Of all the accolades and championships the Strongsville Youth Hockey Club has amassed over the years, the recent designation as a USA Hockey Model Association stands out.
“The reaction of the board members was we were elated,” said Tim Sullivan, the Ohio association’s hockey director. “Almost two years of hard work was put into it.”
The designation is the result of Strongsville’s commitment to implement USA Hockey’s American Development Model throughout the mite, squirt and peewee age classifications.
To help the association embrace the ADM’s age-appropriate guidelines, Strongsville received, among other things, equipment, signage and educational resources from USA Hockey as well as in-person coaches training, on-ice instruction and parent education from USA Hockey’s national staff.
“We took all the specs that USA Hockey recommended,” Sullivan said. “If we believed that this [the ADM] was going to make our hockey players better, we were going to jump in feet first.
“The coaches and parents went with it. Now we’re one of 17 associations in the country that are model associations, and we can hang our hat on that.”
This season, Strongsville features a large stable of teams, ranging from Colts (one mini-mite team) and five junior Mustang teams to three squirt, three peewee and two bantam teams. At each age level, Strongsville also offers an ADM skills session that’s open to any player in the age level.
“[Membership] has increased, and obviously it starts with our ADM program,” Sullivan said. “I would say that the way USA Hockey has presented it and the way the ADM program has been set up, it has intrigued more people to join.”
Strongsville first embraced the ADM prior to the 2011-12 season. While some parents and coaches were initially skeptical, Sullivan said the players were mostly right on board from the start.
“I don’t think the players had any difference of opinion,” he said. “It did take some time to get parents and coaches on board. But once they saw the benefits of cross-ice games and stations, they saw the overall benefits.
“We stuck to it and have seen the benefits. It’s a very promising program.”
The most promising aspect of the ADM, Sullivan said, has been the small-area games and station-based drills.
“We’re able to get kids on the ice more and be more effective,” he said. “With skating, passing and shooting, in a traditional practice, if we did around the circle a player might take one shot in 10 minutes.
“In stations practices, kids get three times the amount of touches that they would in a traditional practice.”
The increased touches are especially important on the youngest levels, where the association strives to keep the kids engaged and having fun while also developing their skills. Those goals are not mutually exclusive.
“What we do with the Colts is we get athletes out there that are interested in playing and we play half-ice games,” Sullivan said. “It’s a station-based program. We match them up with our learn-to-play teams. Then, we’ll break into separate stations.
“We’ve had a lot of athletes who’ve seen that program going on and we see them grow into the next level. It’s a prelude to what hockey is about without getting exposed to playing other teams.”
Strongsville coaches and board members also expose their kids to more subjective elements of hockey — elements other than scoring goals, such as fun, excitement and achievement.
“At the end of the day, we want kids to come back to the rink,” Sullivan said. “They only want to do things that are fun. That’s a major cornerstone of the organization — development, fun and achievement.
“If you have fun and also development, the child will become a better hockey player. But, again, at the end of the day if they’re not having fun they won’t come back, and that’s doing a disservice to our game.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
In any game, from 12U to pros to adult hockey, a single turnover can change the complexity of the competition, especially in crunch time. Make a poor pass at neutral ice, lose focus on a line change, get outworked on the forecheck or backcheck, and quite often the end result will be the puck in the back of your own net.
Simply put, a key for any team that wants to be successful is to be on the “right” side of the puck possession battle – to avoid losing the puck and excel at stealing it. It only makes sense that if you possess the puck more than your opponent, your chances of winning will increase. According to former NHLer Lance Pitlick, creating turnovers and regaining puck possession is a skill and one that can be learned, regardless of your age or stage of your hockey-playing career.
“If you don’t have the puck, you can’t score,” said Pitlick, who played 12 seasons in professional hockey, including time with the Ottawa Senators and Florida Panthers. “A point I try to drive home to players is that we want to get out of the defensive zone as quickly as possible because those are hard minutes. Let’s get into the offensive zone, where the minutes are easier. Once you create those turnovers and spend more time with the puck on offense, it’s a better return on your (physical) investment.”
Pitlick is currently an off-ice stickhandling, shooting and puck possession guru, who has worked with over 1,000 players of all ages and skill sets, through two websites – onlinehockeytraining.com and sweethockeycoach.com. His web-based programs provide a step-by-step teaching model, with a library of video drills organized into instructional modules that can be accessed on any digital device.
Pitlick offers the following tips for adult players to get better at creating turnovers and regaining the puck as quickly as possible:
Take away time and space – For a less experienced player, an easy first approach is to try to take away time and space on the ice. Work on trying to get to the player with the puck as quickly as you can, forcing them to make decisions a lot sooner than they want to. This may make them bobble the puck and hopefully create a turnover.
Practice the tenacious forecheck – It’s not always the most talented team that comes out on top, it’s the team that outworks the other one. The forecheck is where most turnovers take place, either in the offensive zone or when there’s a rink-wide pass. It’s about gaining quick proximity to the puck and winning battles, especially along the boards. If you get close enough to a player with the puck, try to lift his/her stick with your stick, steal the puck and skate away as fast as possible.
Keep your stick on the ice – You always want your stick blade in what you think is the passing lane, so your opponent has to pass over or around it. If you have good angles and anticipation and keep your stick down, there’s a good chance you’ll disrupt things.
Come back to the house – When your opponents have possession, regardless of what they’re doing on the exterior, you know that eventually they’ll be coming to the net. So, tighten everything there, make sure they have to skate, pass or shoot through bodies to get a good scoring chance. It’s important on defense to “gap up” so it’s tougher to enter the offensive zone and possess the puck.