Category Archives: Minor Hockey

Hockey Quebec to expand its ban on body checking

(Photo credit Andrew Davis)

Hockey players in Bantam CC and Midget BB will not be allowed to use body checking. (Photo credit Andrew Davis)

Hockey Quebec has decided to expand its ban on body checking for the 2015-2016 season  to include more players.

In a statement two weeks ago, it was announced that the rule changes will mean that there will be no body checking at the Bantam CC and Midget BB levels. Body contact will still be allowed, as it is body checking which poses the biggest threat. In the official presentation, it is clearly stated that:

“Body contact is defined as a defensive tactic to block the progression of a puck-holding opponent. The tactic involves the action of the defensive player which will restrain the movement of the puck-holder, using positioning, angling and while continuing to skate. The contact can only happen during during open play if the defending player goes for the puck first. […] Physical contact will be deemed illegal if the players have a face-to-face collision, or if the body contact takes place after a ‘dump in’.”

This means that players will still be allowed to initiate contact, but only while “angling” opponents off of the puck. This means that the defending player must be skating in the same direction as the attacking player.

The decision to expand the ban is part of an initiative to prevent concussions. Quebec has been the only province to ban body checking for peewee level players, a decision praised by some and criticized by others. According to La Presse, the new rules are not sitting well with some regional leagues, who claim that the change could decrease the number of players making it to the elite levels of hockey.

Hockey Quebec claims that recent studies on concussions had an influence on their decision.

“The security of our players have always been at the forefront of our policies. It is clear that the issue of concussions has a direct impact on our players, and the likelihood of concussions is lower in age groups and divisions where body checking is not allowed.”

Hockey Quebec also stated that the reason they chose to only ban Bantam CC and Midget BB because few players in these levels rarely make it to the elite teams. Putting their safety of all players at risk because a select few may move to higher levels is not a risk Hockey Quebec is willing to take.

For a Q&A on the new rules and how they will be implemented, Click Here

 

Hockey (too) specific training?

The term ‘hockey specific training’ gets thrown around a lot in the hockey world, and parents are all too eager to sign their kids up for summer camps and weekly hockey lessons to help shape their budding child into the best player they can be. Is making kids play exclusively hockey, and spend hours on the rink per week the right method to develop an athlete?

A lot of professionals don’t think so.

It’s been made very public that National Hockey League coaches and scouts can tell when a prospect played multiple sports as a kid, and a prospect who only played hockey. Players who only play hockey while growing up tend not to develop properly as a hockey player, and although the skill is there, the athleticism and core strength is below average. On the other hand, prospects who played football, basketball or other sports while growing up develop into all-around better athletes, which in turn makes becoming an elite athlete easier.

Where is the balance between simply playing sports and focusing on hockey, and when should young athletes focus specifically on a single sport?

I spoke with Adam Nugent-Hopkins, a strength and conditioning coach for elite athletes in British Columbia. Adam has started his own company, ANH Strength Performance, and he is recognized as one of the top young sports performance coaches for hockey Canada. He studied Execise Sciences at Concordia University last year, and he played for the Varsity team, the Concordia Stingers. His brother is also Edmonton Oilers superstar center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

Brothers Ryan and Adam Nugent-Hopkins. Both played several sports while growing up, yet both have excelled at hockey. (Photo, David S. Landsman

Brothers Ryan and Adam Nugent-Hopkins. Both played several sports while growing up, yet both have excelled at hockey. (Photo, David S. Landsman

Adam believes that parents and kids are being sucked in to the fad known as hockey specific training.

“The term hockey specific is thrown around very loosely these days for more reasons than one, but I find the biggest reason is that it’s a good market tool to sucker and lure kids and parents into spending money and taking part in the services offered.”

Adam does not deny that practicing hockey is important to developing skill, but it isn’t the only aspect which needs to be focused on.

“Being someone who does only off-ice training, I do believe that there are things we can do to transfer over to hockey specifically, but my philosophy is more about improving overall athletics.”

