John Russo

An open letter to coaches: Positive coaches

By John Russo

Let's Play Hockey Columnist

The following letter went out to all of the Elite League (boys and girls) and Elite Development League coaches and assistants for the 2011 season. It was one of the items identified as a "focus" for this year's play. As you all likely know, I feel the psychological portion of the game is as important as the physical, and in fact, often controls the physical aspects.

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Golden Rules for Goaltenders

John Russo’s Coaches’ Corner

Golden Rules for Goalies

My Golden Rules for defensemen and for forwards began many years ago, although each gets some fine tuning occasionally. It didn’t take long to figure out that it was appropriate to have Golden Rules for goaltenders, too. It is interesting to note that several of the rules are the same or similar to those for defensemen and forwards. These are items that coaches should be using to teach goalies and to monitor their progress. They are things that players should strive to master as they progress up through the youth ranks and on to high school, juniors or college.

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Golden Rules for Forwards

John Russo’s Coaches’ Corner

Golden Rules for Forwards

The Golden Rules are the keys items players should strive to master as they progress up through the ranks to high school and college. The best players at the highest
levels of hockey follow most of the Golden Rules most often. Players of average skills and speed will do very well if these rules are mastered. While the rules are basic and seem obvious, it may take many years of concentrated effort for most players to automatically perform them properly. This automatic reaction is what coaches should be teaching and what players should be working toward.

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Golden Rules for Defensemen

John Russo’s Coaches Corner

Golden Rules for Defense

These Golden Rules are the key items players should be striving to master as they progress up through the ranks to high school and college. The best players at the highest levels of hockey follow the Golden Rules most often. A player of average skills and speed will do very well if these rules are mastered. While the rules are basic and seem obvious, it may take many years of concentrated effort for most players to automatically perform them properly. This automatic reaction is what coaches should be teaching and players working towards.

Read more: Golden Rules for Defensemen

Puckhandling (part 5)

By John Russo

Let’s Play Hockey Columnist

As I noted at the beginning of the series, there are other things (other than stickhandling) involved in puckhandling.

First, a couple of drills for exercising stickhandling:

 

Drill #12 – Work in two or three lines lengthwise, in groups of three. Two players line up as defensemen, one behind the other 10-15 feet head start. The attacker has to get to the first D, make a move, go around and catch the second D and make a move before getting to the other end. This drill is meant to speed the attacker up to force a full speed attack. The first D needs to be fairly passive, the second D tougher.

Progression

• Two D’s use no sticks

• Two D’s use sticks turned around

• Two D’s sticks regular

 

Drill #13 – This drill is often called “Russian Courage.” Put half the team each in two diagonal corners. Have three from each corner line their sticks up (on the ice) along a lengthwise line from offside dot to offside dot between the blue lines (forming a passageway the length of the ice). 

These three players take a position on each line (blue, red, blue) halfway between the sticks and the boards. A “gauntlet” has now been formed. 

The players come through the gauntlet one at a time about every 10-15 seconds, trying to make moves on the three stationary defenders. The defenders can only reach (not skate except one stride) and push with their hands. The idea is to get through all three without being touched. Rotate every 2-3 minutes.

Progression

• Allow three gauntlet players to be more aggressive by stepping 1 or 2 or 3 steps in either direction (but not front and backwards).

• All three to reach with sticks but not move.

• Any other alternatives with the three that are appropriate and create challenges.

 

Puck protection. Players need to learn at an early age to keep the puck on the appropriate side of their bodies from defenders. They also need to learn to extend their arms and legs to protect the puck – this is the key to good puck protection (watch Matt Cullen of the Wild!).

 

Puck protections – boards: Puck protection along the boards involves, not only controlling the puck, but also handling resistance from the side and rear. Drills must be developed to practice working the corners (player with puck in corner facing the boards, two “opponents” trying to steal the puck) and along the side boards (player carrying puck with opponent skating along side trying to squeeze off the get puck). It is important for players to learn to balance and provide resistance while still moving the puck with the feet. 

 

Faceoffs: Learning to faceoff properly is as much a part of puckhandling as anything else. I like to have faceoff contests with everyone involved.

It is important to go through the basics and some of the tricks first, however. It is worthwhile, for example, to show players how to attack the opponents stick and how to use the body (then the feet) to control the puck and not lose.

It may end up that the best players at faceoffs are wingers, so they face off in all critical situations. I would also not be afraid to have defensemen handle faceoffs in the defensive zone if they are very good at it. Up until 25 or 30 years ago, defensemen always handled all defensive zone faceoffs.

Players should definitely understand when it is most important to not lose a faceoff (defensive zone). “Not lose” does not necessarily mean win, by the way.

 

Combination moves: Several of the dekes that have been described can be put together in combination – and should be practiced that way.

• Fake slap shot and go around – to a 360 reverse to the backhand.

• Any kind of a go around to the forehand side to a 360 reverse to the backhand.

• Drag and slip across to a slip across back the other way.  I have seen this in a triple.

 

Exercising Puckhandling Skills

Non traditional scrimmages – I very much like to have various scrimmages that do not involve 5-on-5 skaters – or involve 5-on-5 cross ice in one zone. This forces many more than normal “confrontations” and thus opportunities to use and develop skills. I also like even smaller area 3-on-3 or 2-on-2, so players cannot “hide.” Another good one is tag up shinny in one zone (one net).

 

Keep away – Keepaway is a great puckhandling drill when it is “whoever has the puck against other 2 or 3.” Each group will last about 45 seconds if intensity is high. Creativity should be encouraged; use small areas.

 

Puck drills – It is fun to challenge players with small patterns of pucks that must be maneuvered through. Examples are lines of pucks very 8 to 10 inches for fast hands; even the older players have fun with this. Use the blue or red lines as the lines.

 

Flips and flat passes – I want all of my players to be able to pop up (flip) the puck out of or into the zone. Most high school level players cannot. I also would like them to be able to “chop” a nice low arc flat pass (off of the heel of the blade) to a teammate 20 to 30 feet away. Coaches need to give players a chance exercise these skills by designing them into drills.

 

Beating the goaltender – The breakaway is an exciting part of hockey and is now part of the game (shootout). The single and double fake, as well as the fake slapshot, are the best attacks and should be practiced. Shots on the goaltender certainly are often a great option on a breakaway and of course happen 30, sometimes 40, times a game other than breakaways. 

 

While it should be obvious, I must mention that full tilt one-on-ones are the best way to exercise moves once the basic skills have been mastered. Just don’t do them full ice. Forwards can attack from the blue line in.

 

John Russo, Ph.D., is founder and director of the Upper Midwest High School Elite League. He was a captain at the University of Wisconsin, and his Coaches’ Corner columns have appeared in LPH since 1986.