Hockey’s Home Stretch: Embrace the Struggle

Kelvin Cech Home Stretch Ice Hockey Coach Tips and Drills Denver Pioneers

Photo courtesy of John Leyba/Denver Post and SB Nation

Another flight home, this time with four points and the first season sweep UBC has had over an opponent in … well I don’t even know if it’s happened before. Certainly not in my time here.

But a tight win Friday and a convincing win Saturday and all of a sudden we’re in the thick of a white knuckle playoff chase once again. The home stretch.

This is what we live for.

Sure, it’s stressful, but none of us got into this business because we’re afraid of a little – alright, a lot of stress. So what causes stress for hockey coaches? Everything from players with bad body language to lack of execution to the pressure that comes with making decisions. Who plays the half wall on your power play? What PK forecheck will work best against a second year defenseman who scored four goals in a single game last weekend? What team is going to show up in a game you absolutely must win, and on paper, absolutely should win?

Questions without answers. The life of a hockey coach. Any coach, really. Any teacher, too.

If we could see the future then we’d all know what play to run on every offensive zone draw.

But where’s the fun in that?

Inspire Connect Lead

Your Body Language, Your Culture

We talk a lot about the flow of the game and engaging mentally, but that shouldn’t stop with the players. Sure, it’s easy to be relaxed on the bench when you’re on the fun end of a 5-1 game with five minutes left in the third period. But as the stretch intensifies and playoff positions flip flop back and forth, it’s crucial to reign in everyone’s stress. Focus on the details of the game you can control so your players can play with as little distraction as possible.

So what can you control?

  • How hard you work
  • How prepared your team is
  • Your own sleep, diet, and exercise

The stretch run is tough on the ol’ brain, so keep your mind as healthy as possible by resting it properly.

Part of your philosophy might dictate necessary changes in your approach, but for the most part it’s important to keep things status quo. We’re all hockey players too, we’ve been told what to do and when to do it our entire lives, and now we’re passing that message on to our players. Keep it simple and keep the message consistent. If you start getting riled up on a daily basis then guaranteed your players will start squeezing their sticks tighter than normal.

And when the season is on the line in a couple weeks, squeezing the stick could lead to disaster.

For every team in your league except one, heartbreak is coming. I remember exactly how it felt when my major midget Giants lost to Red Deer five years ago in regional qualifiers, and I remember how it felt three months prior to that when we won the Mac’s Cup in triple overtime.

One was utter bliss. One was like everything you fear rushing at you all at once.

So buckle up ladies and gentleman. Lean into the storm instead of hiding from it during the stretch, and good luck.

Unless you’re playing us. Then do the opposite of everything I just said. Also UBC has a legendary McDonald’s on campus, I’ll get you some coupons.


TCS|Members Ice Hockey Coach Tips and Drills Todd Woodcroft

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Kelvin is an assistant coach with the UBC Thunderbirds Men's Varsity hockey team and a freelance hockey writer.