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Deflections: Springing forward


Back to the elite U18 group I'm working with this spring. It's been a few weeks since I apologized for going back on my stance that I didn't believe in the value of spring hockey. I still don't, but for elite-level teens getting the opportunity to improve their skills, I can make an exception.

It’s an interesting environment, a departure from the routine and inherent pressures of a season. I spent this past year working with some local bantams. A fun season, as I wrote about all winter.

However, I missed the intensity of working with juniors and the challenges of trying to help those players reach whatever heights they’d set for themselves. So, there’s another reason for me to be working with the U18s – one can justify anything, I suppose.

The relationship here between the players and myself is quite different. It took them about three practices to figure it out. As I told them, I’m neither scouting nor choosing a team. I’m not the coach of either the mother junior or U18 team (a new structure in

Hockey Eastern Ontario where the midget AAAs (U18) are run by the junior A clubs). Nor do I know the boys or their backgrounds; I only know what I see. Talking is one thing, demonstrating is another.

On the ice, I’m not cajoling. I’m not a barker, just an implorer. I’m trying to show them ways to improve their skills; it’s a developmental spring group by name for a reason. With full support of team management, I’m doing nothing more than agility, puck handling, passing and small space attack drills. Aside from the weekly 3 vs. 3 cross-ice games I have them do, nothing is done in more than groups of two or three.

They’re starting to get the message. The guy running the practices - me - is actually showing them ways to improve. Here’s what to do technically to improve foot speed and here’s a drill to illustrate.

For instance, one defenceman is a particularly adept skater and quick, but overskates sometimes. He hasn’t learned economy of effort. That’ll come over a couple of seasons, but he believes he can accelerate faster by literally hopping in the air from foot to foot. When I showed him how to keep his feet close to the ice for transition and thrust, which he did right away, he found he could be far more efficient and get less tired. Let’s face it, I told him, hopping as you’ve been doing looks acrobatic, but it’s awfully tiring to bounce from one leg to the other. He bought in.

This then is the fun part. From my side, I don’t have to worry about performance or whether a tactic is evolving or working. Form theirs, all they need do is watch, listen, execute and repeat till improved. Here’s another side effect: I see more smiles during these sessions than one might usually see in practice. That tells me something.

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