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Do Systems Rob from Skill Development?

Do Systems Rob from Skill Development?

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I was watching a conversation take place in my Facebook feed a few weeks ago. The topic centered around whether Mites should be taught “systems hockey.”

It all started with a coach who posted that every coach in the USA needs to get on board with the ADM:


So people began going back and forth on this a bit, some coaches expressing their opinions more politely than others. Then one coach said something to the effect that ADM is garbage, and that the kids don’t learn systems under ADM. 

His comment garnered a reply from this coach:


Notice he says “positioning is a garbage concept” and that “skills dominate today’s game.” These two coaches went back and forth a bit more, until the first made the statement that ADM would eventually “kill USA Hockey.” To which the second coach replied as follows:


“Get on board or get passed by…”

Then a few other coaches threw in their 2 cents worth:



“Systems inhibit development of decision making and hockey sense…?!”

At this point, I figured it was time to address the topic, and show the results of my approach in action. So, I put together the video above. 

The Stakes are High

The reason I feel so strongly about this topic is that the stakes are extremely high. If we get this right, our kids will be miles ahead of their peers. Get it wrong and it’s a big setback. 

I believe that if we structure our development properly, Systems vs Skill Development doesn’t have to be an “either/or” proposition. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: skills can be developed BETTER when you’re teaching systems too; and systems can be progressed FASTER with better skill development. 

What Takes More Skill, Dump & Chase or Systems Hockey?

Next time you have a chance, go down to the rink and watch a Mite game. My guess is that you’ll see a bunch of kids, slapping the puck around and chasing it. If they’re going cross-ice 4 on 4 (like ADM recommends), wherever the puck goes, you’ll see 8 kids clustered around it, battling like piranhas in a feeding frenzy. Eventually the fastest kid will come up with the puck, take it all the way down the ice, and score. 

So here’s the question: Does it take more individual skill to slap the puck and chase it, or to set up a breakout, carry the puck behind the net, find a teammate on the boards, make a stick to stick pass, carry the puck wide, then pass to the middle for a goal?

Obviously, the controlled game takes more skill. It also takes more effort as a coach. But it is so much more beneficial to your players!


As you’ll see in the video above, I teach basic positioning to my Mite house team, and it works beautifully. Not only are they the team with the best positioning, but they’re also the highest skilled, across the board, of any team we’ve come up against. 

If it can be done at the house level, it can be done even better with higher-level players!

Hanging a Forechecker on the Net While Initiating a Breakout

vlcsnap-2015-04-22-10h04m07s145Initiating a breakout is one of those situations that happens multiple times every singe game. It’s important to “arm” our defensemen with the tools they’ll need to be successful in these recurring patterns.

One such tool is the tactic of hanging the forechecker up on the net, as shown in the clip above. This tactic involves two steps:

  1. “Baiting” the forechecker into thinking he’s got a chance at catching you
  2. Cutting tight behind the net, at an angle that makes it so he can’t stay with you

When used properly, this will open up time and space, and make the other team have to make decisions––which is what we’re all about. As the defenseman skated up ice, other players will have to leave their coverage to pick him up. Then it becomes a numbers game; the idea is to draw players to you, then beat them with a pass. This turns a 5 on 5 into a 5 on 4, then into a 4 on 3, and so on until you’ve got an odd-man scoring attempt.


Key Points for a Well-Executed 1 on 1

How to Play a 1 on 1 Properly

1 on 1My dad used to say you don’t have to be a great player to be a great defenseman. What he meant by that is that you don’t have to be the fastest, the most technically sound, and you don’t have to have the hardest shot. Being an excellent defenseman means being a SMART player.

Excellent defensive play is more about making the right pass, shot selection, managing gap, body positioning, controlling the front of the net, reading forechecking pressure, etc. These are all mental skills, and these are the skills that make for a great defenseman!

In this video, we see a well-executed 1 on 1 by a Russian defenseman. The key points shown in this example are as follows:

  1. Properly managed gap; two stick lengths as they cross the blue line.
  2. Good upper body posture; arms loose, but compact. Hands at the hips.
  3. Poke check, not swipe check; you can poke check and miss all day long, and still maintain proper body positioning.
  4. Re-closing the gap; after the Swiss player turns back, the Russian defenseman re-closes the gap to maintain proper positioning in case of a re-entry.


Head on a Swivel!

Head on a Swivel!

headonswivelI love watching the World Junior Championships each year. It’s a chance to see a bunch of talented, young, “up-and-comers” playing some high-quality hockey, in a fun and exciting atmosphere.

The nature of the games, and of the tournament in general, lends itself to a great study of the game. The players are smaller than in the NHL, there’s a bigger gap between the top and bottom teams, and the games are more of a finesse style of play. Which means, lots of scoring, especially in the early rounds, and lots of well-executed systems play.

Even at the highest levels of play, you still see mistakes made. And games are won and lost based in the DETAILS. In this video, we see what happens when a defenseman fails to have his head on a swivel. On-ice awareness is essential at ANY level of play, but especially at the highest levels of play. If a player doesn’t know what’s going on around him, a good team will take advantage of that and the puck will be in the back of his net before he knows what hit him!


Sagging Zone Coverage – Clarification

Sagging Zone Coverage – Clarification

It’s no secret that Sagging Zone Coverage is one of my favorite Defensive Zone Coverage setups. Recently, a few questions have surfaced regarding the Centerman’s role in the coverage.

sz_clarificationIn this video, we address the role of the centerman as the “3rd defenseman,” and how he or she should play the position effectively. If you haven’t watched our other videos on the Sagging Zone Coverage, take a look here:

1. D-Zone Coverage: “Sagging” Zone
2. Sagging Zone Coverage: In Action


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