Hockey is a sport that requires a lot of skill, be it skating, stickhandling, checking or shooting. However, Adam truly believes that training the body and mind into one of an athlete is the building blocks for success in any sports.

“I do believe that kids need to develop hockey specific skills, but not at the rate they do today. I’ve heard of some kids being on the ice for 10-15 hours per week. That’s ridiculous, and what’s not being understood is how to train the athlete’s central nervous system, and allow for essential growth and development.”

If you need living proof, look no further than his brother Ryan, who is already leaving a mark in the National Hockey League as a super star.

“Both Ryan and I spend time away from the rinks for much of the summer, playing other sports such as basketball, track & field and the casual game of football. Ryan didn’t even play his second year of Peewee hockey. He spent time in the weight room and skated maybe once a week.”

He said parents who want their children’s dreams of becoming a hockey star to come true must realize that playing one sport is not the way to develop an athlete. Focus on becoming an elite athlete before deciding what sport to play. Just playing hockey day-in and day-out won’t turn someone into an elite athlete.

“Everyone wants their kid to play in the NHL, but there’s a lot of trends out there that just won’t be effective in the long run.”

If you want your kid to develop into the best athlete that they can, make sure they don’t play one single sport. Play summer sports in the summer, winter sports in the winter, and develop into an all-around athlete. Playing hockey year round may make them the best player on the local rink, but in the long run it will hinder their chances of developing into elite athletes.

(Assistant) Coach’s Corner, Part 2 – The wrath of crazy hockey parents

If you haven’t read Part 1 of my experiences as a minor hockey assistant coach, you can find it HERE.

Up until this point of my young coaching career, things had gone fairly smoothly. Even if the team wasn’t winning every game, we were at least playing to win. We weren’t losing because we weren’t skating hard enough or not giving 100%, but because of breakdowns or forgivable mistakes. The kids were still having a lot of fun, which in the end is all that matters.

I was finally able to coach both goalies at the same time in practice! Given the large amount of teams in the region, the demand for ice time is incredibly high. A team is supposed to have two ice sessions per week at the Midget B level, which is often 1 game and 1 practice. If you have 2 games in one week, it’s rare you get a practice scheduled. You can of course purchase ice time, but it’s expensive. At the Midget B level, the kids are just there to have fun. They, or rather their parents, are not willing to pay huge sums of money for more practice time, in the hopes that it will somehow make their child a superstar. So we are lucky to get one practice a week, but I can only imagine what a nightmare it must be for the association to try and schedule practices for all the teams. It’s done mostly by volunteers, and it must be difficult having to schedule around games or other scheduled events. I don’t envy those administrators!

I’m very fortunate to be coaching two young goalies who want to be coached, and who want to get better. They both have different strengths and weaknesses, but both are very eager to learn. That week, we focused on repositioning after a save, emphasizing the need to be quick, aggressive, and to be square to the puck. It went really well.

I will now get to the interesting part of this story. That same weekend, we were facing a team from a town that has a certain…reputation, when it comes to the parents of minor hockey players. They are considered some of the most vocal, intense, and aggressive parents in the region. Although I had never faced a team from this town, even when I was playing, I was still very aware of their reputation.

The game started out smoothly enough. It was a fast game, and both teams were playing hard for the first goal. Obviously there was a bit of pushing and shoving here and there, but nothing out of the ordinary.

Then on of their players “snowed” our goalie, stopping just inches away from her and showering her in snow.

This led to a big scrum behind the net, with players shoving their gloves into each other’s cages and putting one another in headlocks. One of our players was ejected from the game (with another one soon after), and the player who snowed our goalie got a 2 minute penalty for unsportmanlike conduct. Personally, I thought he should have been ejected with our player, as he was just as rough (not to mention he started the whole thing).

