What Happened to Our Game?

Growing up watching NHL hockey in the eighties and nineties, I then realized that I was watching the best hockey ever.   What I didn’t know back then was that the great hockey era was going to end.  I thought the game and the players were just going to keep getting better and more exciting.  Watching the Oiler dynasties with Gretzky, Messier, Coffey, and the rest of the boys was such a joy and I wish those days would have never ended.  As I look at today’s game, the players are so much better than back in the day but the game is not as exciting as it used to be.  Scoring is way down.  Scoring chances are down.  Fighting is all but eliminated from the game.  What happened?

I would like to take a look at some of the components that changed this great game of hockey.

The Goaltender:  The goaltending position is the most improved position not only in hockey, but I think in any sport.  The butterfly and the butterfly hybrid styles have made the goaltender cover so much more net.  In the old days, the goaltender would make a reaction save (usually a skate save), or an angle save (not move and hope the puck hits them).  Looking at the old hockey highlights, if a player shot low and the goaltender was an inch off his angle, the puck went into the net.  Nowadays, it is literally impossible to score on a low shot on the ice.  The goaltenders now are some of the best-conditioned athletes on the team.  In the olden days, they were typically the worst conditioned players on the team

Goaltender’s Equipment:  If you look at the goaltending equipment from the eighties compared to today’s goaltender gear, you will see how ridiculous today’s goalie equipment is.  Today’s goalies do need more protection because the player’s shots are harder than ever.  But having leg pads that come up to the goalie’s waist and a big cheater on the glove that covers more of the corner of the net is unnecessary.  Goalie equipment has to revert to more reasonable size/coverage if we ever want to see more goals scored.

Skating & Skills:  Hockey players’ skills have improved across the board, so it is much less likely to see one or even a couple dominant players who monopolize the puck and determine the outcome of the game. Every player on the ice can skate now and they have some  playing ability. The skating skills of the pro player is light years better than what they used to be.  In the olden days, if you were a superior skater you had a very good chance to dominate.  Nowadays, everyone can skate at a higher level and that ability gives less accomplished players a chance to negate the star’s ability.

Conditioning:  Every player in the NHL is in absolutely phenomenal physical condition.  In the olden days players would get in shape during training camp, which allowed the highly skilled players to get ahead.  Nowadays, every player is in excellent shape, which in turn negates that edge that the highly skilled players might have had in the past.  The players are so much stronger and faster that everyone can keep up with the star players now and really wear them down during battles.

Coaching and Tactics:  There was no such thing as a trap or a left wing lock – back in the eighties.  Only a few players in the league would block shots.  Now coaches are teaching defensive systems for the team, so that they can compete and not lose the game.  The NHL coaches want to keep their jobs as long as possible. So, as long as their team remains competitive and is not getting blown out, they have a chance to coach another day and get another NHL paycheck.  They teach that shot blocking is an important skill that every player must perform.  So, as a result, now there are not as many scoring chances as there used to be.

Personality and Individualism:  In the olden days, before there were big money licensing agreements, the players could show their personality, style, and individualism on the ice through their equipment.  Nowadays, with all the big equipment licensing deals, the players all look like identical robots.  They all have basically the same equipment – mandated by their team. Gretzky’s trademark was tucking half of his jersey inside his pants.  Nowadays there is a rule against that.  Players would wear helmets and equipment that would identify them.  Now, if that helmet company is not paying the NHL big bucks, it is not going on that player’s head! And, all the hockey equipment made nowadays looks the same, just with a different name on it.  The classic Daoust skates and the Jofa helmets were legendary! Individualism is gone, and it’s a shame.

Intimidation Factor (Fighting):  Now that fighting is almost totally taken out of the game, every player can be a tough guy. Kind of a contradiction, but true nonetheless.  Every player can check hard and finish every check on the more skilled players.  In the olden days, the players policed the game and you knew if you finished your check hard that you will probably have to answer to the other team’s fighter.  As a fan, I enjoy the games without fighting as it adds credibility to our game – to the people who have never played it.  But as a player, I fear for the player’s safety – as many players who would never fight are taking liberties on other players, knowing that they can and that they have no one to answer to.  The game of hockey, as the rules were written, is a very dangerous game. And it is too fast for the referees to police every second.   However, in the olden days – when there was much more fighting in the game, there was a code of conduct and the element of respect and fear that each player had to abide by.  Without fighting, I feel the game is becoming more dangerous. I fear that it will become like football – where parents are afraid to allow their children to play the game because of so many concussions and injuries.  We have to bring respect back into the game! Fear of retribution if they didn’t treat other players with respect is what kept the players in check – but now that is gone!

