft leads Harvard in scoring.

Pearl said Vesey uses two types of deception to give college defenders fits.   

“One, his ability with the puck – he’s able to show it to a defender and pull it back. That’s something he’s worked on, I’m sure, since he was a little kid. His hands are exceptional. He can show it to you and then pull it back,” Pearl said. “He also has a couple of different skating gears. So if you’re defending him, you think he’s going full speed and he’s got another tick up and he’s able to blow by guys. So he’s deceptive in a lot of different ways.”

Growing up in Charlestown, Vesey played a lot of street hockey, so he was the type of youngster who always had a stick in his hand.

Have Fun With It

Working off the ice, on stickhandling and creativity, will help players gain confidence to try moves once they get into a game situation. However, it’s up to the individual to want to put in the extra effort. Coaches can allow for creativity and failure, but the players who put in the work who will succeed when it comes to game time.

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