Games vs. Practice

There’s a few different ways of looking at this topic and I’d like to focus on two of them.  First up:


Time on the ice


There is no question that any hockey player at any level of the game is going to get more time on the ice during practice then they are during a game.  If anyone questions that think of this:


During practice – the entire team is on the ice the majority of the time and engaged in some type of drill the majority of the time.


During a game – A max of 5 skaters are on the ice at any given time.  Consider a team with 3 to 4 lines and it’s a pretty easy equation to determine that there is less time on the ice in games.  Let’s not even consider the coach aspect (1st, 2nd, 3rd lines) of this equation at this point.


With that fact out of the way, now consider the differences in coaching styles.  This is a huge factor in what happens during a practice.  A coach that is utilizing his ice time its max is prepared with a good practice plan that involves every player in drills without much standing around.  Fast paced, high tempo practices with skill work intermingled.  Have a coach that comes prepared in this manner ratchets this up another notch – now not only are you getting more time on the ice during practice, but you are also becoming a better player at the same time – not just another kid that is in shape and can go hard during their shift.


So with that said, it definitely makes sense to keep practices at a ratio relative to games that produces high quality, highly skilled hockey players.  It can’t be all about number of games and tournaments you play.  If you want improvement – there is a balance between games and practices that is essential.  Something to look for when you decide what team to hitch your wagon to for the upcoming season.


The Next way to look at this topic:


What you do with that time on the ice


How many times have you gone to your son or daughter’s practice and noticed a consistent lack of effort by one or more members of the team?  Have you ever heard your son or daughter tell you that they don’t like doing drills with this player or that player because they can’t pass or can’t skate or don’t try hard?


The fact is that you won’t get 110% effort from every player in every practice.  But on average you expect to get 110% effort as a coach.  That’s the way you prepare drills and the expectation you want to set on the ice with your team.  The effort given by the players is in many ways tied to these expectations, but is also a product of preparation by the coaching staff.  Good drills, high tempo drills, organized practices, flow drills – all these things set the tone for the players during practice and must be there if you have the expectation of getting 110% from your players in practice.


The other side of this is the players themselves.  They must be willing to give 110% on the ice during practice.  There’s an old saying that I’m sure everyone has heard:


“Practice makes Perfect”


I completely disagree with this statement when it comes to hockey – and for that matter any sport.  Practice doesn’t make perfect.  Here’s a version of this statement that I heard many years ago:


“Practice makes permanent”


Now that makes more sense.  I can practice a skill for hours, days, weeks, months and years and get very good at it.  However, if I’m not practicing it properly I’ve developed bad habits and potentially restricted the skill level I might have attained had I done it properly to begin with.  This is where quality coaching plays a big part.  But let’s turn that around to the player – If I practice at 75%, what am I going to do during a game?  If I don’t backcheck at 110% during practice, what happens when I’m tired at the end of a game and there’s a turnover in my offensive zone?  I haven’t practiced backchecking and because I’m tired instinct takes over and I simply give my 75% effort to get back and play some D.


Most players I’ve encountered that don’t give 110% in practice will tell you; “I can turn it on in games” or “I’ll have more jump when it matters”.  And my response to these players has always been the same:


“Practice makes permanent”


See you at the rink.



Filed under AAA hockey, High School Hockey, House Hockey, Tier II - A & AA Hockey, Travel Hockey

Then there’s Travel Responses:

I wanted to represent some of the responses that have come across the Mlive forum since the last round of the travel debate has raged on.


Some were succinct:  “This *is* travel hockey after all.” And others were a little more involved.  Here’s a couple straight from the mlive forums:

89704.4.2. Thats makes as much sense

by PhilDCooler, 8/5/08 9:02 ET


. . . I understand that it is travel hockey but in the strict sense of the word but so are the house leagues now. There are very few true house programs any more. Almost everyone travels.


Travel hockey does not need to mean that I have to drive my son to Grand Rapids for a league game. I understand that those on the west side want to play in the league [snip] . . . but there needs to be a separate division. [snip] . . . we’ll see them in the playoffs.

