Development doesn’t happen while players are standing around.
And the last thing the Kirkwood (Missouri) Youth Hockey board of directors wanted was for its young players standing idly by with little to do. As a result, the board decided to implement quarter-ice, 3-on-3 games for 6U kids using QuickChange pads, which allow for a speedy transition from skater to goalie.
Players remain on the ice for only 45 seconds and then either switch with other players or rest briefly to keep the game fast-paced.
“There are several benefits,” Kirkwood American Development Model Director/Director of Hockey Operations Mike Carapella said. “First and foremost, smaller spaces keep more kids involved. You won’t have a kid drifting off, because there is less space to drift into. More kids touch the puck, which is great. We’re seeing more kids involved and there’s more stick-handling.
“The biggest thing is the width has been cut down, so when kids go toward the other end, it makes for tighter stick-handling.”
Because players are forced to make quicker decisions than otherwise might be the case, the games are more competitive.
“The coaches say it’s a lot of fun to watch, because the games are faster and there’s more stick-handling, more dangling,” Carapella said. “We’ve only done it for a few weeks, but the coaches love it. Overall, the parents feel it looks great and everyone has been happy so far.”
Since there is more action in quarter-ice games, youngsters enjoy being more involved instead of being on the outside looking in.
“The games are faster and that’s what they like,” Carapella said. “The advantage of smaller ice is kids that were disengaged [in larger-ice games] could float off into other parts of the rink.
“Now, they can’t hide from the play. It’s definitely going to keep those kids more engaged.”
Over the years, Kirkwood has offered a mini mites program with six teams named after the original six NHL teams.
“We used small nets that are smaller than the intermediate nets used at the 8U level,” Carapella said. “We always have six teams with 36 kids and we ran three cross-ice games on the rink.
“We found that our numbers grew; now we have eight teams. We may have more next year. With eight teams, we needed four games. The last thing we wanted was to have anyone sitting out. So, with this quarter-ice 3v3, you’re on the ice and off, on and off, never sitting out for long.”
Kirkwood then decided to purchase more divider bumpers in order to cut the rink into four sections and also to invest in QuickChange pads.
“QuickChange pads allow us to change goalies frequently, so every kid gets a chance to experience the position and we can have goalies in every game,” Carapella said. “But we still feel the biggest benefit is that we keep kids moving. The QuickChange pads pop on and pop off.
“They’re small and light. We’ve had fantastic reviews from them.”
Kirkwood’s implementation of quarter-ice games has drawn the attention of neighboring associations.
“We play outside teams,” Carapella said. “Now we have other clubs coming in to play on a smaller ice surface. Often, we’ll have eight teams instead of six and we cut [the ice] into four quadrants.”
Another reason why Kirkwood decided on quarter-ice games was the success of its learn-to-play program.
“Our learn-to-play program is busting at the seams,” Carapella said. “That’s when we decided we had to be more creative.”
All this forward thinking helped earn Kirkwood its designation as a USA Hockey Model Association.
“I think it’s been ingrained in our coaches what the ADM is,” Carapella said. “The whole process of being certified has been a great plus and [the ADM] has helped develop kids.
“It’s helped us build a strong relationship with USA Hockey. We have a good reputation in our town and we focus on developing players.”
Of all the aspects involved with the ADM, the focus on improving individual skills in small areas has been a major success.
“Smaller spaces have been the biggest advantage for us,” Carapella said. “We went from having full-ice games for 6U, where kids weren’t even touching the pucks, to a far better development scenario on smaller ice. Even in practice, we went from full-ice to shrinking it down to a size that related to the kids.
“That’s the No. 1 aspect of the ADM that’s made everyone better players.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.