Here’s to the good old days!


Every summer hockey players look for that edge to make them a better hockey player.  There are so many options out there to choose from and you have to be smart when planning your program.  Some players decide to play more games in summer leagues.  To make things worse, most of these summer leagues offer four on four or three on three competition.  Playing more games, especially games that do not provide realistic hockey situations are the worst things that you can do.  The player will be making the same mistakes they made all year, but now they will have even more time to make those Bob Speed Chute Croppedmistakes.  When it comes to player development as a hockey player, you have to work on specific skills (on and off the ice) that correlate to your game.  Try to pick a few skills that you need to improve most and incorporate these skills into your on ice and off ice training this summer.

On Ice Skills:  Every player can always improve their skills no matter what level they are playing at.  NHL players are constantly working on improving their skills.  Try to get on the ice to improve your skills at clinics and schools this summer.   Also, put the inline skates on and work on your puck skills and shooting in the driveway or on a basketball court.

Off-Ice Training:  Make sure your off-ice training program is hockey specific.  Improving your overall athleticism while improving your strength in the right areas will not only make you a more confident player, but it will help you win the one on one battles and make you a more dominate player.  Make sure you also work on change of direction quickness, agility, and explosiveness.

Skating Techniques:   Skating is one of the most important skills for a hockey player.  Skating can make or break a hockey player.  Make sure you choose a skating instructor or skating school that breaks down the techniques in small components and explains to you how the technique relates to different hockey game situations.  Too many coaches just runs  the students through drills without ever explaining the how the drill works in the game of hockey or corrects the students mistakes.   They just blow their whistles and tells them to do it without ever explaining where your weight should be on your skate, what your upper body should be doing, and how this correlates to hockey situations.  You can get anyone to put you through drills where you are basically just working on your bad habits.  You need to choose a qualified instructor who is going to break down the skating technique and show you how to break those bad habits with proper technique.  That is the only way you are going to improve!

Remember, everyone goes to the games and everyone goes to the practices.  But it is what you do on your own that will make you the better player” 

More Games Is Not The Answer For Development

Many parents want the instant gratification of seeing their youth hockey player playing games.  They enjoy seeing their player compete, they enjoy the camaraderie with the other parents, and they want to see what they believe to be an immediate return on their investment.  However, when squirts, peewees, and lower level bantam players are playing more than forty games in a season, and they are only receiving one practice per week, and many of the practices are half-ice practices (which I have expressed my dismay for half-ice practices in the past,  as it just instills bad habits), then their development has most definitely been compromised.  To make matters worse, some parents can’t wait to sign up their child for a spring or summer league.  Many of these spring and summer leagues are four on four, or three on three hockey that I believe just develops more bad habits in these players.  Once the season is over, the youth hockey player should be working on skill development through clinics, schools, stick times, lessons, high intensity practices, inline hockey, shooting and stick handling in the driveway, and the best use of their time – non structured hockey.  Allow the youth player to go play pick-up hockey or play pick-up inline hockey where he/she can break out of his or her comfort zone and try out new moves and new decisions with the puck,  without the coach or the score keeper keeping score.   This is the only way players improve and develop.  They should attend a specialized clinic to learn new moves and reactions to new situations and then apply what they have learned in a non structured game of hockey.  Not four on four or three on three hockey leagues.  These leagues just give the player more time to make more mistakes.  They are not realistic game situations and youth players need to improve their skills before they get back into game situations.  Why is it that I see that some players are playing at the same level every year?  I believe it’s because those players have not been given the opportunity to develop their skills over the spring and summer. So, how do you remedy this? You can take action and map out a plan for your child to maximize his or her development.  The plan should include age specific off-ice training, skill development at clinics, schools, and lessons, hockey specific off-ice training, and instead of playing more games in the summer, play another sport perhaps.  Players should not be hockey exclusive until they really are at the level of an older midget.  An NHL coach and trainer once told me – the older the player gets the more sport specific their training should be.  I agree with this philosophy. I believe that when younger players are playing another sport they are improving their overall athleticism that therefore helps them with their hockey ability as well.  But, then when a player reaches the level of a midget or older, they should gear their training to their preferred sport.  So, once at that age –  instead of playing another sport, your player’s time would be better spent doing plyometrics and off-ice training if they are a serious hockey player who wants to make it to the next level.   If you want to become a better player, you shouldn’t play the game in the off-season.  Instead, you should prepare to play the game!  Remember, everyone goes to the games, and everyone goes to the practices. But, it is what you do on your own that will make you the better player!