And another response:

89704.5.1.1. No perfect system….

by killjoi, 8/5/08 9:12 ET


. . . Maybe one solution is to limit one outstate team to each division to limit the trips, but again one could argue how is that fair if a west side team has to come over to the Metro area two or more times per month. [snip] . . . . the bottom line is enter the league, pick your preference (competitive or geographic)and then accept the results. There is no doubt that there will be unhappy people, but this isn’t and will never be 100% perfect for 100% of the teams.

And finally a response that surprised even this blogger. This was posted on the Mlive youth forums on August 6, 2008.  I would not call this representative of other’s views toward the LCAHL (Little Caesars Amateur Hockey League).

89773. Thing is the…..

by BigArn2, 8/6/08 9:17 ET

SE Michigan teams don’t NEED to drive great distances to get games with good competitive teams. [snip] . . . The need of the out state teams in not the problem of the SE Michigan teams. It isn’t the SE Michigan teams’ responsibility to play games with the out state teams or to travel to their locations for games. The “that isn’t fair to those teams” arguement is stupid. It is the SE Michigan teams responsibility to set up games so that they have the best competition for their teams [snip] . . . If we decide to travel to GR, TC, Kazoo, Midland, Bay City, Saginaw to play fine, we’ve made that decision as a team. We shouldn’t be forced to travel to those locations, any more than they should be forced to travel here. The problem is that LCAHL has forgotten that they exist at our pleasure. They have adopted the mentality that they are the be all and end all for youth hockey, they aren’t. Heck we don’t need a league to play in, we can schedule scrimmages games all year. Our team is a member of an association that gets to send a representative to districts. That is more important than the LCAHL.

We are all entitled to our own opinions for sure, but my feeling is that the LCAHL has done a tremendous job in promoting youth hockey in Michigan using *volunteers* to get that job done.  Suggesting that “youth hockey” turn their back on this league is a mistake that could be very costly to the state of youth hockey in Michigan.


I would also state that the vast majority of youth hockey players that I have coached, managed and spoken to would much rather play in a league where their perception is that the games “mean” something rather than being an independent team playing nothing but scrimmage games.


Finally, as is mentioned in this response – we all have choices – who to play for, who to play with, what team to play on , what association to be a part of, what league we play in, what level to play, and how far we want to travel.  We should all simply exercise our option to choose and this argument is dead in the water.


Showcase idea


An idea that hasn’t received a bunch of airplay on the mlive forums is the concept of showcase weekends.


Other leagues are doing this to alleviate some travel concerns – albeit farther than any LCAHL team is traveling – how about a Grand Rapids area team having to go to Nashville for 2 league games?  Yikes!  But hey, Nashville is a cool city.


Could kill many birds with one stone with the showcase approach.  At the Bantam and Midget levels – could use it as an opportunity to bring in some junior and college scouts.  At the other levels – the league could send some representatives to assess the level of play – competitiveness of the games etc.  Not to mention the obvious advantage of playing 4 to 5 league games over the course of a weekend.  If setup properly, in a division with 11 teams (20 league games total) you could satisfy the 10 home games with a couple of weekend showcase events.


The co-op option


Another option to address these concerns is to actually work together to come up with some solutions.  I’ve done this in the past – working with other local teams to coordinate ice times and dates to allow a couple of teams to make the trip and get 4 games out of the weekend.  It’s good hockey, it’s making the most out of the trip and it builds good working relationships between teams.


The argument to many of these comes from the viewpoint of the coach not wanting to pack that many league games into one weekend.  I can understand that viewpoint – injuries, conflicting schedules etc could have a significant impact on a weekend full of league games.  But the bottom line is there is not perfect system and you either manage the travel or come up with a solution that limits travel without limiting the league.


The original statement was made:


“I believe that is 1/2 the reason the sport of hockey is on the decline.”


I’m assuming that this statement was specifically about the decline within the state of Michigan.  If this is truly the case – that the “excessive” travel is causing a decline in the number of participants in youth hockey – what do you think it would do if there were suddenly geographic boundaries for the LCAHL?  So in other words, no team outside of said boundary can participate unless they are willing to have all their home games schedule within the boundaries.  I’m guessing that would have a fairly negative impact on the number of participants as well.


