Pitfalls of a newbie hockey team

by barbaragarn

With the JMS tournament nigh, I thought I would write a blog on beginner hockey teams. I’ve been a part of many beginner teams, and after some time have come to realize the parts that are really tough for new teams to deal with.

Disclaimer: If you have played a lot of competitive hockey, many of these things are second nature and may not be of any of use to you. Some of the advice below, at higher levels, may be outright wrong. For the rest, please benefit from my many mistakes.
Switching lines
There’s a simple trick to switching lines correctly. After they’ve been assigned, identify the player that’s coming on the ice right before you and identify the player that takes the ice after you get to the bench. This way, you know that when #42 is coming towards the benches, you should be ready to hop on the ice, and if you are coming off the bench, you should be yelling to #16 to take your place on the ice.
Stay single minded and do not worry about the positions around you. If everyone followed this rule, there would never, ever be any too-many-men-on-the-ice penalties.
Also, the JMS axiom of “if you’re tired — get off the ice!” couldn’t be more true here. In fact, take whatever time you typically play for at a JMS shift and halve it — whatever is that amount is how much you should be playing out for in a competive game. You need to put 100% of your energy into the play, 100% of the time. Are you at 95%? Time to get off the ice. 
It’s just a penalty — don’t panic!
If you’re on the penalty kill, you’ll need to drop a position temporarily. If your team hasn’t discussed how this will work out, you’ll need to do this on the fly. This is not a big deal! It’s very simple. If the player in the penalty box is a forward, drop that player’s position. If the player’s position has already been dropped previously due to penalties, drop a different position as a replacement (so everyone gets equal icetime).
If the player in the box is a defender you’ll need to make a decision about which position to drop very quickly. Usually it’s best to drop a forward as you probably won’t have many defensive players in the first place.
If your captain has not made a decision within 20 seconds of a penalty — speak up! Make a decision yourself, make sure everyone the bench understands and agrees to it. The _worst_ thing that can happen in this situation is indecisiveness. Indecision leads to not getting people on the ice when they should be out there, or worse yet a too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty (Don’t believe me? Look at the AHA D2 stats and see how often this penalty comes up during games)
Pulling the goalie
This is going to be a highly debatable point. Pulling the goalie is one of those things thats just a cornerstone of hockey. One minute to go and down by a goal? Pull the goalie! No point in not doing it, right? What do you have to lose?
Well, the truth is, if your team isn’t prepared and hasn’t set aside a plan for pulling the goalie, it’s probably more detrimental to your chance of winning than helpful. I’d argue that pulling a goalie while the play is live is one of the hardest plays that a beginner team can execute.
So many things have to go right in order to even have a CHANCE at being successful:
  • Everyone on the team must know exactly which player needs to jump out on the ice to replace the goalie
  • That sixth player must know immediately after getting on the ice whether he needs to play more defensively or aggressively
  • A player must be ready to open the door for the goalie skating off the ice (Believe it or not they can’t jump over the boards with all that equipment on). I’ve seen this one bite so many teams in the ass I can’t even begin to count — the players are so transfixed on watching the play that no one remembers to open the door.
  • All players on the ice need to immediately recognize the focus of the game should not be aggressively attacking the opponent’s zone, but rather controlling the puck so a simple mistake does not ruin any chances. This is especially true at the beginner level where mistakes are common.
That said – is it worth it to pull the goalie? That will be up to your team. If you have a face-off in the offensive zone with a minute to go, go for it. Otherwise — discuss this with your team before hand. If it has not been discussed, do not assume it is the best option for your team at that moment.
I hope everyone enjoys the tournament, there is nothing quite like the spirit of a competitive hockey game. May team #6 win 🙂