Skate The Game – Not The Drill

Crosby Heading Up Ice

Sidney Crosby heading up ice with speed.


At my schools, clinics, and the teams that I coach, I am constantly telling my players “skate the game, not the drill”.  The point that I am trying to drive home with my players is that you have to skate every drill in practice like it is a game.  Muscle memory is something that is very important in sports, especially in a sport such as hockey where pace, speed, and timing is so important.  If you get used to taking it in easy in the practices and don’t pay attention to detail, that is going to carry over into your game.  You have to form good habits, speed,  and intensity in your practices for maximum development and for next level advancement.  If your coach asks you to make a move at the cone, don’t attack that cone like it is only a cone.  You have to attack that cone like it is a real defenseman. That muscle memory and intensity will carry over into your games.  Our tournament teams will play some of the top AAA teams in North America during the spring and summer.  In warm-ups, our teams will sometimes look comparable as far as speed and skill.  But then once the puck is dropped, their thought process and game speed and pace is so much quicker than ours.  The main reason is that they play at that speed everyday, where we only play at that speed when we play teams of that caliber.  If you want to improve and take your game to the next level, it all starts at the practices.  Skate the game and not the drill and you will see your game improve immediately.


brian dunfordIt is well known that defensemen need more time than forwards to develop.  Trying to stop an offensive rush at high speed while skating backwards is one of the hardest things to do in the game of hockey.  The second hardest skill in hockey has to be trying to elude a two hundred pound forward coming at you at full speed while you try to execute a breakout pass.  Escapability is one of the most important skills for a defenseman.  If the defenseman has the skating ability, agility, speed, vision, and puck skills to escape that first forechecker and make a good decision with his/her breakout pass, they are going to be a valuable defenseman on every team they play with.  At IHC Hockey we teach our defensemen the skating skills and puck skills to have good escapability when being pressured on the forecheck.  On every team, the top two or three defensemen have that ability and the skill to be able to escape that forechecker and make a great breakout pass.  However, the sixth and seventh defenseman on every team usually don’t have that skill and he/she has to shoot that puck high off the glass to avoid a turnover with the forechecker.  There is nothing wrong with going high off the glass.  This a a very safe play and many times prevents a turnover and even gets the puck out of the zone at times.  But as a hockey coach/instructor, you need to develop all top defensemen who have the skill to escape the forechecker.  Defensemen have to constantly work on agility, transitions, pivots, quick feet, and quick turns while maintaining strong puck control to develop into a top defenseman.  Remember, every team is looking for a good defenseman at every level.

Get Ready For Tryouts

Get Ready For Tryouts

Now that tryout season is upon us, it’s time to make sure that you go into tryouts prepared and with a set plan to showcase your skills. Hopefully, the team that you are trying out for will put more weight on the scrimmage part of the tryout than the drill part. When IHC Hockey is hired by an Association to run tryouts for a team or association, we select the team players according to the scrimmage/game portion of the tryout and we use our drill evaluation and grading to separate the players that are close in talent and the “bubble players”. Our philosophy is to drop the puck and whoever can play the game will show that in the scrimmages/games. Make sure that you are at your best for tryouts – as you only get one chance to make a first impression. Here is our IHC tryout check list to make sure that you are ready to give it your best in front of the coaches that you want to play for:

1. Be Prepared

Make sure that you have physically prepared yourself for the tryout by attending clinics, doing your off-ice workouts and skill work. Also, make sure that you have new laces in your skates, fresh tape on your stick, and your skates are sharpened. Before you leave for the tryout

make sure that you have properly warmed up and stretched, and that you have all your equipment ready to put in your bag. Also, make sure you eat a good meal with some complex carbohydrates a couple hours before the tryout and drink plenty of water. Drink beyond your thirst.


