Bob Emery’s credentials are impressive. Now in his 28th season at Plattsburgh State University, Emery has guided the Cardinals to two national titles, 17 NCAA tournament appearances and 15 conference championships.
What’s one element of Emery’s coaching strategy that has yielded such remarkable results and accomplishments? Small-area games. Emery told USA Hockey why they are such a gold mine for skill development.
USA Hockey: How often do you use small-area games in practice?
Emery: Every day. We use them a lot for conditioning. Depending on what day of the week it is, we either use three nets or two nets. If we’re working on conditioning, we’ll use it with three nets. Guys get more reps and less rest.
USA Hockey: What are the benefits beyond conditioning?
Emery: It improves all skills in hockey. The biggest skill it improves is passing and receiving passes. But it works on everything from skating to shooting and getting the puck off quick, because you don’t have as much time.
You get guys skating fast and shooting. Obviously they’re stickhandling as well.
It teaches guys that they have to move their feet all the time and protect the puck from the guy who’s trying to get the puck away from them. So it’s really good for conditioning. It’s good for creating passing lanes. Guys without the puck can find new lanes. And it’s really good at teaching defense. It teaches defensive zone sets and one-on-one work at all times.
USA Hockey: Why should youth coaches use these games in practice?
Emery: It teaches all aspects of skills. And you touch the puck a lot more in a small game than you would in a full-ice game.
USA Hockey: How did this become a staple of your practices?
Emery: We’ve actually been doing them for 20 years.
USA Hockey: What do you think younger players should know and be conscious of when playing small-area games?
Emery: They can’t stand still. They have to move their feet. Make passes going full speed and the guys without the puck need to create passing lanes so their teammate with the puck doesn’t have to pass through anyone’s body. They’ve got to be able to think ahead, because there’s not a lot of room to react.