There is a common ground here.  We all just have to work to find it and not let the zealots at either end of the argument rule the day.


See you at the rink.

Leave a comment

Filed under AAA hockey, General Posts, Tier II - A & AA Hockey, Travel Hockey

There’s Travel and Then There’s Travel

The debate rages on at a minimum once every week.  How much travel should a travel team actually do?  Here’s a comment from the Mlive Youth Hockey forum – the latest round of this debate:


89704. Here is my thought on this.

I do undestand that it is ” travel Hockey ” but why should our team drive from the Detroit area up to Traverse City, Muskegon, Grand Rapids, K-Zoo etc. ? Why not make a 100-150 mile rule from Detroit, since 90% of the lchl teams are within 45 mins from Detroit. If you don’t live with in those boundries , you have to drive to within 150 from Detroit for your home games. It is too much to ask of people to drive 500 miles round trip on a weekend and spend $600 for a weekend of hockey up north for league games when we could drive 45 minutes and get a 100 game season. Traverse City can play in the nihl, so them and Muskegon would really be the only 2 teams that would have to meet the 150 mile rule. With the cost of gas and rising hotel prices it just gets to be too much on the parents and kids. I believe that is 1/2 the reason the sport of hockey is on the decline.

by slapshotlow, 8/4/08 23:29 ET


Interesting how when making an argument the cost always seems to be the determining factor, however spending $500 on skates, $300 to $400 on a set of matching composite sticks, $100 on gloves, and another $200 to $300 on elbow, shoulder, shin pads and pants doesn’t seem to bother anyone.  It seems the folks that complain the most about this are the same ones who outfit their kids in the latest Nike/Bauer has to offer.  How many pairs of Bauer XXXX skates did you see on the ice this past year?  The first year those skates were available at $549 a pair!


Let’s look at the facts:


From downtown Grand Rapids (Amway Hotel) to downtown Detroit (JLA) is 157 miles according to google maps.  Making for a 314 mile round trip.  Let’s round up and say you made a couple of stops on the way – 325 miles at $3.80 per gallon in a car that gets 25 miles per gallon.  That means you’ll need 13 gallons of gas.  This equals $49.40 for gas for this trip.


Let’s throw in a few meals.  Let’s call it two breakfasts, two lunches and one dinner.  Breakfast let’s average $20 for 3 people, times 2 equals $40.  Lunch is maybe a bit more – say $25 for 3 people, times 2 equals $50.  And a good team dinner at a decent sit down place with a couple of beers and a nice cosmopolitan for Mom – $60.  We now have $150 total for food.


Hotel costs can vary, but on average in my experience you can get a nice hotel room for $125 per night.


Let’s even throw in some incidentals at $30 for the weekend.


Total cost:  $49.40 + $150 + $125 + $30 = $354.40.  Only $245.60 short of the $600 cost claimed above.


This does not account for carpooling, room sharing or even eating inexpensively while on the road – maybe even taking snacks and drinks with you on the trip.  You can easily conceive of cutting that $54.40 off that bill to make two trips for the $600 claimed above.  And if you are really good, you could potentially cut that down to $200 per trip cut the gas in half ($24.70), cut the food bill in half ($75), cut the hotel in half ($62.50) and incidentals in half ($15) and now you’re down to $177.20.


The real opportunity is not to limit the travel due to the cost, but rather to get creative in how we accomplish that travel.  Carpooling is a great way to do this, but normally you see 18 different SUV’s pulling into the hotel parking lot for a weekend hockey trip.  Why?  Taking snacks, eating inexpensively – bring a loaf of bread and peanut butter, bunking with other players – these are all great ways to lower the travel costs.  It takes planning and some sacrifice to pull this off, but it is absolutely possible.


And finally, the kids love to travel with their teammates – not to mention the quality time you get to spend with your son/daughter.  I don’t know about others, but some of the best conversations I’ve had with my son have been on our hockey road trips.  There is no price you can put on that time together.


See you at the rink.


Filed under AAA hockey, Tier II - A & AA Hockey, Travel Hockey

Great Hockey Quotes

Here are some great hockey quotes: Some inspiring, some funny and some that make you say, huh?  Enjoy!


