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Developing Dynamic Offensive Skills

By Minnesota Hockey, 11/02/21, 4:30PM CDT


There’s a very simple reason recaps of NHL games only show goals or incredible saves. Whether it’s an unreal move on a breakaway, a blistering one-timer off a slick pass or a nifty deflection in front of the net, goals have a way of capturing the hearts and minds of fans.

And the same is true for players. Scoring goals, or even the opportunity to try and score, is one of many players’ favorite part about hockey.

“First and foremost, offense is fun,” stressed Pat Andrews, boys’ hockey coach at Hermantown High School. “We really try to make offense fun. In practice, we constantly are keeping score, doing small area games or drills that keep score among forwards and defense to make it a competition.”

Having seen several former players progress to Division I hockey and higher, Andrews went on to share some of his observations of great offensive players, what makes them special and how current players can develop those skills.

Core Characteristics

If everyone enjoys scoring, why is it certain players excel at generating offensive scoring chances and finishing them?

“You need to have the mind and the skill set,” said Andrews. “The guys who are dynamic offensive players, their minds work at a different level than most players, but then you also need to have the skill set to pull of what your mind wants to accomplish. That’s what separates the great ones from the good ones.”  

Andrews points to recent Mr. Hockey Award winner Blake Biondi and Hawks junior Zam Plante as two examples from his program. While very different players in terms of style, Biondi and Plante have similar characteristics that transcend any specific skills.

“Their passion for the game is absolutely through the roof. Both are the definition of a rink rat.” said Andrews. “They both compete so hard at every single drill. They expect to win every single time they do a drill. If we’re doing a one-on-one drill, they expect to beat the defense and score. If we’re doing a five-on-five full ice, game-like scenario, they expect their line to score.”

“They just have so much energy and drive when they’re playing the game. They just light up.”

Watch & Learn

In addition to playing the game on the ice, many top players are also driven to learn about the game off-the-ice and on their own time.

“One thing all young players should do is watch great players play the game,” said Andrews. “That’s a commonality I see among our guys who are really effective and do well.”

“They love the game, and they watch it. They watch it on TV. They go to Bulldogs games and watch. They go to junior games and watch. They come to high school games and watch. Pick out one or two players in a game and watch them.”

Creating Opportunities

One of the keys to generating offense as players advance to older ages or higher levels of competition is first creating space and opportunities to get to scoring areas.

“We often talk about creating two-on-ones, but if you inverse that and talk about how to create a one-on-two, you can draw two guys to you. That means somebody is definitely open,” said Andrews.  “Zam is unbelievable at that. It’s something we are deliberately trying to work on is trying to bring two guys to you so someone else has space.”

Great playmakers consistently draw defenders out of position in the zone, on the power play and off the rush. Then, they feed a pass to their teammate who uses that open space to attack the net.

“Johnny Gaudreau did an unbelievable job last night at that exact concept,” said Andrews. “He went wide, crossed the blue line and protected the puck for not even half a second. He delayed, the center guy penetrated or drove the net, and he hit the third guy in an area pass coming through. It was all created by Johnny delaying just a little bit, changing his speed. and the center man driving, penetrating. It opened up all of that ice.”

Pick, Pass or Penetrate

While many goals at the younger age groups are scored based solely on the skill of the puck carrier, another concept youth coaches can teach is how players without the puck help generate scoring chances.

“The guy without the puck is much more important than the guy with the puck is something we talk about a lot,” said Andrews. “We’ll do small area games and things where we’re constantly harping on, or everything revolves around moving without the puck.”

The players without the puck essentially have two goals: 1) try to isolate a defender so your odds of advancing the puck or attacking the net successfully increase and 2) provide support to your teammate so he or she has better options to make a play.

“You’re always trying to create that odd-man situation by pick, pass or penetrate,” said Andrews. “One of the ways you build that is preaching and harping to constantly be moving when you don’t have the puck.”

“It’s a really simple, easy visualization. Even if you’re not doing one of those three things exactly, in the back of your mind, if you’re coming down the ice on a two-on-two, you are isolating a defenseman with pick, pass or penetrate. You know in your head, ‘I need to move for the puck carrier to make something happen for him.’ It’s on me to do that.”

Secret Sauce

Coaches can certainly help all players become better offensively, but for Andrews, the most dynamic offensive players are always going to be the players who love the game the most and crave the chance to play it as much as possible.

“I think it’s 100% by playing the game, rink ratting,” said Andrews. “I don’t mean paying to play on a AAA team. I mean playing for fun on your own, with your buddies, rink ratting, three-on-three, five-on-five, ten-on-ten, hongo, all of the stuff they do on the outdoor rinks and when they have free time on the indoor rinks.”

“That’s part of our culture in Hermantown with our outdoor rinks. Our guys just play hockey so much for fun. Not that they have to, but they choose to. They’re out there with their buddies just playing. The more times you see things, the better you are at it. The more times you have those experiences the better you’re going to be at them.”

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