2. Be Mentally Prepared

Mental preparation is an excellent exercise that most successful athletes have learned to utilize. When you are sitting in the locker room before you go on the ice, close your eyes and think of the plays, passes, shots, and moves that you are going to make in the upcoming tryout. Also, enter the tryout with a positive mind set. Think of the best games you have ever played. Think of some of the best goals you ever scored and how you felt when the puck went into the net.Visualize it. If you are a defenseman or a goalie, think of the times when you stopped an odd man rush that shot from the point, or the great save you made to win the game. Make sure you step on the ice in the right, positive mind set.


3. Play Your Game

Play to your skill set. If you are a good skater, try to outskate everyone. If you are a smart player, make sure you make good decisions and good passes. If you have a good shot, go out there shooing as much as possible. If you are a checker, finish every check. Show the evaluators your strongest skills and don’t be someone you are not.


4. Be Professional

As a scout, I am always watching to see how the player acts on the bench and with his or her teammates, not only on the ice. Make sure that you are into the game even when you are on the bench.  Know who you are replacing on the ice. Make sure you keep your shifts short and hustle on every play, including on line changes.


Be prepared, play your game, and don’t be nervous. Enjoy the challenge of the tryout and best of luck to all of you.


After watching Finland and Sweden beat the USA and Canada in this year’s World Junior Championships and moving on to play each other in the finals, It was apparent that  their skill level was so much higher than the other teams.  Finland then beat Sweden in an exciting final game to win the gold medal while Sweden took home the silver medal. scandinavian player Canada did not earn a medal and USA never even made the medal round.  In the last five years, Sweden and Finland have earned more medals than the USA and Canada in International competition.  What makes this so amazing is the number of players and lack of resources that these Scandinavian countries have in comparison to the USA and Canada.  Sweden has a small number of  people who actually play hockey in their approximately 500 rinks (many of them outdoors).  Finland has a little over 66,000 people who play hockey in their approximately 300 rinks.  Compare this to the United States who have over 510,000 hockey players with about 2,000 rinks and Canada has over 625,000 players and about 8,000 rinks.  When you look at these numbers and the success that Sweden and Finland have in international competition, and when you take into account the stars in the NHL that are from these countries, I think it may be time to take a long look to see what they are doing differently/better than we are.

Every time that I am in Europe, I always take the time to watch other teams’ practices and take notes.  I was fortunate enough to spend time in the Czech Republic back in the day when many other countries would not put their ice in until right before the start of the season.  Many teams from various countries would travel to the Czech Republic for training camps since many areas would put their ice in early and the ice fees were much more feasible than in other countries.  Right after my practices I would sit in the stands all day and take notes on  the other teams’ practices.  I have also watched Sweden and Finland teams practice at various international tournaments.  When these teams take the ice before practice you do not hear a puck hitting the boards or the glass.  They do not shoot senselessly at an open net or off the glass like the North American players always do.  Instead, the only thing you hear is the puck touching the player’s sticks.  Quick stick handling moves and partner passing, no senseless shooting on an open net.  The Swedes and the Fins have always been big proponents of small area games and battles with an emphasis on puck control.  The Swedes were also the first to put “cycling’ into their game.  The Fins are well known to be the best breakaway/shootout scorers in the world.  Both of these countries put more emphasis on body positioning over body checking and they also support the puck better than most countries do, especially providing speed behind the puck. When you look at the Scandinavians’ demographics and resources compared to other countries, it is obvious they have some great teaching methods.They have the medals and the success to back it up!.  It is our responsibility to our youth players to instill some of these same teaching methods into our programs.

Speed Behind the Puck

After recently writing a Facebook blog on injuries in the NHL, I remembered another situation that causes many injuries in all levels of hockey  – that I feel needs to be addressed.  That specific action is looking over your shoulder to receive a pass.  Many injuries occur when a player skates 050ahead of the puck and looks behind him to receive the pass.  This is usually referred to as the “suicide pass”.  In our IHC tournament team practices, I am always emphasizing the need to create “speed behind the puck” and support on the defensive side of the puck.  What this means is that the pass receiver needs to skate below the puck carrier and then start accelerating up ice.  He can now receive a pass with speed and facing open ice so he is not vulnerable to any blind side hits.  This is especially effective on breakouts so the pass receiver can enter the neutral zone with speed.  He is also supporting on the defensive side of the puck where he skates below the puck.  Now if the puck carrier loses the puck, he has support on the defensive side of the puck.  Also, most NHL teams are using speed behind the puck in the neutral zone on their power plays.  This allows the team to enter the offensive zone with speed and puck possession.