”A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” –Wayne Gretzky


”Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking your potential.” – Liane Carlos


”Goaltending is a normal job, sure. How would you like it in your job if every time you made a small mistake, a red light went on over your desk and 15,000 people stood up and yelled at you.” – Jacques Plante


”It takes brains. It’s not like a forward, where you can get away with scoring and not play defense. On defense you have to be thinking.” – Chris Chelios


”It’s not necessarily the amount of time you spend at practice that counts; it’s what you put into the practice.” – Eric Lindros


”It’s too easy when you’re not winning to look for excuses and point at others for reasons. ”You can say “Oh well, it’s this guys fault or they don’t do this well” or you can say “I’ve got to play better and contribute more”. You’ve got to find another gear and come up with big games.” – Sean Burke


”People talk about skating, puck handling and shooting, but the whole sport is angles and caroms, forgetting the straight direction the puck is going, calculating where it will be directed, factoring in all the interruptions. Basically, my whole game is angles.” – Wayne Gretzky


”The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary.” – Vidal Sassoon


”The will to win is important, but the will to prepare is vital.” – Joe Paterno


”What a player does best, he should practice least. Practice is for problems.” – Duke Snider


”The five S’s of sports training are: stamina, speed, strength, skill and spirit, but the greatest of these is spirit.” – Ken Doherty


”When I look at the net I don’t see a goalie.” – Pavel Bure


”You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” – Wayne Gretzky


”Call them pros, call them mercenaries — but in fact they are just grown-up kids who have learned on the frozen creek or flooded corner lot that hockey is the greatest thrill of all. – Lester Patrick


”I don’t like my hockey sticks touching other sticks, and I don’t like them crossing one another, and I kind of have them hidden in the corner. I put baby powder on the ends. I think it’s essentially a matter of taking care of what takes care of you” – Wayne Gretzky


”If you train hard, you’ll not only be hard, you’ll be hard to beat.” – Herschel Walker


”Playing goal is like being shot at.” – Jacques Plante


”Some guys play hockey. Gretzky plays 40mph chess.” – Lowell Cohn


See you at the rink.

Leave a comment

Filed under General Posts

Skill Development – What works?

I’ve been involved with youth hockey for many years now as a parent, and coach.  I’ve also played this game for many years.  I’ve seen many approaches to developing hockey skills and heard about many others – from summer camps, to training videos, game video analysis (chalk talk), to drop in and summer leagues.  Their all good places to hone hockey skills, but which one to choose?


The fact is that each person is a little different – they learn at different rates, have different levels of commitment to the game and training and respond differently to specific methods of learning hockey skills.  Some combination of them is probably your best bet, but here is what I have learned over the years.


There are some fantastic hockey camps, but remember that one week at a camp must be followed up with weekly repetitive work on the skills learned to build the muscle memory.  Most camps will provide some type of feedback to the player to provide focus for continued training.


There are also camps that meet once or twice per week over an extended period of time.  This also requires some work in between camp ice time to build the same muscle memory.


Another great place to go is and navigate to the USNTDP portion of the site.  There you will find some training videos that I have found to be invaluable for skill development.


Years ago our son wanted to attend a hockey camp over the summer and we obliged.  He attended several camps – skating camps, stick handling camps, game strategy camps.  All were excellent and contributed significantly to his skill development, however it was one video from the USNTDP that made a huge difference for him.  It was a simple drill using a 4 by 4 piece of wood cut to about 18 inches with a 2 by 4 cut to about 36 to 48 inches.  He used the 2 by 4 as a balance board on the 4 by 4 and worked on keeping the ends of the 2 by 4 off the ground while stickhandling with a weighted hockey ball.


This exercise by itself increased his balance, core strength, stickhandling ability and created very soft hands.  It’s a simple thing, but with the dedication he had to this every day, it made a huge difference.


The last thing we experienced was pure luck.  And that was playing for a series of coaches that kept adding progressively to his skill level and comprehension of the game.  This was nothing but being fortunate and asking appropriate questions of the coach prior to tryouts.


So what’s the best method or approach to skill development?  Some of it is trial and error for sure and our experience is but one possibility.  Listen to your player and support their desire to continue to build their skills.  That’s the most important part of it all.


