At the end of the day, what do coaches and players really want? More goals. We all want to score more goals.
Goals aren’t only essential to team victory, they instill confidence in the players. They fuel a fun environment that keeps kids coming back to the rink.
When it comes to finding ways to score more, there are five main things to consider, according to former NHLer and current Minnesota Wild assistant coach Darby Hendrickson.
Tools to Improve
Give children the tools to work on their shot. Create an environment and opportunity for them to get reps and improve. With improvement comes confidence. Provide them an off-ice area to practice their shooting and encourage them to spend time outside of practice to refine their shooting skills.
“I think the first thing is the ability to shoot — just getting that good shot that you’re confident in,” Hendrickson said. “That helps guys take shots, shoot for volume and put pucks on net.”
Make it Quick
Beyond developing a confident shot, Hendrickson’s second point was to have a quick one. Goaltenders are getting better every day. Getting off a fast snap shot can help a shooter, and a play, stay unpredictable, never allowing the goaltender to get set. If the goalie’s not set, there’s a higher chance of him/her giving up a rebound as well.
Kids love to take slap shots, but reiterate that it’s wrist shots and snap shots that are putting the puck in the net at all levels, including the NHL. Force your players to shoot quickly in practice.
Players must get comfortable around the net. They must be comfortable being in a high-traffic area, ready for rebounds, deflecting shots and receiving passes.
“There’s a lot of parts to it where you have instincts — you’re around the net, you make a living around the net, you’re in the areas where you can be productive,” Hendrickson added.
Emphasize that the play is not over until the whistle is blown. Always be ready for the puck to squirt out or for a rebound and stay strong on your feet with a low center of gravity. Coaches can do exercises around the net, helping skaters get used to picking up loose pucks and burying them.
“There’s a number of pretty goals off the rush that are great and certainly those are fun goals to watch, but there’s so many goals where the second effort is key,” Hendrickson said. “I think an underrated skill is, when there are rebounds, you’re able to elevate, to get it up over the goalie. Goalies at every level get better and are able to make those great saves, but the ability to get the rebound upstairs is important.”
Change the Angle
Changing the shot angle keeps it unpredictable for the goaltender. Hendrickson advises practicing taking shots in stride and from different areas on the ice, which, again, won’t allow a goaltender to get set for a save.
Changing the angle can open new holes to the net and force the goaltender to move, sometimes out of position. Whether it’s a defenseman skating laterally on the blue line or a forward cutting in from the circles, the change can create scoring opportunities, especially if the current shooting lanes are obstructed. Use cones to simulate defensemen to force players to change angles and shoot quickly.
While these different tactics are key, it’s all about developing strong instincts. Certainly, being in the game and experiencing moments first hand will help create those instincts, but small-area games and skill-intensive practice plans can help simulate a game-like atmosphere.
Watching the pros is also a good place for young players to start.
“For a young player, it’s watching the elite guys and just seeing how opportunistic they are around the net — that’s how I watched when I was younger,” Hendrickson said. “I watched the guys who were elite, the guys who had the most success and I think for young kids, to keep an eye on those guys whether it be a Zach Parise or whoever it might be, that’s a great lesson.”
Develop that shot, stay unpredictable, be strong in front of the net and cultivate strong instincts. Goals will follow.
Many sports across the board have begun to see a decline in their number of officials. USA Hockey is no different, with numbers lagging slightly behind player growth.
With that in mind, USA Hockey has made a particularly concerted effort over the last couple of years to incentivize officials to stick around.
Not surprisingly that was the main topic discussed at the annual USA Hockey's Winter Meetings, according to National Referee-in-Chief Dave LaBuda.
“I'd say the overriding tone of the meeting was us talking about retention and trying to come up with ways in which to address that particular issue,” LaBuda said. “It's a very complex situation. There are a number of different factors that go into why an official decides not to stay registered. We can only address a certain number of those factors and the rest we have to hope fix themselves in some way.”
In an effort to be proactive, USA Hockey has implemented sweeping change in the registration process for existing officials.
It started by revamping the registration fees, and while some of the other minutiae is rather hard to digest, the most notable change is the reduction of registration requirements for officials that reach the Level 3 or Level 4 status.
As soon as an official has obtained Level 3 or Level 4 status for three consecutive years, they will become eligible to apply for tenured status. In order to attain that tenured status, officials must also attend what USA Hockey is calling an advanced officiating symposium.
“It's designed to encourage people to continue their level of registration and to advance to a higher level of registration,” LaBuda said. “Just getting them to climb that ladder and try to attain the highest level of registration will make them better officials, and in turn, improve the game.”
Essentially, USA Hockey wants to send a message to its officials, making it clear that their time is important to the organization.
“We understand that people's time nowadays is becoming tighter and tighter,” LaBuda said. “We wanted to make sure that we made the entire process as efficient as possible from a time standpoint.”
It seems to be working so far as USA Hockey has been able to stabilize its registration numbers over the last few years, according to LaBuda.
“We are starting to see some movement in that retention area,” LaBuda said. “It seems like every sport is experiencing a critical loss of officials to work their sport. We are hoping that these changes in the registration process will help us retain more officials down the road. It’s been a positive step in the right direction so far.”