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Watching Hockey with a Purpose

03/10/2016, 11:00am MST
By Mike Doyle - Special to USA Hockey

You can learn a lot by simply watching the best perform their craft.

Visual examples are a way for kids to learn through watching others. While coaches can provide understanding and techniques for certain skills, watching the most elite skaters in the world, or even older kids, can deliver invaluable insights into the game that coaches can only hope to deliver.

Former NHL player, U.S. Olympian and current NBC Sports color commentator Eddie Olczyk knows a great deal about visual teaching. The United States Hockey Hall of Fame inductee brings his knowledge of the game to millions of viewers. He also learned the game by watching.   

“That’s how I really learned and that was my way to try and get an edge,” Olczyk said. “Whether it was going to games at the old Chicago Stadium or watching on television.”

The Chicago native was raised on Blackhawks hockey. Sure it was fun to root for his favorite team, but as he got older, he studied the game like a college student prepping for an exam.

“I wouldn’t just watch for the entertainment aspect,” Olczyk said. “I would watch certain players and watch how they played and then try to emulate those guys.”

He even had opportunities to watch them during training, “When I was lucky enough to go to some practices, just to see how guys would work on things and try things.”

So how can players at the 10U, or any level, learn by watching a live game or on television?

Don’t Always Follow the Puck

“The puck is the most important thing out there, but really in order for things to happen, guys without the puck have to make plays,” Olczyk said. “If you can figure that out, the game is going to be right in your wheelhouse.”

When you go to the game, it’s hard not go get mesmerized by the puck and follow it. It’s even more difficult when watching the game at home on TV.

“In fairness, on television, we’re always following the puck and we don’t always see what guys are doing behind the play,” Olczyk said. “That’s part of my job, finding what’s happening away from the puck and in certain situations.”

At 10U, players will begin learning more sophisticated concepts like creating time and space, and which areas of the ice they can find success. Though they might be in the developmental stage of learning, those things translate at all levels.

“Regardless of whether it’s the National Hockey League or a peewee hockey player, plays that happen at the NHL are going to happen at the younger levels as well,” Olczyk said. “It’s the nature of the beast.”

Focus on Your Favorite Player

All hockey youngsters have guys they look up to and want to emulate. They see a play on the highlights or online and the next day (or minute) are trying to pull it off.

However, Olczyk believes that kids can learn much more by following their favorite player for a shift or, better yet, an entire game.

“If you sit there and say, ‘Hey, I want to follow Patrick Kane or Zach Parise or Ryan McDonagh,’ you can see how they react in a certain situation or their anticipation,” Olczyk said. “You get a greater feel or appreciation for the players at the next level, or the National Hockey League, when you zero in on them and watch their anticipation and you watch how they read the play.”

On the game broadcasts, you’ll often hear ‘Edzo’ say “For all you young hockey players out there …” or “For all you kids at home …”

So next time you take in a game, whether Olczyk is commentating on it or not, remember his advice.

“Watch how players play without the puck,” Olczyk said. “That would be my greatest advice to any young player who is learning and wanting to get better.”

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