Pittsburgh Penguins v New York Rangers

Today Patrick Kearns, a New York correspondent for The Fourth Period magazine, tweeted a simple quote from Mark Staal about playing with Dan Girardi:

Indeed.

It’s an obvious statement that shares the message coaches the world over have tried to drill through the thick skulls of players since their earliest days on the ice, yet one that seems to only get through to a select few: talk. Talk on the ice, talk, talk for the love of god. It is amazing what a difference it makes.

My college roommate shared a story with us about his junior days (we both had notoriously…aggressive, we’ll say? – junior coaches) about how he failed to call for passes too often for the coaches liking one practice, so he was made to sit in the penalty box and yell his own name on repeat. 

Charlie Kronschnabel!

Not loud enough.

CHARLIE KRONSCHNABEL! CHARLIE KRONSCHNABEL!

More. Louder.

CHARLIE KRONSCHNAAABBBEELLLLL!!!

He still gets shit from his buddies about it. He had to say his full name, and do it for two full drills – roughly ten minutes. …And yes, I know, I know, it’s an awesome last name. Back to the point.

Staal likes playing with Girardi because he’s a good communicator, and I’m telling you, especially in low d-zone coverage, it makes the game so much easier when you constantly hear your partner or center, even if it’s only to so you know where they’re at on the ice.

Never once have I played with a guy who I thought talked too much on the ice. I’ve played with plenty who talk too much on the bench, I’ve played with dozens who talk to much in the room, but never on the ice. A running diary of what’s going on is better than nothing at all.

“Hey, I’m here, that’s you, pressure, switch, watch high, feet feet feet, nice play.” (“Feet” of course refers to where the puck is.)

Whatever – words simply add to your knowledge of where things are at in terms of coverage. You tend to speak in sound bites and single words because of how quick things move, and that shorthand has become pretty standardized over the years. “Feet,” “out,” “deep,” “switch,” “reverse,” “rim,” “wheel,” etc.

On the offensive side, I always hated when guys called for the puck by slapping their sticks on the ice, because it could be anyone, and it’s clumsy and non-specific and I just hate it. When guys use their voices, you come to recognize your own teammates (especially once you’ve been on a team for awhile, and your linemates always become easy to identify), and that helps you make further decisions. For example: you know that guy is on your team, but do you wanna give the puck to that guy in this situation? Just like in rec hockey, sometimes you think “Y’know, I’m gonna make the tougher pass here because if it gets through, that’s Steven Stamkos over there.”

We often give our teammates too much credit for being aware of the situation around them, so it’s fine to state the obvious. “You’ve got me, high guy” or something as simple as “shoot” when you feel you’re covered.

In practice, guys know they don’t have to call for pucks to get passes – hell, the drill was drawn up on the board and we all know where the puck is supposed to go – but coaches want them to for a reason. It becomes a habit. And honestly, the more people that do it, the more comfortable it is, and you come to realize that even a simple “yeah” when you make eye-contact with a teammate let’s them know now is a good time to release the puck.

Talk, talk, talk, talk.

I used to be stubborn about this as a young player, but got chattier as I got older on the ice. If you’re a player or coach today you should personally (or have your team) get used to it as soon as possible. You don’t have to yell your own name, but you should at least be saying something.