Things could have ended there. However, the parents of the other team decided to take the hostility to an entirely unnecessary level. They started yelling at the ref, our players, our coaches, and they would not let up. The vulgarity coming out of these parent’s mouths was disgraceful. When one of our ejected players finished getting changed and returned to the stands, some parents from the other team were waiting for him. Our team had scored since then, and the parents started chirping the 15 year old, saying “Your team’s a lot better when you’re not playing, eh loser?”, and other completely unnecessary comments. One of the parents came to our side of the rink and stood there, yelling obsenities at our coaches and players for the rest of the game. As much as you try to tune it out and carry one playing the game, it’s not easy.

I’ve written previously about parents and their unnacceptable conduct when it comes to hockey (link HERE). I think parents forget that these are kids playing hockey for fun. Those are two key words in that sentence: KIDS, and FUN. Obviously it’s natural for parents to be engaged in the game, and showing passion in a positive way is always encouraged. But this was, in no way, positive. It was ruthless. I know the kids on our team didn’t have a lot of fun that game, and I’m willing to bet money that the other team didn’t have the greatest of times either. It was hostile for everyone, and you could feel the tension in the stands. It was more aggressive in the stands with the parents than it was with the kids on the ice. The kids just wanted to play hockey.

The problem is that the unruly parents get away with it. No one wants to approach a fellow parent who is acting unreasonably and tell them off like a small child, thus inviting their wrath of anger onto you. But besides having league-appointed ushers at each game to keep parents in order, there is no other way to discipline parents besides self-policing. It’s up to fellow parents and the coaches to make sure all the parents act in a civil and respectable manner. Often coaches set out clear rules for parents at a parent meeting at the beginning of the season, as our head coach did. I’m not saying this is in any way an easy task, but it’s necessary. No one benefits from verbal abuse, and the ones who really suffer are the kids. Being yelled at by an adult is extremely intimidating for kids, and there’s no excuse for doing it, ever.

We ended up losing that game. The parents on the other side were thrilled, and made it very clear how they flet about us “losers”. Their hostility was contagious for the other team, and they didn’t even line up to do the customary handshake after the game. I would bet money that if the parents had been respectful and calm all game, the teams would have shook hands after the game. It’s the parents that caused it to escalate to the extent that it did.

After a 2 week hiatus for Christmas and New Years, we were back at it the day before school started. We got a convincing 7-0 win against a very good team, so for the time being the team is flying high. As the coach that works with the goalies in practices, getting a shutout is always a good feeling!

We have no practices this week, but we do have a game on Saturday. We haven’t had a practice in over a month, due to bad weather, unfortunate scheduling, and the winter break. Who knows, maybe we’ll get a practice in next week! I’ll keep you all posted.

(Assistant) Coach’s Corner, Part 1 – My coaching debut

Coaching hockey is something I have always been interested in, and I have been thinking about getting involved with my local hockey association for several years. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I think coaching in minor hockey is a very important and undervalued role in the development of youngsters. A good coach can teach a lot of life skills to be used on and off the ice, such as hard work, determination, loyalty, and the value of teamwork. A good coach also helps players develop their hockey skills in a fun, healthy environment.

After a few of years of thinking passively about coaching, I finally decided to be proactive and go through with it. I did all the necessary pre-requisite courses, which were “Health and Safety” and “Respect in sports”, and I signed up for a weekend coaching clinic to become a certified coach. The clinic involved both on and off ice lessons, and it was a great experience. After about six hours of coaching, I left the arena a certified coach.

The next step was to actually find a team to help coach. I don’t have any kids, and I don’t know anybody currently in minor hockey. I did what any normal person with a lot of time on their hands would do: I went through all the teams in my region to see which ones had the least amount of coaches. I was interested in coaching the older age groups, as I had already been an assistant coach for a pre-novice team two years ago. Although it is a lot of fun to teach individual skills to eager youngsters, I wanted to focus on team skills and systems, while not completely forgetting about individual skill.

