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Same Game, New Approach at Coaching Symposium

By Harry Thompson - USA Hockey Magazine, 08/14/16, 4:45PM MDT


New generation of players requires new style of coaching

ST. LOUIS -- There was a time, perhaps not even that long ago, when hockey coaches thought they needed to weave a tapestry of profanity, typically produced at high decibels, to get their point across to players.

The days of the cantankerous coach have gone the way of the wooden stick and leather skates. Today's bench boss needs to tweak the tone, tenor and temperament of their message if they want it to resonate with today's players.

That message came through loud and clear throughout the four days of the National Hockey Coaches Symposium, which wrapped up Sunday.

"This is the 'selfie generation,' as I like to call it," San Diego Gulls Head Coach Dallas Eakins said during his talk on Leadership and Character. "You have to explain how and why something benefits the team and the individual.

"These days you can't make them do things. You have to inspire them to do things. You can't use punishment to get your point across. Punishment is a terrible motivator. The coaches I remember most are the ones who inspired me."

Or as high performance athletic expert Dr. Steven Norris said, "Say what you mean, mean what you say, and don't be mean when you say it."

That message helped to reinforce what Amherst, N.Y., youth hockey coach Andy Tokasz has been trying to do with his teams. He used to think he needed to raise his voice and his blood pressure to get his point across. He now knows there's a better way.

"I'm a different coach than I was four years ago. I try to be more positive when I'm communicating not only with my players but also with parents," said Tokasz, who coaches a Peewee team.

It's not only what you say it that counts. In today's world of smartphones and social media, the way you deliver that message can make all the difference.

As USA Hockey President Jim Smith pointed out, the attention span of today's player is super short, and coaches need to tailor their message to fit their player's ever-shrinking attention span.

"Everything happens at warp speed," Smith said. "You need to get your point across in eight seconds."

Few coaches know that better than Don Granato. For the past five years he worked with some of the most talented 16 and 17-year-old players in the country in his role as a head coach with the National Team Development Program. He learned that in order to reach them, he had to do so on their level.

"A couple years ago I went out and bought two or three books on Generation Z and the teenaged brain to figure out how I could become better as a coach," said Granato, who is now coaching with his brother, Tony, at the University of Wisconsin.

"We all need to be better. If we want to stay in this industry we all need to get better. I'm trying to get better every day."

Capturing and keeping a player's attention on the ice also requires a creative approach. One of the most effective ways to do that is through station-based practices, which keep players engaged rather than standing watching teammates run through a drill.

"From my perspective it's about efficiency," said Detroit Red Wings Head Coach Jeff Blashill.

"The one thing at the NHL level is that players don't want to waste any time. They'll do anything for you as long as you're not wasting their time. If you run slow practices where there's lots of standing around they don't see where they're benefitting from it. They have to believe that they're getting better, for you to get the maximum effort out of them."

Communication is a two-way street, especially with today's players. At the NTDP, coaches seek feedback from players so they know their message is getting through.

"We're always asking the players themselves, do you understand this? What did you like here?" Granato said. "I ask them for evaluations on me, believe it or not. I don't think a coach would've done that 20 years ago. I think a lot more coaches are doing that today."

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2022-23 ATO | WEEK 13

By USA Hockey Officiating 11/25/2022, 6:45am MST

QUESTIONA player received her second misconduct during a game and was assessed a game misconduct. The player had to skate in front of the opponent's bench to get to the rink exit, and as she did multiple players on the opponent's bench began banging the boards and cheering (essentially taunting her). A bench minor was assessed for unsportsmanlike like conduct to the cheering team. Was this an appropriate unsportsmanlike call?

ANSWER: This behavior by the non-penalized team should be penalized under Rule 601 for “taunting”. If the behavior is only committed by one player, then that player should be penalized. However, if the entire team engages in taunting behavior, and the team coaches make no effort to stop it, then a bench minor penalty would be correct.


QUESTION: During a game there is a scuffle following a check-from-behind into the boards. I reach the scuffle and notice Player A has his hand on the throat of Player B and is pushing him backwards towards the boards. I couldn't tell if he was squeezing the throat or not. What is the correct call? Would this just be a minor for roughing (or something else), or considered a match penalty for attempt to injure?

ANSWER: Considering the USA Hockey Playing Rules mandate a Major plus Game Misconduct for Grabbing the Face-mask, a Match penalty should be assessed to any player who grabs an opponent’s throat. What other rationale could apply to this situation other than the offending player is “attempting to injure” the opponent?


QUESTIONA puck was motionless in the high-slot and an attacking player was skating in from just past the center-line. I (as a goalie) came out to the puck and knocked it away. Just after knocking the puck away, that player and I collided and he fell down. We were moving about the same speed (not super fast). It was pure chest to chest contact. The referee told me that he would assess a penalty if I did that again. What is the USA Hockey's assessment of that interaction?

ANSWERIt's very difficult to answer this question without actually seeing the play. However, due to the fact that strict rules exist that limit player contact with the goalkeeper, it stands to reason that goalkeepers cannot make any reckless contact with players. In the situation you describe, the opposing forward did not have possession of the puck therefore they may not be checked.

However, if the contact was unavoidable, non-injury threatening and incidental from a clean battle for a 50/50 puck then the contact could be deemed “Body Contact” and not against the rules.


QUESTIONTeam A receives a minor plus misconduct, and Team B receives a minor during the same stoppage of play. Since the minors are coincidental, does the misconduct start as soon as the coincidental minors end? Or does it start after two minutes and a whistle?

ANSWER: In any case where a player is assessed a minor plus misconduct, they must serve the entire penalty time in the penalty bench and the misconduct would start immediately once the minor expires.


QUESTIONAttacking player in attacking zone bats the puck towards the net. The goalie decides to cover the puck and play is blown dead. Does this constitute as a “Hand Pass” situation? Do goaltenders count as player that can nullify “hand passes”? Where does the following face-off take place in the above situation?

ANSWERThis situation is not a Hand-Pass since a teammate never touched the puck. The USA Hockey Playing Rules allow a player to bat the puck with the hand, but it may not be played by a teammate immediately following. Since a teammate never touched the puck, there is no Hand-Pass violation.

The face-off would stay inside the attacking end-zone.


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Check out the USA Hockey mobile-friendly online rulebook application! Enter into your mobile device’s web browser to gain instant access to the USA Hockey Playing Rules (must have mobile or internet service).

The USA Hockey Playing Rules Casebook and other educational material can be found under the OFFICIALS tab at

New Season, New Rules for USA Hockey

By Greg Bates 09/24/2021, 11:45am MDT

USA Hockey board approved rule changes for 2021-22 this past June

Tips for how coaches can help their defensemen become more active.