At times, it seems like every team has one. That one kid who refuses to pass the puck, regardless of how open their teammates are. To say it’s a frustrating situation for players, parents and coaches would be an understatement.
And even worse, sometimes they’re able to go end-to-end and score without passing, which undoubtedly reinforces their behavior.
“Nobody likes a puck hog, but everyone likes a goal scorer so it’s kind of a catch-22,” said USA Hockey Associate Coach-in-Chief for Minnesota’s District 4 Sean Stewart. “It’s usually that one kid who can stick handle better, can skate faster, and then, at some point, they don’t think they need their team to move the puck up the ice.”
Everyone wants their team to have highly skilled players that are capable of incredible plays. The question is how do you maintain an environment in which kids are encouraged to be creative and take risks to make plays without allowing players to cross the line to being a puck hog?
For Stewart, who is also an assistant boys’ varsity coach at New Ulm High School, the key is understanding the positives and negatives of the situation and then honing in on areas you can work with kids on.
A Lack of Vision?
At the younger age groups, it’s common for coaches to give players more latitude with the decisions they make with the puck. Puck touches and developing long term skill are the primary focus areas so it’s easy to justify allowing the more talented players to make end-to-end rushes and trying to score at will.
Then, as players move up in age groups and skill levels, the competition level rises and so does the role of passing skills and teamwork in team success. That’s when the issue of puck hogs starts to become more and more obvious.
“Puck hogs become so dependent on their own skill to move the puck up the ice or accomplish what they want that it’s often just a complete lack of vision for some players,” said Stewart, who also serves as an assistant coach for New Ulm High School. “If you tell a player, you missed that pass or that play across the net. It may be they didn’t see it.”
Instead of labeling players as selfish and lamenting missed passes within games, Stewart encourages coaches to take a productive approach.
Start by helping the individual player become aware of their deficiency through the use of video review, which provides objective feedback and can help start constructive conversations. Then, focus on developing skills such as keeping their head up and positional awareness through drills and asking questions about their surroundings during practices and games.
“Try to help the player develop the vision that’s necessary to make those types of plays,” said Stewart.
A Ripple Effect
Another key aspect is explaining to players how their actions affect the rest of the team, as young players may not understand the ripple effect that occurs.
“Nobody wants a puck hog on their team,” said Stewart. “There can definitely be some animosity amongst line mates and teammates because of it. It’s a frustration factor because they see what a play could develop into, and it doesn’t happen because of a puck hog. It’s the loss of scoring chances or breakouts or plays that other players see on the ice that could have or should have happened if it wasn’t for this one player.”
It doesn’t take long before that frustration manifests itself within the team’s play either.
“The breakdown in the team aspect is that people don’t pass anymore or they don’t pass to the one player who is a puck hog because they know they’re not going to get the puck back,” said Stewart.
If not addressed, this typically leads to the entire team becoming more selfish with the puck, sending the group on a downward spiral that can make it less fun to come to the rink.
Shift the Focus
Players don’t turn into a puck hog overnight so it stands to reason that guiding a player out of that phase will also take some time. In the meantime, it’s important for parents and coaches to work together to minimize any negative effects of a puck hog on the team’s season.
“I think staying positive is huge, especially at the younger ages,” said Stewart, noting parents can have an enormous impact on how kids respond to the situation.
“Just keep hammering that you’re not a puck hog so don’t play like a puck hog. Make sure you keep doing what you can do to best help the team. Even though Johnny may be skating the puck up all the time, at least make yourself open or if you know he/she is going to shoot, use that to your advantage.”
It’s all too easy for young players to get caught up in the actions of others, but helping them learn to refocus on what they can control is a lesson that will help them succeed on and off the ice for years to come.
“Shift the focus from the selfish act itself to what you can do before and after to help your team score goals or make plays,” said Stewart. “Instead of complaining you didn’t get the puck back, learn to expect it a little bit. Be ready for it. It becomes a predictability thing and maybe it helps you recover the puck quicker or you can get to rebounds if the player constantly shoots.”