3 Effective Half-Ice Hockey Practice Drills (and the Argument Against Full Ice Drills)

3 Effective Half-Ice Hockey Practice Drills (and the Argument Against Full Ice Drills)
It's easy to get lazy with full-ice practice drills. Challenge yourself to do more with less; work players harder and get them more puck time.

As coaches, it’s time we rethink how we run full ice practices. Very few drills outside of a scrimmage need to be run on full ice and don’t involve enough players to get reps and puck touches in during the practice time.

And for the love of all of the Hockey Gods, enough flow drills! They might look good, parents usually compliment practice when they are done, but they are lazy and by and large, meaningless drills that teach players very little.

Let me be clear: I use them too. I get it. In fact, we can probably say they have a place in practice. That place, however, is warming up players, and maybe goalies. Beyond that, coaches need to be focused on drills that teach a skill, and simply flowing up and down the ice with nearly no resistance and at a pace that allows for near perfect passing, they learn very little.

A Time and Place for Everything

Now, before you start marching to my house with pitchforks and torches, I know there is a time and place for a good full ice drill that mimics an in-game scenario or teaches a rush that allows the players to understand what it feels like to use the whole sheet. These should be rotated in when necessary, but don’t think by mastering these players are developing by leaps and bounds. We can do more to develop their skills away from these drills.

In my program, we are lucky to ever get a full ice practice. Most teams get two half ice sheets a week, and a select few in the Tier II division get one full ice sheet and another half.

Because of this, parents often complain and ask for more full ice. Yet, when they finally get it, they become upset the moment practices stop being full ice drills and players are broken into smaller groups. 

Yet, our job on the ice is to develop skill, not impress mom and dad. In fact, I tell parents regularly that a good coach can do more with half-ice than a bad coach can do with a full sheet, and I have seen coaches really squander a full sheet time and time again.

But the truth is, station based hockey produces better hockey players. 

Most drills on a full sheet use 2-3 players at a time, while the other 15-18 stand in line waiting for their turn. How many times are players touching the puck while waiting in line?

Yet, break that ice into smaller stations, and you have players touching the puck an equivalent of 11 hockey games, in a single practice.

USA Hockey Study

A study by USA Hockey found that on average, Olympic level hockey players possessed the puck an average of 1 minute and 7 seconds a game. A handful of now NHL players, in their youth days, were holding the puck 1 minute and 6 seconds a game. 

“Touching the puck for a minute-plus in a game is not really being involved,” two-time Olympian Guy Gosselin told USA Hockey Magazine. “You can get 30 minutes of puck-touch time in a station-based practice. That not only helps build their skills, but it’s a lot of fun.”

Gosselin, who works as the Manager of Player Development for USA Hockey, noted that kids who don’t get puck touches lose interest in the game.

But beyond kids, even at the highest levels of the game, players don’t get better while waiting their turn.

The Pittsburgh Penguins Do It!

This is why NHL coaches are breaking into stations now more than ever. Mike Sullivan, Head Coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, regularly runs practices featuring stations and small area games to get more players involved through the entire window. 

He has to, at that level, because his team actually gets fewer practices than they would like given its demanding travel schedule. So when you’re on the ice, make the most of it. 

At the younger levels, this is even more important. We have players at the most important stages in their development, and too often, we waste our time putting players in lines to run drills that look pretty, and accomplish little.

I now challenge you, to challenge yourself and your staff. Bring new drills that use only the corner, or only the neutral zone. Shrink the game and push you and your players to do more with their limited practice time. 

Need help getting started? Here are the three top techniques I hear need to be taught on full ice, and how they can be done in station based drills or small area games.

It's easy to get lazy with full-ice practice drills. Challenge yourself to do more with less; work players harder and get them more puck time . . .



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Dan Arel

Dan Arel is the Director of Coaching Education and Development for the San Diego Oilers and head coach of their 12U A team. He was also named the 2020 San Diego Gulls Foundation's Coach of the Year. You can email him at [email protected].

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