My actual rec hockey team, post-winning the league w/ 7 skaters. ...Kings socks?

Last night I helped coach an adult hockey class in Phoenix (Gilbert, specifically), and it’s not an easy task.

The toughest thing to remember for myself at these things is that drill comprehension is not something innate, it’s something you learn over years and years of practicing. Every drill has a natural pattern, a flow, and sometimes you find adult rec players who haven’t done drills in decades – lawyers, doctors, and registered mensa members – completely befuddled by a concept like YOU’RE UP DUDE, GO.

I take for granted that this is something I understand that others easily could if they were just exposed to it, so….it’s summer. Let’s expose you to some stuff. Old, young, whatever. Let’s talk our level of hockey, not pro hockey.

The Systems Analyst posts I wrote during the season were well received, but I think they’re best read from the angle of the fan, trying to watch and accurately follow NHL games. But when it comes to the level most of us play, the strategy isn’t going to be the same as the pros. That guy in your Pee Wee league or that guy in your 50-and-over league simply isn’t blasting home too many Jason Garrison-level slappers from the point. As a winger, you can be aware of him, but help low (within reason) whenever you feel the need to. Some things like that are just different.

So, here are the five things that made me speak up while being a “co-coach” last night that can hopefully help. I’ve mentioned most of these things in posts before, but whatever – if one is new, it should help you.

1. First and foremost: pass the fucking puck hard.

Yes, the profanity was necessary.

“Handle it” is a standard comment at a pro hockey practice (or college, or junior) for a reason. Get it to your teammate so he/she has time to make a decision. (Higher up, the expression “You can’t give a good player a bad pass is common too.”)

If you hit someone in the stick-blade with a slapshot and they can’t handle it, that’s on them. The sooner they get it, the more time they have to think before pressure gets there. Also, the less you have to lead them, which takes a lot of the guesswork out of the pass – think of it like reading a putt – the harder you hit it, the less clever you have to get with the line.

There are exceptions, of course – spot passes, chips and so on – but in general, absolutely zip that thing. The Gordon Bombay “egg” thing? Soft hands? Listen to an NHL game. You take a hard pass with stiff hands and that thing ain’t going anywhere. There’s nothing wrong with a good hard *smack* when receiving a puck. It’s kind of satisfying, actually.

2. Gap control

Playing defence on a rush isn’t easy. But as a forward, your dream scenario is a d-man who lacks confidence in his speed that backs wayyy in so as to not get beat wide. What would you like to do now? Criss-cross inside the zone? Shoot through the screen he/she’s providing? Skate in so slowly you make that d-man stop before turning on the gas?

The point is, d-men, getting beat wide happens – hopefully it’s not super clean, and you still force that forward to make a play, but challenge, challenge, challenge. These guys in your rec league that play once a week likely lack the poise to do anything super clever – make them panic, make them turn it over, make them dump it…all by having good gap control.

3. Pass early on 2-on-1′s if it’s there

This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, but in general, forwards on a 2-on-1 in rec league want a backdoor tap in. They want to skate in, thread the needle, and have their buddy put it home.

Here’s the reality: goalies aren’t that good. When you come down with the puck, they’ve just tapped both posts, and know exactly where they are in the net. The other reality: you’re not that good. The odds of you threading the needle for a backdoor tap-in aren’t that high.

So, if the d-man is sagging at all (as referenced in #2), cross the blue, and make an early pass above the d-man. The goalie has to move side-to-side, and loses his perfect net awareness. Look up, and to hell with fake-passes or anything else. You’re on a clean breakaway now, because d-men are dumb (I wrote this on defending 2-on-1s for Puck Daddy) and let forwards have a party on 2-on-1s. (I just called goalies, forwards and d-men bad, because we all tend to give our opponents too much credit.)

4. Tip direction

I said earlier that a rec league (or PeeWee, even most Bantam) d-man is unlikely to burn your team too many times with a boomer in one game. Where you can get burnt, is on tips. (So d-men – the second you see the opposing d-men release it, get the stick up of the guy nearest you.)

The problem is, outside of pro hockey, the only place guys want to tip the puck is up. They lay their blades flat in hopes of redirecting one under the bar, and often tip pucks that were going on the net off it. So here’s what you do: don’t stand to the side of the goalie and hope to touch the puck. Get your ass in front of that goalie, and tip that puck in the opposite direction of where it’s going. More accurately, tip it to the middle of the net.

The point is that the goalie is moving, reacting to the initial line of the puck, and he’s opened up holes. You can even show your d-man which side of your body you want his shot on with your stick if he’s got his head up. If you’re bum is facing the goalie, shots on your backhand side should get tipped inwards, and shots to your forehand side should also get tipped inwards. Don’t open your blade.

And last…

5. Mid-lane drive

On a 3-on-2, everyone knows to set up some variation of a triangle. What that means is that the guy out wide has the puck, someone else is level with him, and someone else is high. In rec/minor hockey, EVERYONE wants to be the high guy. All the glory, right?

Well, here’s where being a good teammate comes in – it’s not that “someone” should drive the net – it’s that the middle guy (as in, mid-lane) is driving the net. Non-negotiable.

So what if the d-men know who’s going through well in advance? They can A) leave him, in which case the puck carrier gives him the puck for a short breakaway, or B) have a d-man go with him, in which case the high guy is open.

This is the beauty of the odd-man rush – if it’s executed in the most basic way possible, you’re getting a quality shot on net. …Or, you could go across the blue three abreast, and create nothing but a turnover.

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If anyone has any rec hockey or minor hockey questions, don’t hesitate to email me at jtbourne@gmail.com, or backhandshelf@thescore.com (that includes Pizzo and more of theScore team).

I think the technical side of our level of hockey is different from that of the guys in the NHL, so let’s talk strategy. At most of our levels, just use your noggin, and you can usually out-think the majority of the “Oh god it’s on my stick how do I get rid of it” crew.