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The 10,000 Puck Challenge: ‘Everyone Should Be Doing This’

By Drew Herron, 04/25/23, 1:00PM CDT


What if there was a magic bullet that could make you significantly better as a player or as an association, and the cost was free?

No ice time, no personalized instruction or trips back and forth to the rink. Just minimal resources and time.

It’s almost as if something like that already exists, and it comes to us every summer in our community-based association’s 10,000 Puck Challenge. 

Many coaches agree that of all the things a young player can do over the offseason to develop his or her game, nothing quite compares to the 10,000 Puck Challenge in terms of opportunity and cost for the return on commitment, as well as the money you don’t have to spend. Player development is assembling splinters of skill, and pursuing this particular dryland activity can likely provide the greatest output for your input.

Money and transportation barriers go away, and all that’s left is time.

“It will put you from a C team to a B team, or from a B team to an A or AA,” said Erik Westrum, former Gopher captain and NHLer, now head coach of the boys’ varsity team at Holy Family. “It’s shooting pucks, and it’s the biggest missed opportunity because we have so much ice time and personalized instruction. This is free, and you can do it at home or at your association. The resources are already there. The only investment is time.”

For most associations, it is rare to consistently have 10 players or more per season complete the challenge. Despite the simplicity of it, it is time-consuming and can be an intimidating mountain to climb. Many players are excited at first but fall behind and become discouraged before discontinuing.

Coaches, associations and Minnesota Hockey are trying to promote the virtue of the challenge, educate on ways to simplify the process, and remove remaining barriers to make way for convenience.

No need for a net, but you’ll want a bucket full of pucks

A hockey net is not needed. Anything durable and a space big enough to shoot will do. But lacking pucks can lead to unnecessary hurdles.

A limited collection of pucks means you are going to be stopping often to collect the pucks to shoot them again and again, and it also leaves you to keep count. You need more than a few, and preferably, a bucket of 50 to 100 pucks is better. 

It’s a marathon process, and it's better to fill a bucket and then empty it. A 5-gallon bucket full to the top holds roughly 100 pucks, and it’s helpful to dump it out and shoot the pucks without much downtime, or wasted time counting. Shooting a bucket of 100 pucks can take about 10 minutes. Pucks can be purchased affordably on places like Craigslist or Marketplace for about a dollar a piece. 

Don’t stress too much on proper form, especially at first

Don’t fall into the feeling that “that one doesn’t count” because it wasn’t as strong as the others. Over the course of 10,000 pucks, players are going to figure out how to use a stick and how they can flex and grip it. It’s important to empty the bucket and move on. 

Guy Gosselin, USA Hockey Manager of Player Development, says repetition reigns over proper form or style, especially early on.

“We strive for certain things, but at each age it looks different,” Gosselin says. “Especially at the younger ages, we don’t want to get too technical. That can come later on.”

It is also important to note that it’s okay to shoot and count plastic or blue pucks as well as balls. This is especially relevant to younger players, where a regular 6-ounce black puck might not be the most appropriate training tool for a Mite or 6U/8U. The 4-ounce blue puck is a lighter puck, and it’s easier to be mechanically correct while shooting for a younger player, Gosselin stressed. 

Moreover, there is no such thing as one proper form.

“Everyone shoots differently,” Westrum says. “Look at the NHL; there is not just one way to shoot. Everyone’s body is different.

“The biggest thing at an early age is just repetition,” he added. “It’s like anything physical, whether you are throwing, or kicking, you want to do what comes natural to you and your body will adapt. Once players get to a certain age and their body makeup changes, they can start dialing in on a form. But the first thing is just doing it.”

Measure and celebrate progress

To stay motivated, it can be helpful to track progress on a chart. Perhaps a star sticker for every 100 pucks on a table of 100 boxes, or something similar. Seeing the progress mount up is motivating and demonstrates tangible growth as players track their progress in real time. It also provides accountability for a day missed when a player can double up the next day. 

Have FUN and enjoy it

Shooting pucks does not need to be work. Having fun with it and making it enjoyable are as key ingredients as anything else in the process. Players can have some fun with it and get creative. Decorate with markers some empty milk jugs with the logo of the rival team you just can’t stand, and then have fun destroying them with pucks. Or make it a social time and play games with friends or siblings like tip drills or PIG.

“Everyone should be doing this,” Gosselin says. “But the key component is that we don’t want to turn this into work for kids. It needs to be a fun atmosphere, and the kids need to enjoy it to develop that passion.”

Reward System as Motivators

Most, if not all, associations that promote their 10,000 Puck Challenge give away swag for those that reach milestones. Some programs offer tiered incentives as well, without the make-or-break end result of the 10K milestone. Moreover, some are adjusting expectations and incentivizing prizes for different age groups, as what is appropriate for a Bantam rarely fits a Mite. To reach 10,000 shots would be a herculean task for an 8-year-old, but 2,000 shots could work and still be significantly beneficial. That needs to be communicated and acknowledged. 

“Recognition is important; you need to celebrate your wins in the association,” Westrum says. “It’s not a participation award. You need to put the time and effort in, and that’s what is special about the 10,000 puck challenge.”

The physical prize is usually a unique T-shirt or a stocking cap that cannot be bought and represents a spot in a unique club. Those efforts are important and can be a unifying thread in an association.

“Being in that club is cool,” Westrum says. “It’s also about being part of that group or club that is willing to do something different or extra to get you and your program to the next level.”