An important part of hockey is observation. Youth players, particularly from the PeeWee level on up, need to learn to be observant at all times ... even while on the bench. Watching the opposition with a keen eye in between shifts can help a player find matchups and opposing players they can exploit. As a parent or coach, try to instill this mentality in your player. Games, particularly in the playoffs, are won by the slimmest of margins, so any edge a player can get through observation is an advantage.
Below we list just a few examples of the kind of things players could look for while on the bench:
Forwards could look for the following:
Which opposing defensemen are slow and could be easily beaten by speed rushes or
Which opposing defensemen are overly aggressive on O-zone pinches and could beat with a chip off the boards or
If the opposing goalie is small and stature and goes down quickly, making him or her vulnerable to bar down shots or
If the opposing goalie has poor rebound control, it increases the likelihood of more second-chance scoring opportunities
Defenseman could look for the following:
Opposing forwards that are offensively dangerous (skilled and fast) and be less aggressive when they are on the ice versus when the other team's less skilled players are on the ice 0r
Opposing wingers - are playing up tight on the point or loose, giving you, as a defenseman, an understanding of which lines or players you can get more offensive zone opportunities against
The point here is you can learn a lot about your opponent if you watch in between shifts. That information you learn can ultimately give you and your teammates an edge. As a young player, I was always looking for easy matchups to exploit and identifying which players I could take advantage of when matched up with them. Conversely, I was also aware of when the strong opposing players were on the ice and tended to adjust my mindset and take fewer risks with the puck, knowing they had a higher likelihood to capitalize on mistakes than some of their teammates.
All too often, young players are watching the game in between shifts as fans rather than using the time to conduct recon on the opposing team and its players.
At the NHL level, not only are players constantly doing in-game recon in between shifts, but many times, you will see them reviewing video on a pad from their recent shift
trying to gain intelligence. All of these observations will allow players to develop a better attack plan or blueprint (or, for you gamers ... cheat codes) on how to make the best possible decisions against certain opposing players. The more situational awareness a player develops, the more effective they will be when the puck drops.
In-game observations shouldn't be a singular journey but should also be shared with your linemates as well. Point out things you notice that may help your linemates and, conversely, have them do the same with you. Only by being observant during the game can players pinpoint areas to attack the opposition. Time on the bench should be spent observing and then communicating what you have learned individually and collectively for the team's success.
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