The one skill that seems to have regressed in youth and high school hockey is passing. It’s not sexy and a clip of an amazing breakout pass is rarely featured on any highlight reel or Instagram feed. But hockey is a game of speed and the cliché that the puck moves faster than any skater is true. The best passing teams have substantial advantages over their opponents.
Imagine a sequence of two passes that takes place just 0.2 seconds faster on one team compared to its opponent. Each time they make a set of two passes, this team opens up space. At the boys’ high school varsity level, that space can be five feet or more! That’s how fast this game is and how crucial passing is to be successful in it.
Many players can recite a variety of coaching tips for shooting. Everyone, including coaches, would rather watch kids work on shooting than watch players learn to pass. Even a simple partner passing drill can be excruciating as pucks begin to fly off players’ sticks or not even come close to the intended target. Players don’t automatically make consistent tape-to-tape passes. It’s a skill, like anything else, and it requires a lot of time.
Many youth players don’t hold their stick properly when receiving a pass. Their top hand is tucked against their rib cage rather than being away from the body and in a better position to pass the puck once the player receives it. Many other players have a weak bottom hand. Pucks fly off their sticks, not because they don’t have enough give, but because their bottom hand is too soft, and as the puck hits their blade, it opens up.
We need to talk about and reward passing. We talk about rewarding hard work. We reward scoring goals. What about the passes that set up the goals? Not even the immediate pass to the goal scorer, but the many passes that came before the goal that opened up space or that forced an opponent to skate farther, longer and harder, leaving them a few feet behind rather than equal to the shooter. A pass from one defenseman to the other on a regroup that is crisp, quick and accurate sets up the next play. Each consecutive hard and accurate pass gives the receiver a wider range of options than he otherwise would have had.
As hockey continues to evolve and undoubtedly gets even faster, passing will become more crucial. Those that master it will have an advantage that will be hard to beat.
Josh Levine is the Assistant Coach of the Bloomington Jefferson Girls Varsity Hockey team and owner of The Fortis Academy. Fortis works with youth associations to implement skill development programs with all teams, from Mites to Bantams. The program includes parent education seminars, coaching clinics and Fortis skill-based practices. If you’re interested in learning more, shoot Josh an email email@example.com. Follow Fortis on Facebook and Instagram.
Photo: Mike Thill