One of the Keys to Moving Up the Hockey Pyramid
by Mike McPartlin, Headmaster, Bridgedale Academy
A number of years ago I attended a spring AAA Minor Bantam game featuring many excellent players.
It was, I knew, one of the very first “checking-allowed” games for both teams.
As a longtime AAA bantam coach, I was expecting to see players who were more than anxious to “hit” - but without a clue about how to properly “check.”
But instead I was very pleasantly surprised.
Because this game featured two teams with very good checking skills.
Why was I surprised?
I was surprised because in 40+ years of coaching, it was the first time I was able to watch such an “early” bantam game and say to myself:
“Okay, these players - from both teams - are getting it right and their peewee coaches definitely prepared them well for ‘check’ hockey.”
What is it about hockey anyway?
Hockey is the hardest sport to become even “bad” at.
Setting aside for now what it takes from the “thinking” side of the game, just look at all the challenging physical skills, each of which contains many sub-skills, that must be first learned and then mastered:
- Puck Handling
- Passing and Pass Catching
What about hockey’s checking skills?
Of ALL these skills, the least understood - and the least taught - are the checking skills.
There are two main reasons for this:
1) practice ice time for most teams is so limited that it’s hard to dedicate enough time to properly teach the checking skills; and
2) many youth hockey coaches simply don’t know how to teach correct checking skills.
USA Hockey and 200 x 85 are getting it right
A positive development with USAH’s Coaching Education Programs has been an emphasis on teaching proper checking skills at the peewee and younger levels.
In addition, programs like 200 x 85’s upcoming Body Contact Clinics are an outstanding opportunity for young players to develop contact confidence while enhancing their checking skills.
Why is it so valuable to be an effective checker?
Having good checking skills can make a huge difference for a player. Players who understand the checking skills will ALWAYS find a spot on a hockey team.
A player who knows how to check can:
- Forecheck effectively
- Backcheck effectively
- Defend the rush effectively
- Contain opponents in the defensive zone
- Create turnovers leading to offensive chances
Skills needed for proper checking
To become effective checkers, young players must first develop a certain level of “contact confidence.”
This is a particular area where USA Hockey's Coaching Education Program is doing a terrific job.
But more importantly, the players must learn and be able to execute the following skills and tactics:
- Skating control while cornering (edges, pivoting and agility maneuvers - forward and backward)
- Angles and Timing (to take away opponent’s time, space and options)
- Gap Control and Stick Position (to influence the puck)
- Match Opponent’s Speed and Direction
- Make Contact with Balance and Proper Weight Transfer
And of course they must be able to execute these skills and tactics at game speed and, ideally, with balance and rhythm.
Checking in hockey should not be confused with hitting. The best checkers in the NHL are rarely big hitters.
A young player who develops outstanding checking skills will have a distinct advantage over those players who do not. He will have a much greater opportunity to move up the hockey pyramid to the higher levels of competition.
And what do Bridgedale teachers say about Bridgedale?
"This is such a special place!! It is life changing for these boys as it centers around strong relationships that encourage strong academic growth. It’s a hockey school, but so much more than that.
"It’s a pleasure to come to work everyday. Thank you for creating such a positive, caring environment."
Kristi Florey, Bridgedale Math Teacher