Is it better to be the best on the ice or the worst on the ice?
If you’re the best skater at a session (and this is assuming that you’re at a session you’re supposed to be at; a Level 3 player at a Level 3 session, and not some ringer — after all, of the 22 skaters, somebody has to be at the top of the heap), it’s fun to have such an impact on the flow of the game.
You’ll get plenty of time with the puck and can work on stickhandling confidence and working it through traffic. And gee, isn’t it nice to score?
But it can be frustrating to be the best, or fastest. Other skaters recognize your skill and, sometimes, instead of carrying the puck themselves, they’ll fling it at you. When your team does break out, you may think you’re leading the rush, only to get to the net and find no-one from your team has joined you. All alone, take the shot and try to cover the rebound yourself.
And you also have to be a leader. You have to include the other skaters in your moments of prowess, remembering to pass instead of always taking the shot. Or pass instead of carrying it up the ice yet again.
If you’re the worst skater at a session–and again, with 22, someone is going to be at the top and someone is going to be at the bottom–then the other players don’t have expectations for you to execute sophisticated plays. You’ll probably be left alone and uncovered, so you can get used to positioning and struggle your way up the ice, following the play.
When the puck comes, you’ll be tempted to whack at it because the other skaters are faster and you know you won’t have much time with it. Obviously, this doesn’t help your stickhandling skills.
As the worst skater on the ice, your participation will be minimal. But you can–and should–learn by watching the better skaters. And hopefully join their ranks someday soon.
This didn’t start out as a lecture about “don’t try to jump up a level too soon,” but I’ve realized it’s pertinent. By jumping up when your skills are ready, and not because of ego, you’ll do yourself a real favor. By being the best–or one of the better skaters–you’ll have more time to react, more time to handle the puck, and more time to improve your vision for the game.
Of course, once you do jump up to the next level, and find yourself at the bottom of the continuum again, don’t forget what you learned when you were at the top: skate hard, keep your head up, and think before you pass.