Playoff hockey is special. There’s no arguing that playoffs in any sport are intense and exciting to watch or play in. There’s just something unique about hockey, and playoff beards, while certainly a trademark at higher levels, are only a very small part of it.
With every shift and every game, the bar is raised a little bit. Passes are crisper, puck battles turn into small wars and shots become lasers with the power to make entire arenas “oooh” and “ahhh”. It is a gut wrenching, stick clenching and utterly thrilling time of year where players and teams have to find new ways to elevate their game with each passing night in order to keep their season alive.
As the stakes rise and the field of teams narrows, it is often the smallest details that make the biggest difference. Here are five great habits that will help your team during their playoff journey.
Preparation is Key
This is the time of year where “the other stuff” can truly separate the teams that move on and the teams who are done for the season. Nutrition, hydration and good sleep are three areas that can be easily influenced by coaches or parents and can make a huge difference in players’ performance.
No one expects 12 year olds to eat like Olympic athletes. On the other hand, showing up to the rink with a slushy and a candy bar and then downing a 20 oz. bottle of pop and a concession stand hot dog after the game isn’t exactly a recipe for success.
Here are three simple tips to improve at each of these:
- Nutrition: Carry healthy snack options such as trail mix, beef jerky or energy bars to tournaments.
- Hydration: Leading up to a game have your player carry a water bottle throughout the day. After the game, give them a sports drink within the first hour.
- Sleep: Aim for 8-10 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night.
Coaches have all kinds of terms and sayings that describe this type of play. “Get gritty”, “show some intensity”, “be physical” and “hard on pucks” are just a few.
Hockey is a game that is often won and lost in one-on-one battles that occur up and down the ice, along the boards and in front of the nets. Players that approach every one of these battles with a burning desire to beat his or her opponent are going to win more battles and help their team.
No one is going to grow or get significantly stronger in two weeks, but everybody can play bigger than expected for their current size by competing as hard as possible for each loose puck.
Keep Your Stick on the Ice
Just because it’s obvious, doesn’t mean it’s not true.
Even at the highest levels of hockey, where elite players can make stick-to-stick saucer passes on demand, the puck spends the large majority of its time on the ice. Therefore, it’s critical for players to have their stick on the ice.
Whether players are trying to play solid defense in their own zone or light the lamp on an odd man rush, this little detail can make a huge impact on every game.
Make Money Passes
The NHL has become a puck possession game, and youth hockey isn’t far behind. Players work so hard to win puck races and individual battles so why would they just throw it away?
Would a kid ever do their chores, earn their allowance and then, give it back to mom or dad? No way!
The same should hold true on the ice. When players get the puck, they should treat it as an allowance they can use to buy a goal. Don’t give it right back to the other team. Protect it. Take a few hard strides to get away from trouble. Then, find a teammate and hit them right on the tape so they can protect it.
Turnovers are going to happen in hockey. It’s a fast paced game that’s filled with mistakes, but the teams that avoid careless mistakes and turnovers are likely to have a longer season.
Move Your Feet
“Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle,” said former US President Abraham Lincoln.
There isn’t time for waiting in playoff hockey. As the speed of the game picks up, it becomes critical that players are being aggressive all over the ice. Attacking the puck carrier and applying consistent pressure forces the opponent to make more mistakes and creates scoring opportunities.
Teams will always have a mix of players with varying abilities, but everyone can control how hard they work. Whether it is chasing down loose pucks, back checking, getting open for teammates or skating back to the bench at the end of a shift, players of all skill levels can become difference makers by giving consistent effort.