I found a team that was right in my comfort zone. A Midget B team with only three coaches seemed to be a perfect fit! I went to one of their practices, and spoke with the head coach afterwards. He said they’d be happy to have me, and introduced me to the assistants, the manager and a couple of parents. Coincidentally, one of the other assistant coaches was at the same certification clinic I attended the previous weekend!

Full disclosure, the team did not need another coach. If I had never shown up, the team would not have been suffering. I feel extremely lucky to be given the chance to try coaching, and even luckier to have picked a team with such great people on the team. The one attribute I really bring to the table is that I have experience as a goalie. With very limited practice time, it’s difficult to focus on all the players consistently. It’s even more difficult for head coaches to give goalies the training they so desperately need, especially since the position is so unique and personal. It takes a lot of hours to properly develop a goalie’s personal technique, something head coaches simply don’t have the time for.

In the first practice I participated in, I was in charge of coaching the goalies. I was excited, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t spend a good 2 or 3 hours beforehand coming up with drills and tips to work on. Only one of the two goalies showed up, so it ended up being an intense and hard workout for the poor lone goalie. I had a blast coaching, but it was also a little strange at first. The young goalie had skill, but knew she had weaknesses. We worked together for a good half hour, focusing on the butterfly slide, quickly recovering after the initial save, being square to the puck. She was open to all my tips and tricks, and when I spoke, she listened. I’m used to being the one listening, not talking.

So far, I have been behind the bench for three games. We’ve lost one 7-6, and won the other two both with a score of 7-2. My role is kind of a rover coach: the head coach covers everything, one assistant coach focuses on the defencemen while the other focuses on the forwards. That leaves me, the fourth coach, to speak with the goalie between periods and give advice wherever I see fit. I don’t mind it, because I am still very new to the coaching scene, and I am still getting comfortable with the role. What I enjoy is when I do have something to say, the players actually listen. I’ve never held this kind of respect and authority before, so I’ll try my best to make sure it doesn’t go to my head!

The team is a very close group of kids, many of whom have been playing together for at least a few years. There are some very talented players, and most of them work hard each shift. There are a couple of players with short tempers, with one player in particular seeming to come off of the ice angry after every shift! The head coach makes a point of trying to calm the young man down. All to often anger leads to retaliation, and retaliation leads to penalties. When things aren’t going their way, the players all suddenly become seasoned dockworkers, based on their colourful vocabulary! Besides that, they are a great group of youngsters, who support each other while not putting blame on each other’s shoulders. In my opinion, they are the type of players you want to coach. Talented individuals who play hard, but listen to advice and don’t get down on each other.

The team has some weaknesses, as all teams do. What the coaching staff has been trying to focus on is the ol’ dump and change to avoid players changing on the backcheck, a big no-no in the hockey world. We’ve also been emphasizing getting a player in front of the net, taking shots and pouncing on rebounds. Many of the goals we’ve scored have been rebounds from shots. The old cliché of getting more pucks on net is valid; when you shoot on goal, good things will happen!

Another issue we’ve been focusing is the forwards supporting the defencemen in their own zone. A few times, a defenceman would get the puck and have no one to pass to. The other team pounces on the opportunity, and ends up with a semi-decent scoring chance. We want the forwards to stay back and breakout as a team, not as an individual. As for the goalies, we’ve been focusing on being square to the puck, being aggressive in the crease and recovering quickly after the initial save.

We’re currently fifth in the league, but the season is still young! I’m looking forward to contributing more and more to the development of the team’s skills, while learning from the coaches. I’m already having a blast, and I’m sure that won’t change.

I will keep you all posted as the season progresses. We have a game and a practice coming up, so we’re going to be busy!

The 10 Commandments of being a hockey parent

These commandments shall be followed by all hockey parents, regardless of thy child’s age or skill level.

