Sunday, November 21, 2010

Hockey: 10% skill, 90% knowing how to play the game

I'm sitting here at home in my jammies, and rather than getting ready to go play hockey, I am watching the Vikings get slaughtered by the Packers. We are getting freezing rain here in Minnesota and as much as I LOVE playing ice hockey, I can't justify the risk of driving on really icy roads to play (I'd be driving over 50 miles round trip).

So, since I can't play hockey today, I thought I'd use the time to write about it.

Wayne Gretzky is the greatest man to ever lace up a pair of skates. He once said, "I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been." And I try to play by that short, but well summarized, philosophy of how to play the game.

I certainly am far from a perfect hockey player and make tons of mistakes all the time. I am not a very quick skater, although, I did learn in a Rob Little skating clinic that just when you think you are skating your fastest, try skating harder and faster, because you can. Practice skating so fast that you feel out of control and you will surprise yourself. I digress.... Anyway, I am not super quick, but I have both seen and experienced that just because someone is quick, it doesn't make them a great hockey player. Sure, speed is advantageous, but it's not what makes or breaks a game by any means.

I've seen really fast guys skate the puck from end to end, only to be shut down buy a good defender or awesome goalie. And from the bench, we can see all the missed passing opportunities that could have really increased our chances of scoring or getting a killer rebound chance if they had only lifted their head up or been willing to share the glory of a goal.

My point is that, while skill is important, knowing how to play the game is more important. There are a few things that I try to bring to my game in order to be as effective as possible and the best team player that I can possibly be. And I still have a very long ways to go...

First, skate you @ss off everytime you are on the ice. Obviously there are times when you aren't moving a whole lot, but everytime you are skating for the puck, skating to catch the opponent in their break out, moving to break up the opponent's pass, or skating towards a loose puck, skate your hardest. If you aren't skating hard then you really don't deserve to get there first. I am afraid to watch myself play on a video because I know that I would be extremely lacking in this area.

So very often, I see people coasting around, waiting for the puck to come to them or watching the game happen around them. I can't tell you how many times I've seen (and been this person) watching a pass come towards them, rather than skating a few extra steps to GO catch it, only to have the opponent intercept it because they are the ones moving their feet.

I've watched opponents and seen teammates watch as opponents handle the puck, trying to decide what to do with it, and we just sit back and watch their play happen; this, rather than skating towards them and applying pressure to FORCE them to move the puck to a place they don't necessarily want to send it. If we just sit back and watch and we don't apply that pressure then it gives them time to find an open guy to pass the puck to. But, I have also seen great results when we do apply pressure: it either forces the opponent to just dump the puck without intention or, sometimes, they turn it over and you get posession! Either way, it's a win-win so WHY not skate hard and apply the pressure?

Just a few games ago, while playing with my co-ed team, the Diablos, we were short-handed with a guy in the box. One of my awesome teammates, Monique, followed the puck into the offensive zone to apply pressure to their D. Her pressure ended up forcing a turn over and she got a short-handed goal! If she hadn't given that extra bit of effort and applied pressure, she wouldn't have created that amazing scoring opportunity.

Another aspect of the game that I believe is more important than natural talent is passing. No matter how fast you can skate, the puck can be passed at a faster speed and will force your opponent to chase you around like chickens with their heads cut off (which, btw, I just realize that I've never seen a chicken with their head cut off... hmmm). Again, this is something I really need to continue to work on.
When I get the puck, or see that I am about to, the first thing I do is quickly look up to see my options for passing it. I have milliseconds to decide if I have a great passing option, if it would be better for me to skate it up a bit, or if I should dump it somewhere neutral (like into the corner of the offensive zone so we can make a line change). Knowing where your passing options are is imperative to a successful hockey game. And frankly, that is why it's a team sport and not a game made up entirely of a shootout. And just as important to seeing where your options are at is talking on the ice to let your teammates know where you are and if you are open for a pass. I am SO bad at this, I need to talk on the ice way more often than I do!
And finally, I'd like to expand on the Great One's quote, "I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been." The one thing that will tire out a team faster than a short walk will tire out old man Favre is chasing the puck around the ice. If you want to be successful, create turnovers and shut down the opponent, you have to be able to anticipate where the puck is going to be and get there. When the opposition is breaking out the puck or trying to get a scoring chance in our zone, I look around and think, "where is that player going to pass the puck?" And then I try and get into position to block or intercept that pass. If you aren't looking around and recognizing what the opposition's passing options are then you are playing with blinders on and will get very tired chasing around the puck - I know this from experiece!
Oh and one last little tid bit: never try to play goalie for your goalie. Sorry bout that Jen! :)
So, to sum it up: Skate your hardest ALL the time, look for passing opportunities, play where the puck is going to be, not where it's been, don't play goalie if you aren't the goalie, and Gretzky is the Great One.
I am getting sad that I am not at either of my games right now :(

Safety first, though, and driving on icy roads: I don't feel safe.


erin said...

icy roads? why don't you just lace up and skate there!! hehe!

Jess(ica) said...

Believe me, Erin, I thought of that! haha