Legendary coach Herb Brooks was a pioneer in a lot of ways. He saw the way the Soviet Union Red Army team played – with speed, puck possession and movement – and incorporated the style of play in the 1980 U.S. Olympic gold medal-winning “Miracle” team.
“I grew up in the era of the ‘80 Olympic team when Brooks was trying to mimic that Russian style, where if you don’t have anything, you’re going to reload and throw it back to the D and guys are going to swing, interchange and generate speed in the neutral zone and then you’re attacking at full throttle,” said Doug Dietz, USA Hockey Central District Coach-In-Chief.
Today’s game resembles those fabled teams – loaded with speed, skill and puck possession.
“That’s the mentality that USA Hockey has adopted and they’re still trying to get our programs going in that direction. A lot of it is the game-based approach that USA Hockey has really adopted in practices where these kids are not just doing one skill or one drill at a time, they're doing multiple things at multiple times on the ice,” Dietz said. “If you keep guys moving and you keep the puck moving and you possess that puck, I think that transforms into players being more interchangeable and maintaining possession of that puck.”
The old dump-and-chase mentality is, thankfully for fans and players alike, gone. NHL teams value skill, speed and puck possession and that mentality is trickling down the youth levels.
“We work so hard to gain possession of that puck,” Dietz said. “It's really easy to lose control of the puck. The real skill and the real battle is getting teams to understand the puck is valuable and you work so hard to get it, so you need to work hard to keep it.”
There is a time to spot the puck to an area, but that’s done with a purpose of continued possession and not just throwing it away with the hope that we may get it back.
High-level teams are not even dumping the puck in on the power play anymore.
“You see now a lot of NHL, college, junior teams and even high-level youth hockey teams on the power play have one guy looping in behind and they're dropping the puck,” Dietz said. “It stalls the four defenders and puts them back on their heels. Now they're attacking with full speed as guys are standing still.”
The stats don’t lie: zone entries with possession increase scoring opportunities significantly.
University of Minnesota associate head coach Joel Johnson, who’s led the U.S. U18 Women’s National Team to four gold medals, walks through the following drill to foster offensive creativity.
Colgate women’s head coach Greg Fargo shares a 3 v 3 drill that forces players to make quick decisions upon zone entry, support the puck carrier under pressure, maintain possession and create scoring opportunities. On the flip side, the defensive players work on body positioning, angling and gapping up.