  1. Thou shalt encourage all players, even thy child’s opponents
  2. Thou shalt not use the ref’s name in vain
  3. Thou shalt get to games and practices on time
  4. Thou shalt inform thy coach when game and practices will be missed
  5. Thou shalt not demand more ice time for thy child
  6. Thou shalt not coach from thy bleachers
  7. Thou shalt not live thy dreams through thy child
  8. Thou shalt teach respect and good sportsmanship to thy child
  9. Thou shalt be unconditionally supportive
  10. Thou shalt remember that hockey is just a game

These commandments are basic rules that any hockey parent should follow, regardless of whether your child is in a competitive league or a casual one. Print these commandments out, and make them visible in your home. Have a copy pinned right above where your child keeps their hockey gear, so you see it before you leave for every practice and every game. Coaches, print these out and hand them out to parents. Great minor hockey teams and associations are created when parents and coaches are on the same page. It is important to remember that hockey is a game, and that minor hockey is there for the kids. A winning record does not necessarily equal success; seeing kids smiling and enjoying the game of hockey is the greatest victory a team can hope for.

Part 2: Corrupt Coaches – Coaches being bad role models for their players

This is Part 2 of a 3-part piece on problems surrounding minor hockey. Check back next monday for part 3!

There is the infamous video on YouTube of a minor hockey coach tripping a player on the opposing team during the post-game handshakes (click HERE for the link). In fact, if you search the right words on YouTube, you’ll find a whole bunch of videos of coaches (or parents) acting inappropriately towards kids. I remember seeing one video where a coach shoves a kid down to the ice while the rest of the players are having a little shoving-match. These are just a few examples of coaches taking their job too seriously. They are not coaching a team of high-paid superstars on their way to a Stanley Cup. They are coaching children.

I started playing hockey when I was about 5 or 6 years old. I had been going to my brother’s games for a couple of year, and I was really excited to start playing myself. I’d be ready to go with all my gear on before we were even in the car! I wasn’t as good as the other players, who started a few years before me. That didn’t bother any of the other players, but the coach made sure to let me know that I was behind. He was constantly yelling at me during practices, and even though I was trying my hardest, I could never impress him. On top of this, I hadn’t received the right socks when I got my jersey, so I was wearing the wrong colour. My coach would scorn my every game and practice for not having the socks, even though it was completely out of my control.

He made me miserable. Halfway through the season, may parents would have to drag me out of bed to go to practices. This nightmare of a coach had destroyed my love of the game, and I no longer had the will to play. That was the only season of minor hockey I ever played. Looking back, I find it scary that one man can so easily kill a child’s love a sport. I loved hockey, and for the following years I still went to watch my brother’s games. But I never played organized hockey again.

This just goes to show how much of an impact coaches can have on their players. They, along with parents and teachers, have a very big influence on kids. They are supposed to be a role model to look up to, who acts in an appropriate manner at all times. They are supposed to support you in difficult times, and help you learn from mistakes. Many people discuss the amount of influence teachers can have on their pupils, but I think coaches are often overlooked. My old coach may have ruined my love of hockey (and maybe even a shred of my self-confidence), but I have heard many stories of coaches truly helping their players, both on and off the ice. Many coaches become role models and mentors to their players, teaching them how to get through difficult times, how to keep their head up, how to be a team player, how to be a good sport, and how to act under pressure. These are skills that can be used in all aspects of life. A good coach can really help turn a young player into a great person, just as a bad coach can have the complete opposite effect.

Sometimes a player on your team deserves a talking to, such as when they act in a disrespectful manner. As the coach, you have the responsibility to make sure your players act in a respectable manner. Yelling at a player is not acceptable, but telling them when they are in the wrong is important. It can be done in a controlled, constructive manner, informing the player of what they did wrong and how to avoid it in the future. A good coach can make a player realize their mistake without scolding or punishing them.

