Teams across the State of Hockey are gearing up for their playoff journeys and the extra bit of excitement and anxiety that comes with it.
Kristi King, a two-time state champion at Stillwater High School who played collegiately at Maine and Bemidji State, is no stranger to the pressure-packed playoff atmosphere. King, in her second season as head girls’ hockey coach at The Blake School, shared her thoughts on how youth players can get ready for the post-season, offseason training advice, underrated skills, the state of girls’ hockey, and more.
Minnesota Hockey: What’s the best way for teams to get ready for the playoffs?
Kristi King: I think that most teams have figured out their identity, and it’s important to stay true to your team’s values. For our team, it’s about continuing to do the little things and owning your role 100%. Not all roles are glorious, but we need every single player on our team in order to win games. Consistency in routine is also important. Getting enough sleep, eating right and staying hydrated. It’s a long season, and oftentimes players get burned out come February. So, understanding what your team needs at this time is super important as a coach.
Minnesota Hockey: As the hockey season comes to a close for some teams, what's the best way for players to get better at hockey once the season is over? Intense offseason training? Fun unstructured play? Trying another sport? Or just resting or going to the cabin?
King: Honestly, I think kids nowadays do too much. You hear about how they go from one thing to the next from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. No one can give 100% of what they have for 12 hours a day for 52 weeks or even for 12 weeks during the summer. There are so many tools to get better. Watching a YouTube video and working on your hands in the garage, going to the local rink and shooting pucks in the shooting area. I believe that work ethic needs to come from within, and a little bit of everything is healthy. From some pond hockey with your friends to a summer camp focusing on skating and power to playing another sport to work on endurance.
I also believe that kids need to be kids. There is enough time in the day to prioritize being a good athlete while also going to the cabin, hanging out with friends and family or going on vacations. Sports shouldn’t be the center of a kid’s identity, but I think sports can be an imperative part of their growth as people.
Minnesota Hockey: Speaking of playing multiple sports, you played softball back in the day. What's the benefit for hockey players to try other sports? How can it make them better hockey players and athletes?
King: Playing multiple sports is something I will always encourage. I think it’s super important. Sports, in general, teach many life lessons. No one has ever become less coordinated by playing another sport. I think learning and playing other sports can help instill some creativity and push kids out of their comfort zones, but it also helps prevent kids from getting burned out of one sport. It’s a great way to learn people skills, build relationships and meet people you maybe wouldn’t have met by just playing one sport. There are tons of benefits from playing multiple sports. I wish I would have picked up golf when I was younger. I think Minnesota is one of the best places to grow up and raise kids because the sports offerings are limitless.
Minnesota Hockey: As a high school coach, what kinds of things are you looking for in players? What about when you coached in college – what did you look for in recruits?
King: I look for people who are good teammates who give 100% of what they have each and every day and players who are coachable, and it’s a huge bonus if they have a strong hockey IQ. As a coach, you can help players progress tremendously if they are coachable and have a great work ethic, and you can have a successful culture and team with players who genuinely care about each other and are good people at their core. Hockey IQ is something I really value. As a coach, I have my players focus a lot on video of our own team. You can learn a lot by watching yourself play the game; both the good and the learning moments.
Minnesota Hockey: What are things young hockey players should spend more time on? What are some often overlooked or underappreciated skills?
King: Players should focus on making themselves a well-rounded, 200-foot player. There’s a place at Blake Ice Arena to shoot pucks. I preach to my players all the time that getting a harder and more accurate shot will help their game tremendously. Getting 1% better should be the goal, and that requires putting in some extra work. If a player shoots 100 pucks every day after practice for a single season, I know they would see incredible results. Players should spend more time watching film. We have the best technology at our fingertips. Within hours after our game is complete, the film is broken down, and our players can filter the game by scoring chances, shots on goal, faceoffs, individual time on ice, etc. It’s amazing the technology we’re fortunate enough to have. The best way to learn is to watch yourself play the game.
Minnesota Hockey: This year's data shows 1 in 5 Division I women's hockey players are from Minnesota. What does that mean to you?
King: I love how successful Minnesota hockey is. We are so fortunate to be able to play hockey on a daily basis and to only drive 10-15 minutes to play a competitive opponent. We need players to keep coming back to Minnesota and coaching our youth.
Minnesota Hockey: What are your thoughts on the community-based model in Minnesota and how it factors into the growth and success of girls' hockey in the state?
King: There’s nothing like high school hockey in Minnesota. Most everyone knows about the Minnesota State High School Tournament. It’s tradition. The display of the players on TV and the press all around it helps young boys and girls aspire to one day play at the Xcel Energy Center and be on TV. Minnesota has done an incredible job, and I hope we continue to help make the sport more affordable for all families so we can continue to grow the game from both a numbers and talent standpoint.