It always comes back to the fundamentals. No matter how complex the system is or how well it’s taught, execution will come down to the fundamentals.
So often in today’s game, and we’re talking right down to atom-aged players, coaches put a huge emphasis instilling systems within their group that will allow them to win hockey games. The problem is that without the proper fundamentals or foundational skills, the players will never have a chance of executing these systems.
Nowhere is this more applicable then with defensemen. You could argue that today, when so much attention is paid to individual skills for goaltenders and forwards, or at least on offensive skills for skaters, that the finer points of playing defence get missed.
Over the years, delegates of our annual TeamSnap Hockey Coaches Conference have asked if we could include on-ice presentations with an emphasis on specific drills and methods to develop players. Fortunately for our audience, our host venue in Toronto, the Mattamy Centre (formally Maple Leaf Gardens) included an ice rink right above our conference facility so it was easy to include an on-ice component as part of our curriculum.
We reached out to Troy Smith, formally an Associate Coach with the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs and Head Coach with the Kitchener Rangers. Troy walked us through some of the fundamentals he worked on a daily basis in practice to instil in his defensemen. What we learned is that basics of the position are well, pretty basic. But they are skills required for virtually every shift and all too often aren’t passed on to young defensemen.
Members of the Whitby Wildcats bantam team joined Troy on the ice and he walked them through various progressions just like he would his own team. He focused on play with and without the puck. What stood out during the session was that you could actually see the young players improve during the 20 minutes lesson. The kids were pretty pumped when they got off the ice and said they took a lot away from the experience of being on the ice with a veteran coach.
Some key takeaways from Troy’s presentation included:
1) The importance of defensemen separating their upper and lower body when handling the puck.
2) Knowing what options are available before receiving or retrieving the puck.
3) Getting rid of the habit of “dusting the puck” or over handling it. He recommends that defensemen play with the puck on their forehand as much as possible.
In this presentation, Troy offers some great drills with lots of details which coaches of all levels can implement into their practices. Below is an excerpt from Troy’s presentation and of course, the entire video can be viewed in our TCS | Members section. If you haven’t already, get started with your FREE trial to see for yourself why coaches from around the world have signed up for this great development resource.
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