Thursday, December 13, 2012

Teamwork and Playing Your Role

Sometimes in high school hockey and often times in youth hockey, teams are reliant on individual players to carry the team. In small towns and small high schools, coaches often encourage this when it may be their best strategy to win games. It's no mystery that it's harder to defend a team that constantly moves the puck, than trying to defend one player who does all the work and doesn't move the puck. I look at a team like the 2011-2012 Hill-Murray Pioneers as an example. The pioneers started out the season with only ONE defenseman with varsity experience at D (Blake Heinrich), and made it to the State Championship game as an unseeded team at the tourney. Led by Jake Guentzel (U. Nebraska-Omaha), Charlie Sampair (UMD), and now senior Zach Lavalle, Hill-Murray had plenty of offensive firepower up front, but played as a team. I got the chance to see them play four times last season, and they were the best passing team I have seen at the high school level. The Pioneers perfected moving the puck up the ice as quickly as possible with short passes, and controlled play in the offensive zone with cycling the puck and with area passes. 
Hill-Murray Defenseman blocking a Maple Grove shot.
Photo by Helen Nelson
       Area passes are one of my favorite plays, and a pass I don't often see at the high school level. An area pass is passing to an empty area where a teammate is skating into, often leaving it open and rarely defended against. Hill-Murray was great at gaining the zone and drawing defenders to the puck carrier before making a short area pass to an open teammate for a good shot. Then you take a look at the defense the Pioneers carried, with how inexperienced they were, how did they  make it to the title game?
      Hill-Murray took down a Maple Grove team in the State Quarterfinals that many thought could win it all. A team that had 7 skaters with 30+ points in 28 games that included Dylan Steman (Michigan Tech), Jordan Gross (Notre Dame), and Spencer Bell (U. of Wisconsin). They shut down the offensively powered Crimson with steady defense. Blake Heinrich was the only Pioneer defenseman anyone heard about in the tourney with his physical play, but the rest of the D-core played their roles.
     A great key to success is everyone playing their role. Heinrich created some offense from the blueline, while other defenseman played steady defense and kept the puck out of the net. Same as some of the third and fourth line forwards. Not everyone on the team is going to be a goal scorer, and the puck isn't going to go in every night for forwards, so everyone needs to play their role. If you're not a goal scorer or a point producer up front, it is your responsibility to grind it out in the corners, lay the body, and be an excellent forechecker. When everyone plays their role to the team, that makes the team complete. Shot blocking also plays a pivotal role in players doing their job.
Former Minnetonka forward Max Gardiner (Penn State)
blocking a shot
        I made a post a while back strictly on shot blocking and its importance, and how overlooked it really is. The older players get and the higher the level, players shooting from the blueline pose a higher risk of scoring, raising the necessity to get out to the points and block shots from getting to the net or getting deflected. Some of the hardest teams to play against block the most shots, and it frustrates the players who cannot get a shot on goal. Players who go down and block shots are playing for their team, and that's something that coaches/scouts see. If everyone is willing to play hard, block shots and play their roles, you're in good shape.

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