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Watch and Learn: Tips for Observing Games

By Aaron Paitich, Touchpoint Media, 03/12/13, 10:45AM CDT

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After leading the SCSU Huskies to a share of the MacNaughton Cup with his NCAA D-I leading 34 assists, Drew LeBlanc (Hermantown, MN) is drawing Hobey Baker attention.

Hockey players love watching hockey. Whether it’s the Wild, Gophers, Huskies, local high school squad or other team – if we can’t make it to the rink, we want to tune in on TV or online. But can it make us better players? Absolutely – if you’re paying attention correctly. Forwards, defense and goalies can all pick up tips for their respective positions. So what is the right way to watch hockey?

Go watch a game in person if you can. Unlike TV, you’re able to see the entire ice and watch the full play develop. Breakouts, power plays, positioning away from the puck – it’s easier to hone in on certain areas of the game that the cameras just can’t focus on. You also get a better sense and feel of the game while watching up close and personal.

Forwards will want to see highlight-reel goals from their favorite players. Maybe they’ll get to see some great stickhandling maneuver/shot and then try to replicate it on the ice or in their driveway. That’s great! But there are many other crucial components to making a forward successful.

  • Where is the center or winger playing without the puck?
  • Are they making themselves open for a pass?
  • Are they being defensively responsible?
  • Watch for passing, spacing and shooting on odd-man rushes.
  • What drills are they doing in warm-ups?
  • Who is winning the faceoffs and why?
  • Where are the shots being taken? Are they hitting the net?
  • Are forwards heading to the net for rebounds, screens and tips?

Defensemen look at the game differently than forwards. Understanding the game at all positions should be something every player strives for. Defensemen can think about these components of the game:

  • Notice the different styles and types of defensemen. Some are offensive-minded and like to carry the puck a lot.
  • Is the defensive partner staying back when the other rushes the puck?
  • Are they working together to break out of the zone?
  • Watch gap control as opposing forwards try to enter the zone. How much space are the D giving them?
  • What kind of shots are they taking from the point? Are they getting through?
  • Is someone always in front of the net in the defensive zone? How are they handling the other team’s forwards?
  • When there are no passing options, what are the D doing with the puck?

Special teams are critical to team success. And if you know how to play on the power play and penalty kill, chances are you will see more ice time.

Power play: Key in on the defensemen and forwards as they break out of the zone. The puck might be skated up the zone or passed up-ice. Watch the power-play unit try to enter the offensive zone. Are they able to gain control and set up? Keep an eye on puck movement and what players without the puck are doing to create scoring opportunities.

Penalty kill: Are the penalty killers playing aggressive and pressuring the opponent? Or are they playing conservative while just trying to keep the puck around the perimeter? See if the penalty killers are communicating with each other and if they are using active sticks in passing lanes. Watch for players to try and block shots.


Adam Wilcox (South St. Paul, MN) has been a big part of the #2 ranked Golden Gophers' success this season, posting a 1.85 GAA.

“Goalies learn in different ways,” said Steve Carroll, USA Hockey’s Minnesota District Goalie Coach-in-Chief. “One way they can improve their game is by watching how goalies perform at the high school, college or professional level. There are lots of little things they can see and perhaps incorporate into their game.”

Here are 20 things Carroll encourages young goalies to look for when watching goalies play in person or on TV.

  • How does the goalie stretch?
  • What individual drills do they do in warm-ups?
  • Where does the goalie hold their catch glove and stick when in stance?
  • Is the goalie able to shoot the puck?
  • Where does the goalie stand in the crease when the puck is in the other end?
  • Where does the goalie play in the crease when the puck is in the zone?
  • How do they handle screen shots? Do they find a way to see the puck?
  • How is their rebound control? Do they deflect pucks into the corners?
  • How do they play a breakaway? How far out of the crease do they come?
  • How does the goalie play the puck behind the net?
  • Do they verbally communicate with their teammates?
  • What does the goalie do after they give up a goal? Do they have a post-goal routine?

“It’s also a good idea to take notes. That way they compare the play of different goalies and remember what they saw,” Carroll said.

Effort. No matter what position, one thing to always watch for and appreciate is effort. Chances are, the team that puts forth the best effort will come out on top. They will win the 1-on-1 battles, collect the loose pucks, block shots and score the gritty goals. They are the difference makers and their hard work and attitude rubs off on the rest of the team. A team giving 110 percent is always a fun team to watch and play with.

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