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A Gopher’s Guide to Fall Training

By Steve Mann, 09/12/17, 8:45AM CDT

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The first drop of the puck, signaling the start of another ice hockey season in Minnesota, is still several weeks away. But for young players looking to prepare for the upcoming schedule of practices and games with their teams, late summer and fall offer plenty of opportunities to develop skills and have fun.

Emily West, USA Hockey’s ADM Manager for Female Hockey, knows a thing or two about skill development. The former University of Minnesota Golden Gophers’ captain and Patty Kazmaier Award nominee now works with local associations and national programs to develop and support age-appropriate training, competition and athlete development.

Growing up in rural Black Forest, Colo., West spent hours shooting pucks at a wall or garbage can and stickhandling through homemade obstacle courses, often drawn on the ground in chalk. “Nothing fancy,” she said. “I’d just dump pucks on the ground and make up games on my own.”

As West and most every hockey coach would attest, a frozen sheet of ice is not a requirement when it comes to getting better at the game. Dryland training can often lay the foundation for a successful season at the rink.

“We encourage players to use the space that they have, whether it’s a hallway, an open field, a garage or a basement,” said West. “You don’t need to have skates on to work on fundamentals, quick feet, agility, balance and coordination. You don’t even need to focus on hockey. Playing other sports can also be beneficial in many ways and extremely fun.”

West believes skill development isn’t a one-method-fits-all approach, particularly because players between the ages of 5-18 are all going through different phases of physical and mental development. She recommends using the following off-ice drills for players, based on age, to prepare for the upcoming season and to continue to build athleticism throughout the year:

Age 8-and-Under:

  • Focus on fun and fundamentals; get moving to build athleticism and flexibility.
  • Play catch with a tennis ball while hopping on one foot to improve agility and balance.
  • Use chalk to draw a ladder on the driveway or garage floor, and run or jump through, stepping in each square along the way.
  • Crab walk or bear crawl to build back/core strength.
  • Play “keep-away” or “monkey in the middle” stickhandling/passing games.
  • Shoot pucks into a garbage can (if you don’t have a net).
  • Goalies bounce tennis ball or racquet ball off steps or garage door and try to catch with one hand to build hand-eye coordination.

Age 8-12:

  • Focus on skills training; speed, stickhandling, passing, etc.
  • Intensify ladder training – 180s, 1-in-the-hole, 2-in-2-out, etc.
  • “Row the boat” and jumping activity with a soccer ball.
  • Practice stationary passing and give-and-go passing drills with a friend.
  • Puckhandling drills around cones or circles drawn on floor to improve left-right movements, reach expansion and toe-drag technique.
  • Dump a bunch of pucks on the ground and try to stickhandle through them in under a minute.
  • Bodyweight squats and wall sits to strengthen core, upper/lower body.

Age 12+:

  • Focus on specialized skills, stamina and strength. Boys and girls should start individual strength training following their Peak Height Velocity (PHV) or growth spurts.
  • Play 3-on-3 games, trying both offense and defense positions.
  • Flip cards in the air and try to catch before they drop to improve speed and reflexes.
  • Lay sticks on the ground, practice saucer passes over them.
  • Practice backhand wrist shots and one-timers into net, wall or garbage can.
  • Supervised strength training (some upper/lower bodyweight lifting).
  • Intensified endurance training (running, biking, hill climbing, etc.).
  • Sit-ups, push-ups, short sprints (try to set new personal bests each day).
  • Goalies focus on core strength and side-to-side quickness.

Goalies: USA Hockey’s Manager of Goaltending put together a comprehensive list of pre- and post-ice dryland training and stretching drills. Click here to download.

While the types and frequency of activities are important, West also believes it’s critical that the player dictates his/her own offseason hockey regimen, whether it’s goofing around with friends or more serious training.

“I think, as adults, we sometimes lose sight that most kids play hockey because they simply love to play it,” said West. “A parent’s role is to talk with their kids, encourage them, remind them to have fun and be that support system. It’s absolutely critical that the kids want to participate and get better on their own. Parents have to ‘read’ their kids and provide healthy encouragement, rather than pressure or a push.”

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