See you at the rink.

Leave a comment

Filed under AAA hockey, House Hockey, Tier II - A & AA Hockey, Travel Hockey

Tier I vs. Tier II or Maybe just Travel Hockey

There have been many conversations throughout the mlive forums on the Tier I (AAA) vs. Tier II (A/AA) debate – too many to recount here, but the conversations almost always boil down to a few factors.  Dilution of Tier I, the parents’ desires, exposure, competition to name a few.  A more recent line of conversation has been around the difference in cost with some claiming AAA hockey being as much as $15K per year.


The fact of the matter is that the decision to move to a AAA team is a consideration that must first be driven by the desires of the player, followed by the considerations of the parents and family that will surely be impacted from a time and financial point of view.


If a player wants to play at the AAA level, possesses the skills to play at the AAA level, has the dedication and makes a AAA team – it is then a matter of the other considerations as to whether AAA makes sense to the rest of the family.


It is absolutely a fact that AAA hockey will provide more exposure for the player.  There is no question about that.  And it is not just limited to the MWEHL either – there are other opportunities where a AAA player can gain exposure to college scouts, junior scouts and pro scouts.  Showcase events, prospect tournaments, Invitational tournaments are all opportunities for any AAA player to get exposure to these scouts and that exposure is the first step in opening the door to the next levels of hockey.  Yes, there is the chance of exposure at the Tier II level and even at the high school level, but the chances are much less and the requirements to get a scout to attend a game or tournament at this level is very high – you must be the best of the best at that level to garner the attention of any of these scouts.


It is also a fact that the competition, the level of play, is much higher at the Tier I level.  The game takes an additional step up in skill and speed – just as it did when a player moves from house to travel hockey or when a player goes to the next level – age level, geographic to competitive (in LCAHL) for example.  There is still a spread in terms of the skill level of individual players and teams at the Tier I level, but the overall level of play is much faster.


There is also much conversation about the dilution of the Tier I level of hockey.  This is an elitist point of view for the most part and those that hold this opinion are in the minority I believe.  The opportunities to play AAA hockey are limited and if the talent level exists in a given area of Michigan, why challenge that.  The MWEHL has very specific rules and a process to follow to allow new teams into that league – that is their assurance that the competitive level of play remains where their board of directors wants it to be.  That’s part of their job in doing what they feel is best for the league.  Other leagues have their own rules and qualifications for new teams to join their league.  The fact is that players change year to year, whether it is moving on from an age standpoint or to all too prevalent jumping from team to team that seems to be pervasive throughout Michigan youth hockey (another topic).  This alone causes the balance of competition to change year to year and from team to team both within leagues and throughout Tier I.


The bottom line here is that Tier I opportunities should be available to players that have the desire to play at that level and don’t necessarily want to leave home and billet with another family.  Detroit is not the only place in Michigan where AAA hockey should be located – it may arguably be the best Tier I league in the country (MWEHL) – but it is not the only place that should be available for those that desire to play AAA hockey.  And don’t get me started on the level of play at the Tier II level – if there is any place to focus attention on providing a consistent level of play – that is the place – again a completely different topic.


Finally, there the cost question.  Whomever is representing that Tier I hockey runs $15K per year is blowing smoke up the proverbial back side of anyone who reads that post.  The true cost of travel hockey in general is difficult to assess:


  • Team cost – just the cost to be on the team
  • Team apparel – jerseys, wind suits, bags etc.
  • Equipment costs – skates, sticks, pads (don’t you just love those $200 sticks)

These are the costs that everyone can easily point to as the “cost” of playing travel hockey, but what about the other intangibles such as:


  • Dress clothes – some coaches require shirt and tie, khakis etc. on game days
  • Health club membership – gotta keep in shape, right?
  • Summer hockey camps
  • Drop in hockey – $7 to $10 minimum per visit
  • Gas – a major concern these days that’s received a bunch of airplay on the mlive forums for sure.
  • Hotels
  • Meals on the road
  • Airplane travel – in some cases anyway – but not for every team.
  • Vehicle maintenance – if you weren’t driving them that far, the maintenance costs would be reduced.
  • Tournament Souvenirs – gotta have that sweatshirt to commemorate the event.
  • Video games – Anyone with siblings of a hockey player can attest to the need to keep the other kids entertained – I don’t want to even think about the number of quarters I’ve put into those machines.  I’ve got the thousands of bouncy balls to prove it.

