There a lot of things first-time hockey parents watching their son or daughter skate at the Mite level should expect.
First, they’re going to fall down. A lot.
Second, they’re not going to be Zach Parise in their initial season. Heck, chances are very good they’ll never be as good as the Minnesota Wild winger.
Third, if their son or daughter is playing in a system using the American Development Model (ADM), like Minnesota Hockey, practices are probably going to look much different than the National Hockey League, college, and even high school games they might be accustomed to watching.
That’s because organizations using the ADM are putting the emphasis on skill development, especially when it comes to the players’ formative years of hockey.
Station to Station
Parents will see a station-based practice, with the ice surface divided into four to six different stations. Players will spend an allotted time at each station and they’ll run on a rotation of various skills.
There will be a lot of feedback and interaction between coaches and players, but the skaters are going to be moving for an entire hour.
“It’s no lines, no laps, no lectures,” Eagan High School boys’ head coach Mike Taylor said. “Kids learn by doing.”
Shrinking the Surface
These station-based practices will help “shrink” the ice surface. The practices are going to look different, but the philosophy is focused on creating more repetitions. This will have several benefits for players just starting out.
“You have to have the game fit the kid; not the kid fit the game,” Taylor said. “You can’t expect a 7-year-old to play on the same ice surface as Joe Thornton.”
Shrinking the ice surface allows youngsters performing drills to get more puck touches and more activity. It also allows for the less-experienced players to be more involved.
“If you took an adult and put him on Lake Superior, and they’re the slowest one out there, how much fun would the game be?” Taylor questioned. “The area is smaller, so even the kids who are just beginning can have a little success. They’re not going to be chasing the dog’s tail the whole hour.”
The Good Kind of Traffic
For the children who’ve had more ice time, it will force them to play in traffic and develop skills they might not otherwise work on, such as quick stops and starts.
“I’ve got guys who can go 100 miles an hour and they score big points when they’re in Mites and Peewees,” Taylor said. “But by high school, they don’t know what to do because the rink shrinks [with less time and space].”
The Blue Pucks
Another thing tailored to young players and looking a little different: the puck. Observant parents will notice blue pucks rather than the standard black ones.
“The only difference is that they’re a little lighter. Just so kids can have success with them,” Taylor said. “To a lot of multi-sport athletes, it’s not new. Little kids go out and they don’t start throwing the NFL-sized football right away or playing with the World Cup-sized soccer ball. The pucks are too heavy for these little guys, so the blue pucks are good until Squirts.”
Sharing the Sheet
Another added benefit of station-based practices is the ability to have a lot of players on the ice at the same time. This helps reduce costs with the rising price of ice time.
“We don’t even let our Bantams have alone time any more. All of our ice is shared,” Taylor said. “We found that it increased ice time by 20 percent. That lowers budgets a lot.”
Station-based practices used in the ADM might be hard to follow for a first-time observer. But there’s a method to the madness.
“It might look chaotic,” Taylor said. “But focus on your child and see how many skating reps and puck touches they are getting.”
Parents will see that the number of repetitions is a lot higher. They’ll also see the improvement in their son or daughter, and most importantly, they’ll see smiles on their faces. Enjoy the ride!