Eddie Olczyk knows how to score. The former NHLer and current NBC Sports Network analyst sat down with USA Hockey to offer advice for youth hockey coaches looking to spark their team’s offense and further develop skills.
USA Hockey: A youth hockey coach walks up to you and says, ‘Eddie, I can’t get my guys to score enough goals. What should I do?’ What do you tell them?
Eddie Olczyk: I think that’s the million-dollar question for a lot of coaches, and at every level. You talk about the highest level – you can talk about college, you can talk about the USHL, or you can talk about kids who are playing bantam or mite hockey – it’s hard to score goals. It’s hard to find goal-scorers, but there are ways that you’re able to generate more opportunities. It’s pretty academic – the more opportunities you get towards the net, there’s a higher percentage chance that you’re going to eventually put the puck in that back of the net. In saying that, I think there needs to be a mindset. I think there needs to be a philosophy that when we’re attacking or we’re cycling or whatever the offensive situation might be, that we’re going to do these things.
The biggest emphasis is making sure that the guys without the puck realize how important they are to the offensive part of the game, because everybody gets mesmerized by the puck – a lot of people ‘puck watch’ – instead of worrying about getting open or what have you. They sometimes don’t get into those positions. There’s only one puck on the ice in a game, and my belief is that everybody is so focused on the puck, but the guys without the puck are as important or even more important to the end result of a particular play or game.
USA Hockey: What are some tips or tricks a coach can communicate to a player to improve on the offensive side of the game?
Olczyk: I’m a big believer in repetition. I’m a big believer in kids getting opportunities to shoot pucks away from the rink, whether it’s in a shooting room or a basement or out on their driveway. I think if kids can develop their shot away from the rink, and work on it, it will become second nature for them on the ice.
Now, there are different drills you can do as a coach. It seems like a lot of players at all levels feel the need to stickhandle right before they shoot all the time. When you do that, it takes time to load and pull the puck back and get the puck towards the net. I would emphasize that players get the puck in a shooting position immediately, without stickhandling, so they could make a pass or shoot the puck, and break the habit of over-stickhandling. That’s one thing I see when I do camps over the summer. Once a kid gets the puck on his stick, he just wants to stickhandle. A lot of them, when they stickhandle, their heads are down. Their heads are buried in the ice and they can’t see what’s going on. For me, work on your shots as much as you can – all of your shots – not just slap shots. Work on your wrist shot, work on your snap shot, work on your backhand, so it becomes second nature in a game or in a practice.
Then, in practice, make the players to shoot without stickhandling, because it keeps the goaltender a little more honest when the puck is immediately in a shooting position.
One little note on this – something that helped me out a lot – what I used to do, I know sticks are much more expensive now than they were in the past, but any time I would have a stick that was on its last legs, I would cut the blade in half, and I would shoot pucks in my basement or in my garage with half a blade. When you watch where a lot of kids position the puck on the stick, a lot of them like to shoot from the middle of the stick to the toe, which should be the complete opposite. You get a lot more on it if you shoot from middle to heel, and shoot the puck there. Instead of just throwing the stick away, go ahead and cut the blade in half and then practice with that. Then all of a sudden in a game situation, the puck is just going to naturally go to that part of the stick, which is the best place to shoot the puck from. You’d be amazed, too, with the stickhandling and stuff, how much that helps you when you’re playing with a shorter blade when you’re shooting pucks or stickhandling or what have you.
USA Hockey: What would you recommend to a coach for trying to boost a player’s confidence when he or she is struggling offensively?
Olczyk: I think always positive reinforcement. If a player has done it before, you can certainly remind them of that. Is he or she getting scoring chances? The conversation for me would go in that situation, ‘You’ve done it before, you’re going to do it again.’ Has he or she been getting chances, has he or she been hitting the post? Are they not getting the chances? The conversation could go a lot of different ways.
When a player is known as a kid that can score or can create offensive chances, you have to simplify. It’s got to be straight ahead. He’s got to be shooting right for the middle of the net, because a lot of times, when kids start pressing or players start pressing, they start trying to be a little bit too fine and they start missing the net. You’re never going to score if you don’t hit the net, and sometimes you’re best off to shoot it as hard as you can right in the middle of the net. The goalie has holes in him, and if you get one, you’re going to get three or four. Again, it all depends on the situation. Is the player generating and creating offensive opportunities? The conversation can go in a lot of different directions. But I think the positive reinforcement would be the first thing out of my mouth for the player, regardless of what level it is.