And these are just a sampling of the peripheral costs associated with travel hockey.  We are all familiar with these costs, but we don’t necessarily count them as a part of the cost of playing travel hockey.  And these costs are surely not limited to Tier I hockey – this is a fact of life for anyone playing travel hockey.  There are certainly variations in the costs depending upon the level of travel hockey, but the costs are still there and they are real.  So is $15K accurate for Tier I hockey?  Maybe, but it certainly is not limited to just Tier I hockey by any means.  Hockey is a financial commitment like no other – it is time commitment like no other – and anyone entering into this has to understand that.


So Tier I vs. Tier II?  It comes down to a family choice.  There is no other way – no one else that can make that choice for the player or the player’s family, and it’s a choice to be thought through carefully.  Not just Tier I vs. Tier II – but travel hockey in general – A great sport for sure – the best in my opinion – and one that will last a lifetime.


See you at the rink.

Leave a comment

Filed under AAA hockey, Tier II - A & AA Hockey, Travel Hockey

State of Midget Hockey

This is a portion of a posting from the Mlive Youth Hockey Forum today and is a great description of a major challenge facing kids at the midget level in Michigan.  It does not seem to be discussed very often in my experience, but the rift between MAHA and MHSAA is causing problems for associations that field teams at the midget level.  jrAAA does a nice job of talking about that in his post below:

state of the game by jrAAA, 8/1/08 11:06 ET

The arenas are also forcing teams to start contract ice in August…so you have to have tryouts in July so that come the first week of August you can pay your first 2008/2009 ice bill. When my son played the contract ice didn’t start until September. By forcing contract ice to start in August that screws up all of the timing for tryouts. In the past(and how they still do it in Canada) you had….in order…Juniors, AAA, Travel then finally house. Now it isn’t like that…you have all the travel teams trying to get the few players that are available not knowing what kids are waiting for the Junior or AAA tryouts. They take some players that end up leaving the team in October to play for their high school…in front of a big crowd, their girlfriends & family and the ice bills are cheaper…then again they play 20 games not like the 50+ the travel teams do all the time improving their game.

Now what else is hurting Midget hockey in Michigan….Of course high school hockey, then you have the so called AAA teams that sprout up every year…not to mention the new Junior C programs in the area. Everyone trying to go after all the same players and those numbers are dwindling because of economy, jobs, school and so on.

Being one of the founding fathers of the MWEHL I can share that the MWEHL was formed because the MNHL was becoming watered down with a number of weak teams that no one wanted to play. We have that again with AAA teams popping up all over.

Midget hockey will continue to die unless something is done….by MAHA and MHSAA. They need to put differences aside and look towards Minnesota and Massachusetts and how in those states they work at having both travel and high school hockey co exist and help each other.

I don’t necessarily agree that having additional AAA teams as an option for some players is a bad thing.  There are several other leagues outside of the MWEHL available for these teams and they can always choose to go independent as well.

The larger issue is that many kids at the midget level will tryout for a travel team – some tryouts as early as April (just after the previous season ends) and commit to that team for the upcoming season.  The coach limits his roster to 18 players – 16 skaters and 2 goalies – and hopes he doesn’t lose anyone to high school hockey.  But every coach at this level in Michigan knows that he will most likely lose one or more players to high school as the draw of playing in front of friends and family is strong.  This leaves that midget team with a short roster and facing a difficult season ahead.  In some cases, teams have been forced to fold after the start of league play, after they have committed to ice schedules, after parents have made payments etc.  The choices of a few end up negatively impacting everyone.

I believe we need to reach some type of agreement between MAHA and MHSAA that would provide a similar program to the one found in MN.  In addition, we (as parents) need to instill in these kids a sense of loyalty to the team to which they committed originally.  If these kids plan to play high school, they have no business involving themselves in a tryout and taking the spot of another player.

See you at the rink.


Filed under High School Hockey, House Hockey, Travel Hockey