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Creating More Offence in Front of the Net

By Dan Pollard, 10/08/19, 2:00PM EDT


Benefits of using game-like situations in practice

Photo Credit: Mark Cannons Photography

Every goal counts the same on the scoreboard. When the puck finds its way into the back of the net, there’s no reason not to celebrate. Coaches and players are always looking for the most efficient ways to score, and working on the most effective methods in practice can help lead to more success on the ice.

As the game becomes faster with a focus on speed and transition, being able to set up offensively ahead of the defence can put your players at an advantage. There is one sweet spot in minor hockey where shooters seem to have more luck.

“At the end of the day I think goals are scored really close to the net. Being able to find ways to get there and create chances from as close as possible is probably going to give you the highest rate of success to score,” said Dave Manning, head coach at St. Andrews College in Aurora. “I think that maybe over the years the methods of getting to those areas have changed a little bit for the most part if you look at the percentages, most goals are going to happen pretty close to the net.”

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Manning estimates that almost 80% of goals are going to happen between within six feet of the net. The opportunity to screen the goalie or pounce on a rebound to bury a loose puck helps contribute to that number.

“Goalies are bigger, they’re quicker, they cover the low parts of net. On an uncontested shot, you’re probably looking at high parts of the net. When you’re looking at second chances and rebounds and being in tight, I think you’re just looking for opening, whether it’s trying to beat goalies at the post and trying to find holes under arms and things like that. I think focusing on one area is probably not the best approach, you’ve got to be looking to score in a whole lot of different ways.”

It is a coach’s role to translate techniques and skills into teachable lessons for your players. The difference between the two is how you take a technique and turn it into a skill. For example, a technique may be protecting the puck or being deceptive. How a player uses those concepts on the ice makes it a skill. This is where players can use their creativity and hockey smarts to make the right play.

In his practices, Manning prefers to use game-like situations but adds constraints to bring out skill development. Small area games and odd-man drills changes the comfort level and forces his players to make decisions.

“The kids are competitive. They want to do well. The learning is built into what we are doing. Sometimes they don’t even realize they are building those habits or using those skills. That’s the first thing I ask myself at the end of practice every day. Did the kids enjoy themselves today? That’s the number one question. I want the answer to be Yes.”

Manning works with older players at St. Andrews College and dedicates almost three quarters of his practice time to these situations. With more back and forth transition action, players can learn about supporting their teammates. Younger players have an easier time carrying the puck up ice. As they grow older, they will need to learn how to use support as well as how to be the support as less space will be available.

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Dan Pollard is the host of Breakaway, The Minor Hockey Podcast. His passion for hockey led him to volunteer as a coach and administrator while his professional career has allowed him to cover the game at various levels with CBC, Sportsnet, the NHL Network and TSN. You can currently hear Dan every morning on 105.5 Hits FM in Uxbridge.

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