Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Well Rounded Game

What is a complete hockey player? What do coaches and scouts mean when they refer to a player as having the "total package"? The answer--being a well-rounded player. It's no mystery that goal scorers get a lot of recognition for their ability to find the back of the net and create highlight reel goals, but is that enough? Even for the Tampa Bay Lightning's Rocket Richard trophy winner Steven Stamkos the puck doesn't go in every night, so he has other parts to his game to compensate when he isn't scoring. The true value of a player is how important they are to their team.
Spring Lake Park alum David Backes went from a well-
rounded high school player, to an NHL captain and
USA Hockey Olympian
     Often times young players are taught at an early age what their role is. Some are taught that their job is to score goals, others to camp out in front of the net and screen the goalie, and some to play steady defense. While there may be places in hockey for specialists, it's the well-rounded players who provide stability in the lineup. A player like St. Louis Blues' captain David Backes, who has scored 31 goals twice in his career, is regarded as one of the game's best defensive forwards. Instead of specializing, young players should be taught to have a better well-rounded game to make them the "total package".
   What I mean when I say well-rounded players provide stability in the lineup is that regardless of scoring production, they will be an asset to the team night in and night out. Here are some things to work on to be a better well-rounded player...

Faceoffs: Not usually emphasized heavily, but a very important part of the game. Puck possession is key in controlling a game, and starts with winning faceoffs. A coach needs to have a player who can win draws at key moments of a game.
Backchecking: Backchecking not only means coming back into the defensive zone, but finding an opposing player and sticking with them. Your responsibility as a backchecker doesn't end until your team gains possession of the puck. It is important that you cover someone and stay with them.
Passing: Is there such thing as too good of a passer? The answer is no. Good players can always find an open teammate. The emphasis on passing should be to get the puck to the player who is in the best position to get your team up the ice and into the offensive zone or to the player who has the best chance at a quality shot. Also important that the passes are made as soon as you realize your teammate is open. The longer you wait, the less open they become.
Skating: Like passing, I don't think there is such a thing as being too good of a skater. However, this doesn't just mean speed. While speed is a great asset, being able to transition from forward to backwards at high speeds is crucial, especially for defenseman. Also, knowing what angles to take when skating to defend an opposing player or getting to loose pucks. Most importantly is form. When young players skate upright, they aren't getting the full potential out of their strides and are tiring more quickly. Stay low, and work on perfecting your stride to it's maximum potential.
Shooting: Learning to take quality shots does not necessarily mean ripping the puck off the crossbar and into the back of the net. Sure, that's a pretty way to score a goal, but won't always be the most practical. Focus on shooting from specific areas of the ice. If a goalie isn't screened and a shot is taken from outside the tops of the faceoff circles, it should be a fairly routine save. Learn to take shots that will be the most difficult for a goalie to save from where you are shooting. Low shots are great with traffic in front and pose the biggest threat for a deflection or rebound. Most importantly, always shoot with your head up. You may know where you're going to shoot when your head is down, but that doesn't mean that area of the net is open. Keep your head up and find the open spaces in the net to shoot at.
Work Ethic- Being a tireless worker will get a player some recognition. The hardest working players are the players you love to have on your team, but hate to play against. They just don't quit. No matter what the game situation is, the harder you work, the better prepared you are for what comes at you and you seem to get a little more "puck luck". In practice, games, the weight room, or shooting pucks in the garage, do it 100% until you don't know any other way to do it.

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