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The Evolution of Hockey

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photo by Don Duval

Posted by Don Duval on August 4, 2013.


The ‘Canadian Game’ as we here in Canada call it, had it’s first organized game March 3, 1875 in Montreal.  It is claimed that the game of  ice hockey was originally played in Nova Scotia prior to this date by students who attended King’s College School, and was adapted from an Irish game called Hurley. It may also have been a result of the Native Canadians playing a somewhat similar game which today is called Lacrosse.

From the early years it was a game of skill, performed and refined as the years passed and rules changed until we arrive at our current game.  Is the game still a game of skill?
What is Skill? “A skill is the learned capacity to carry out pre-determined results often with the minimum outlay of time, energy, or both.”

With the Evolution of the game, have we removed the emphasis on skill in favour of the excitement of speed?  If we are to look closely, speed has bypassed the need for skill in today’s fast paced game of entertainment. We all love to see the players fly around the ice, give tremendous hits on opponents, shoot the puck into the corners and have three or four 6’ 3”  - 225 pound players try to put each other through the boards.  Now this is exciting!  Or, is it?  

Would you rather watch Sidney Crosby or Mike Richards make some moves and leave others asking “what happened” ? But perhaps you love watching big bodies running into each other, does it take skill?  If we were to look at the majority of the ‘best’ players in the NHL over the past several years, which players come to mind the quickest?  I would guess most would mention Gretzky, Richards, Yzerman, Richards, Datsyuk and Lidstrom in this category.  Have you noticed the big, strong, tough guys have very few who would  fit into this exclusive group?  Can we learn anything from these selections?  The answer is yes!

As today’s game has evolved to size and speed,  we do not have a great deal of need for the smaller, smarter player with more ability, but does not give us the glamour of monstrous hits.  Also, it is easier to build such a player.  We do not need to spend as much time teaching and developing his skills., Skills?  Or, lack of ?

One part of today’s game often appears to be ’charging’ however, this is often overlooked in today’s game.  Why?   It is often the reason for many serious injuries in today’s game and appears to be a complete lack of respect for fellow players.  Should the rule, as follows be enforced in today’s game, it would not only increase the safety of the game but would allow for more skilled plays during the game. During the 60’s and 70’s charging penalties were called on a regular basis.  However, during the last ten years it would appear the charging penalty has gone by the way of the DoDo bird.




CHARGING :  Page 90, Rule 6.3

a]  A Minor Penalty or, at the discretion of the Referee, a Major Penalty and a Game Misconduct Penalty shall be assessed to any Player who runs or jumps into or charges an opponent.  If injury results, a Major Penalty and a Game Misconduct Penalty shall be assessed.

The general consensus of the true  hockey fan is,  let’s watch some skilled hockey!   In order to develop the skilled hockey player we must revert to the grass roots level.  At this level what do we emphasize as the best for our next “ Wayne Gretzky “ ?   Skating, passing and shooting!  Now, no one can knock this theory.  After all there are hockey clinics, at a cost, run all over the country almost year round.  Once we place “ Wayne Junior “ in one of these highly visible clinics, we observe how fast he skates, how hard and accurate he passes, or doesn’t, and what a great quick, hard and accurate shot he develops, or not.

In the majority of situations when a young player  makes it to the NHL, the first remarks from team management and coaching staff are “he has to learn how to play without the puck as well as how to play both ends of the ice“.  We have this Superstar in the making, having played twelve to fourteen years in minor and junior hockey who does not know all factions of the game.  Why?  Well, winning, show, and many an ego have placed the number one priority on speed, hitting and providing entertainment.  This is where the cosmetics of the game have blinded most of us to the real need for better and smarter players. The pendulum has swung in the direction that the fans want more skill on the ice.  Skill takes time and hard work while size and speed is the easier road.  Hockey has reached a cross in the road and the time has arrived to travel both paths to enjoy all the benefits of the game.

With the pace of modern hockey, a player will have possession of the puck for about two minutes, plus or minus per game.  In the modern game playing time is usually 60 minutes divided into three periods.  This would result in players having puck possession for approximately 4% to 5% of the time and non possession 95% to 96% .  

With our current priorities we teach kids the 4% or 5% of the game approximately 90% of the time whether it be in practice or clinics.  Perhaps we should consider spending a greater amount of time teaching the players how to play without the puck, since they will play without the puck about 95% of the time.   This is ‘playing without’ the puck.  If we learn to play without the puck we develop greater skills in many areas, increase our ability to play at a more competitive level, have puck possession longer than previous and become a more complete individual and team member.  

As the NHL demands complete players, we are now in a superior mode to fill the more competitive situations which will arise.

Following months of research and analysing numerous surveys, it appears to show today’s young player would learn more about playing without the puck during off-ice teaching sessions than on-ice.  The current estimated time is one hour of off-ice skill development would equal approximately four to five hours, or more of  on-ice skill development.  In addition, the cost of hockey could be reduced by not paying the average of $180 to $200 per hour for ice rental.

In summary, many hockey organizations, especially in the USA and foreign countries have commenced off-ice Instruction.  Is it working?  An increasing number of American players are now moving on to professional hockey.

These Organizations have also started with a Hockey Mentor position on their executive. These mentors work with a few select qualified hockey people within the organization who teach the Off-Ice Clinics at no cost to the kids.  Many are also following the same pattern in offering the skating, shooting and passing clinics on ice.

Some organizations also request applications for the instructors positions as they do for coaching staff.  Hockey clinics are great however, let’s be honest are they teaching something totally new?   No, there are various drills which many many qualified instructors could be following and provide to kids at no cost. Clinics are definitely beneficial however, is it due to teaching something totally new or from skating for an hour steady at each session?  Think about it.

Recently two very good former NHL players made similar comments to the effect that  ‘today’s game is so fast that our brains cannot keep up to our feet.’  How true.  If we observe some NHL players we understand why their brains appear to be in ‘pause’ mode.

Yes, hockey is a tough game with body contact which is appealing to most players and observers.  We do not wish to remove the style of the game but simply place priorities in order. Hockey, when played within the rules allows the formation of life skills which will benefit every young participant.  We have the tool within our grasp to make a difference for many young people and we must take this opportunity.

Many years ago, I was playing Junior Hockey and during try-outs a new player arrived on the scene.  This guy could fly. No one could skate with him.  Following our first exhibition game ,the coach came into the dressing room, as was his normal routine, and addressed the team as a whole and then an assessment of each individual dressed for the game. The coach finally came to the ‘speedster’ and in a very direct voice said “ Son, you have a million dollar pair of legs…and a ten cent brain “.  We never saw the guy again.

To play hockey we require   S Q S [ Smarts, Quickness and Speed ]  and some R & R [ Read and React ].

Perhaps Hockey should look at where we began, where we are and where we will be down the road.

The main focus of this article is to enforce the idea of bringing  SMARTS  to the forefront of Hockey. (Smarts Makes Athletes Realize Total Success)


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