Want to create smart, skilled players in all aspects of the game? Encourage your kids to play multiple positions, said Harvard University women’s hockey assistant coach Lee-J Mirasolo.
A former Boston College standout player and Wakefield, Mass., native, Mirasolo was an assistant coach at Princeton University for four years prior to joining Harvard. She has coached defensemen, forwards and the penalty kill in her career, along with handling recruiting responsibilities. Finding players who can make an impact all over the ice has become one of her priorities.
USA Hockey caught up with Mirasolo to talk about building versatile players and why development is more valuable than victories in youth hockey.
USA Hockey: When should coaches start implementing versatility training with players?
Lee-J Mirasolo: From the get-go. With something as simple as teaching players how to skate, it’s really beneficial to teach both forward skating and backward skating. They’re two similar skill sets, but different, that are really important in order to be able to play both forward and defense.
USA Hockey: How should coaches balance players who excel at one position with teaching them how to play different positions?
Mirasolo: At practice, especially with the USA Hockey’s American Development Model, it allows them work on the different skills and that’s really important. Even though they are excelling in one position, working on the skills of the other positions – because there are definite differences in forward skills and defense skills – is a really good way for those players to develop in both ways. I think this lends itself later to being able to know the game at a different level, and understanding what defensemen are going to see when you’re playing forward and vice versa.
USA Hockey: Should coaches be rotating players through different positions in games?
Mirasolo: I think it’s good to rotate through. It’s beneficial for individual players, and the advantage for players later down the road, as they continue to play and progress, is huge. The upside is huge.
Certainly there are coaches who are doing an unbelievable job at developing their players on an individual level and as teammates, but I do think there is way too much emphasis on winning and losing at the youth level. And I think it’s at the cost of development for these individual players. Of course competition is something that should be taught, but that’s only secondary to teaching these young players different skill sets and being good teammates.
USA Hockey: How can coaches explain to their youth players that they should focus on developing their skills more than winning games?
Mirasolo: I’m really process-driven, and I think that’s the way to go. If we’re all results-driven, you have to ask, ‘at what cost?’ Teaching those lessons – and I realize that at our (college) level there are certainly no moral victories – but if you look at it as process-driven, I think that is a great way to teach young players, and older players, that ‘hey, we may have not won the game today, but look at all these really great things we did in this area of the game.’ You can build on that.
USA Hockey: What are the best ways for coaches to implement versatility training at practice?
Mirasolo: I think instead of saying ‘Ds over here, forwards over here,’ I think saying ‘everybody is playing everything,’ is a really easy way to implement and promote versatility with individual players. That’s a really simple way to do it. (Editor’s note: small-area games are great for this.)
USA Hockey: Is there one skill coaches at higher levels are looking for?
Mirasolo: Myself specifically, I look for skating. It’s the first thing I notice. When you find a player who can play both forward and defense, there is definitely more of an appeal factor to that player as you go through recruiting. At our level, we are riddled with injuries, and I think that’s true for a lot of different programs and teams. You never really know who is going to go down and where, so if you have a player on your team who can play both forward and defense, and has experience with both, I think they see the game in a different way and understand the game in a different way, and that makes them more appealing as a player and potential recruit.
QUESTION: In a game with two referees, during a stoppage both teams accidentally send six skaters out during the line change (both teams have their goalkeeper in). The ref dropping the puck does not notice both teams have too many players on the ice and drops the puck. The attacking team scores after the face-off and the goal stands. Is this the correct call?
ANSWER: A team cannot score a legal goal while having too many players on the ice. However, since it is the responsibility of the officials to ensure the proper number of players are on the ice prior to dropping the puck, the team with the extra players should not be penalized.
QUESTION: I’m allowed to have 18 skaters dress for a game, but can I have alternates that are allowed to practice and not play in games? My team is the lowest available level in our program for our age. I have two players that are on the bubble and would like them to continue to develop as an alternate on top of my 18 skaters and 1 goalie. Is this allowed?
ANSWER: The Ask the Official forum is dedicated to the Playing Rules of USA Hockey, which do not govern practices. Please submit your question to your local hockey association, USAH Affiliate Body, or District Registrar for an answer to this question. Contact information can be found in the USA Hockey Annual Guide.
QUESTION: After the whistle a player takes 4 - 6 strides towards an opponent, launching himself at him in a violent fashion but not making contact due to the opponent moving out of the way. What penalty would/should be called if any? Charging is not an option based on the wording of contact having to be made. Would Attempt to Injure be a valid in the situation?
ANSWER: Contact must be made to assess a player a penalty for Charging. However, if the game officials determine that the player was deliberately attempting to injure the opponent, then a Match penalty could be assessed.
QUESTION: When is the puck considered tied up and the whistle should be blown stopping play. Does it have to be covered up or can he have it frozen between his arm and chest.
ANSWER: Play should be stopped when the officials determine that the goalkeeper has possession and control of the puck.
QUESTION: Should players ineligible for the game be crossed off the scoresheet at the conclusion of the game?
ANSWER: The game-sheet team rosters should list all players who were present, dressed and eligible to participate in the game. All missing, sick or injured players should be removed the team roster after the game concludes.
The USA Hockey Playing Rules are now available as a mobile device app! Check your Apple, Android, or Windows app store to download this playing rule app free of charge.
Check out the USA Hockey mobile-friendly online rulebook application! Enter usahockeyrulebook.com 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 USAHockey.com.