USA Hockey is continually looking for ways to improve our sport and make the game better for all participants.
This season, USA Hockey implemented a few rule changes aimed at increasing competitiveness, enhancing player development in key situations, and making the game safer for everyone.
“The overarching philosophy is that we have a great game and we need to continue to move forward and these changes will help take our game to a whole new level,” said Mike MacMillan, USA Hockey National Coach-in-Chief.
So, what are the changes and how can coaches teach these principals? MacMillan helps walk us through the main rule changes and how to guide our players through them.
The rule: The offside rule now eliminates tag-up offside at all Youth and Girls levels of play. Immediate offside is now applied at all levels except High School and Adult classifications.
How it will impact play: “The intent is that no-tag offsides will create ice awareness and get away from dump and chase hockey,” MacMillan said.
Without the benefit of tag-up offsides, offensive players will be forced to make heads-up hockey plays or risk losing possession of the puck.
“Now you have to look around and make sure your teammates are not offside,” MacMillan said. “And that might force you to go back with the puck yourself or find an open player and then regroup and reattack.”
Implementing it in practice: “Coaches need to work on more puck possession drills. Work on things that are in a tight, confined area, like between the blue lines or tops of the circles where players are in situation where they have to have ice awareness and how to use their teammates,” MacMillan said.
Players will need to focus on getting the puck on their sticks, moving their feet, keeping their head up, or even looking over their shoulder to find open teammates and ice. MacMillan hopes this will benefit defensemen looking to join in the offense from the neutral zone.
“One of the things that will happen is more engagement with defensemen. So now you’re not just attacking with three players, but now you’ll be able to work on attacking with five players and actually using that weak-side defenseman jumping into the seam. You watch the NHL and college hockey, they do a lot of that.”
The game is played 3v3 cross-ice. With a thick marker, the coach draws a line across the middle of the ice from the boards to the blue line. Before an attacking team can go on offense, it must regroup in its defensive half. Once they have regrouped, they must stay on-side while attacking the defensive team. If they go offside, the puck goes to the other team and the drill continues. Another variation of the game is to have the offensive team complete one or two passes before going over the center line.
The rule: Players are no longer permitted to ice the puck while on the penalty kill, with High School and Adult classifications being excluded. If they ice the puck, play is stopped and the faceoff is back in their end of the rink.
How it will impact play: “We want puck possession, we don’t want players just throwing the puck away. This includes while they are shorthanded,” MacMillan said. “It forces players to get their heads up and make a play as opposed to dropping their head and shooting the puck to the other end of the rink.”
Rather than just icing the puck blindly, and coaches and parents yelling “ice it!” players will have to make a play in every situation.
“Think about when a defenseman gets it in the corner and they stall,” MacMillan said. “Well now instead of firing it up the boards, they bring it behind the net or the weakside D has to slide back for an outlet, just like you do on a breakout. Now you’re doing it shorthanded, creating a situation where they break the puck out and include forward support.”
“We think there can be offense created in shorthanded situations.”
MacMillan believes this will also have an impact on the way teams approach taking penalties, as well. There is a steeper price of being shorthanded.
“Maybe this will make players more aware of going shorthanded than they were before. There might be some positive outcomes aside from just the player development piece,” MacMillan said.
“If you really don’t want to go shorthanded, don’t take penalties.”
Implementing it in practice: Many small area games and drills used for puck possession, finding open teammates and spatial awareness will also complement the no-ice shorthanded rule.
Pearl 4 vs. 2 One Net Game
The coach divides players into two teams at the blue line with one goalie. The game starts out 4 vs. 2. When the whistle blows, players change with four players from the other side on offense and two from the original puck-carrying team on defense. It’s a continuous 4v2 with teams changing from four players to two players back to four players. Keep score. Allow the defensive team to score points by making more than two consecutive passes within the zone (they can use the goalie). If the defensive team clears the puck, they lose a point. If the offensive players score they get a point.
The rule: Rulebook language has been updated to emphasize the principles outlined in the “Declaration of Safety, Fair Play and Respect” and to stress “stick on puck” skills and tactics. These include eliminating hits that are meant to punish or intimidate an opponent or where there is no effort to win possession of the puck. This notable rule change includes changing “body contact” to “competitive contact,” incorporating language from the Declaration of Safety, Fair Play and Respect. This is to emphasize any contact within the sport as being competitive in nature, with aims to possess the puck, and is encouraged at all levels of play.
The key component for coaches to stress is “stick on puck,” meaning the stick is on the ice and the defensive player is attempting to play the puck first. Proper angling will help and the player utilizing their hips, trunk and/or shoulder as competitive contact is made.
How it will impact play: “If you look at it from a skill development, if you look at it from the upper levels, the game now is so much stick-on-puck, puck possession, get the puck back and turn it into offense.”
Hockey is and will always be a physical sport. USA Hockey understands this and wants to keep the physical nature in the game. While player safety is at the forefront of this update, the game has moved to a place well past the rock ‘em, sock ‘em days of old.
“There’s so much more to it than the contact piece, but they go hand in hand,” MacMillan said. “This is why coaches should be embracing this more than anything else. You’re not creating anything when you go for the big blowup hit. Clearly there are safety pieces that are a part of it, but there are also developmental opportunities that coaches need to look at.”
Implementing it in practice: “We’ve been talking about body contact and puck possession for a long time,” MacMillan said. “We want 8U kids to learn stick-on-puck and how to angle and all those things that will progress you as a player at all levels.”
USA Hockey has an entire section of its website dedicated to competitive contact. Small area games along with small area drills, such as 1-on-1s and 2-on-2s, are a great way for players to be accustomed with competitive contact, angling and stick-on-puck defensive play.
Overall, MacMillan sees the rule changes as a way for coaches to develop along with their players.
“For all three pieces, hopefully it will encourage coaches to get out of their comfort zone and really look at new ways to do the job,” MacMillan said. “These three pieces you will see the good coaches really embrace and enhance how they coach as long as you look at it as a way to take our players to the next level.”