Youth hockey players are skating away from the puck much too often and they have to be taught the importance of speed behind the puck, and supporting their teammates on the defensive side of the puck.  Not only will they benefit from this technique by not putting themselves in a vulnerable position for suicide passes, but it will also create much more speed, smoother breakouts, better entries, and offense for your team.

Work on your Stickhandling!

datsyuk_backhand_drag_finishStickhandling is the foundation for all your puck skills.  If you improve your stickhandling, undoubtedly your passing and shooting will improve.  When you work on your stickhandling, remember the importance of rolling your wrists.  Let the wrists do the work for you and cup the stick over the puck.  Work on stickhandling in front of you body and on both sides.  At the IHC European Stickhandling and Moves School, we teach the five positions where you should handle the puck in relation to your body.  Keep your arms away from your body so you can front and back as well as side to side.  Utilize the entire blade when stickhandling.  When sliding the puck through the ”Defenseman’s Triangle”, use the heel to toe puck movement.  Use the toe of your stick to pull the puck back in towards your body with the “Toe Drag”.  Also, using the “Backhand Toe Drag” and the “Backhand Datsyuk Sweep” is a very effective move that can surprise a defender.  Always have your head up when handling the puck and keep your feet moving.  The International Hockey College offers the European Stickhandling and Moves School at many rinks.  The IHC’s Body Contact, Checking, and Defensive Concepts School is offered immediately after the Stickhandling School.

Core Training for Hockey

Bob Speed Chute CroppedHockey players hear all the time how important their ”core” is.  Core strength is critical because the core is the center of the body where all movement is modulated.  Anatomically, the core consists of the muscles of the hips, abdomen, and lower back. One of the reasons why the core is so important is because the structural integrity of the body depends on it during movement. Without a fully functional core, efficient movement is not possible.  A strong core not only helps connect the upper and lower extremities, but acts to accelerate, decelerate, and dynamically stabilize the body During the season, you are automatically building your leg strength with all the skating you do.  You must then continue to train your core during the season so you don’t have a muscle imbalance.  In hockey, you must utilize your core muscles when you are skating, checking, shooting, passing, and stick handling.  Many players lose power in their shots because of poor core strength.  Many players have an inefficient stride because their core is not strong enough for a ninety degree knee bend for a long and efficient stride.  When checking, players with weak cores end up with shoulder injuries as they try to initiate their body checks with their shoulders instead of their core muscles.  Even in stick handling, your core muscles are vital for lateral movement and puck protection.  Work your core all year long and you will see the results on the ice.

Power Skating -vs- Conditioning Skating

image9The term ”Power Skating” has been misunderstood and overused in the hockey world for a long time. The term was invented many years ago by a figure skater who was teaching hockey players proper and efficient skating. She was looking for a name that would appeal to those hockey players and came up with the name “Power Skating”.  However, “Power” is only one of many attributes of proper hockey skating.  When the term Power Skating is used by most hockey instructors, it is meant to be proper hockey skating by combining speed, power, quickness, edge control, balance, upper body control and skating efficiency.  I watch many youth hockey practices and the majority of the practices start out with skating.  Usually the circle drill – where the players skate around every circle several times.  When I ask the coaches and/or the parents of the players why they are doing these drills to begin their practice, the most common response I recieve is that they are doing their “Power Skating”.  They are not really power skating though.  They are skating for conditioning.  If they were power skating, there would be instruction involved to show then the proper way to perform the techniques – to make them a more powerful, faster, quicker, and more efficient skater.  Instead, what they are doing is tiring out the players before they even bring the pucks out to start teaching their practice objective.  They are also tearing up the ice before the pucks come out for practice – which just isn’t a good strategy.  Then the coach wonders why his players can’t make or receive a pas!  The players are already tired out from skating in circles, and the ice is now choppy and covered with snow. Conditioning skating with some emphasis on proper skating is great at the end of practice – if you have time.  But when the players first step on the ice, that is the best time you have to teach them.  This is the time when the players’ attention span is at its greatest, their energy levels are at their highest, and the ice is at its best.  To tire them out with skating drills that arent really improving their skating, at the beginning of a practice or training session – certainly seems to be very counter productive.