What can be done to make sure we filter out the rotten eggs? Coaches must get certified to coach minor hockey, and the higher the level, the more certificates the coach needs. I have never taken a coaching course, but I would assume that being a good role model is at least mentioned. There should be more emphasis on being a good role model and acting in an appropriate manner. Winning isn’t the most important part of being a coach; it’s about teaching kids how to have fun while trying their best. It should be a staple in the teaching courses, instead of the technical aspects of hockey. Don’t get me wrong, knowing hockey is also important. In my opinion, the job of a coach, especially in the younger divisions, is to be a good role model, and to encourage kids to enjoy the game of hockey.

As mentioned is Part 1, hockey is an intense sport. From time to time, there is a bad call or a bad play on the ice. The coach’s job is to coach his team while making sure his players act respectfully, have fun and do their best. Many coaches put too much emphasis on winning, and they leads to a hostile and intense atmosphere. This isn’t what hockey should be about. As a role model to kids, coaches must act respectfully, encourage their players and enforce the main principles of hockey: work hard, do your best, and most importantly, have fun!

Part 1: Parents Gone Wild! – The verbal abuse of children in minor hockey

This is Part 1 of a 3-part piece on problems surrounding minor hockey. Check back next monday for part 2!

A few weeks ago, I went to go watch a Midget BB hockey game at my local arena. It had been a while since I had watched minor hockey, so I figured I would go watch some kids play a good-spirited hockey game. These boys, aged 15-17, were good hockey players. They were not all incredibly skilled, but they knew how to play the game clean and effectively. At the time that I walked in, one team was beating the other team by a score of 6-1. A couple of minutes later, one of the defensemen on the winning team made some mistakes that led to a couple of goals. His team was now winning by a score of 6-3. However, one of the parents from the winning team decided that these mistakes were grounds to start heckling the young man. The parent began to yell, “You suck! Get off the ice!”. Keep in mind that this was a player on his son’s team, the same team that he was supposed to be supporting. Some other parents joined in and no one defended the poor kid. It made me sick to my stomach to watch this young man skate to the bench with his head bowed in shame. He didn’t play another shift for the rest of the game. It’s not because his coach didn’t want him to play; I saw the coach go and ask him to get out on the ice a few times. He just didn’t want to play anymore. His soul was crushed, as was his will to play.

There is a toxicity surrounding minor hockey. It seems that many parents seem to forget that these are kids playing. These are not professional athletes being paid millions of dollars to play. They are playing for the love of the sport and to be with their friends and teammates. This boy, aged between 15-17, was heckled and yelled at by adults he did not necessarily know. No child deserves that kind of belittlement, especially while they are playing a game.

We have all been teenagers; it is an awkward age to get through. You are going through not only physical changes, but mental changes as well. You begin to be self-conscious about yourself, and self-confidence can often be low. On top of that, you are playing a competitive sport where your mistakes can cost your team on the scoreboard. Imagine how this child felt, being told that he sucked by adults. Adults are the people all children are told to respect. They are supposed to help nurture these young kids into functioning members of society. What kind of message is that sending? That if you make mistakes, you are open to ridicule and abuse? That goes completely against the goal and purpose of organized sports, which is to teach children the importance and value of working their hardest while learning from their mistakes, instead of being alienated by them.

Parents have no right to yell at kids playing hockey. In fact, parents have no right to yell at anyone during a game. They are supporters of their team, and should act accordingly by supporting their team, their players and their coaches. If the goalie lets in a soft goal, be positive and tell him that it’s okay, instead of criticizing them. From time to time there will be a bad call or a bad play, and it’s natural to get disappointed. There is never a reason to become aggressive or insulting; the coaches are volunteers, and the referees are doing their best.

I realize that hockey is an intense sport, and people can get caught up in the excitement of it all. Nevertheless, there is no excuse to yell at amateur players, no matter what age or caliber. Encourage your child or team; make them feel proud to be playing. However, negative comments should never be tolerated, whether if it’s at your own team or the other team. These are kids, and they are playing a game. Hockey is a wonderful sport that teaches kids about teamwork, determination, hard work, and learning from their mistakes. This is not the NHL, and players shouldn’t be treated as if they were pros. They are there to have fun, and so should you.