The six-game Stanley Cup conference semi-final series between the Minnesota Wild and the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks was really exciting, no matter how disappointed fans in Minnesota were at the outcome (the Blackhawks won the series, 4 games to 2).
As a longtime student and teacher of the game, I had to admire the level of play and skills on display night after night. It was high speed chess, as the home team coaches tried to match lines and get an edge over the other team.
What I found interesting was the system play, discipline to their systems and hard work players on both teams showed.
A couple of areas stood out:
- The defensemen were very involved on the offensive zone, especially along the wall. As they moved in deeper, a forward always covered on the blue line, often times keeping the puck in or retreating to regroup and start a counterattack;
- The regroups were patient as they used width in their attack. Puck possession was at a premium, as back passes were common while they set up for good zone entry lanes.
From the perspective of the Wild, coach Mike Yeo did an outstanding job coaching his team and he admits he was learning all season long. Mike had a plan and commitment to his process and the players bought in. He held players accountable, but also supported them because he realized they were all in it together. The result was very good and Mike deserves the new contract that the team will offer him. This a great example of a coach doing a great job creating a team and an outcome that was better than most expected.
Lessons for youth coaches
In order to play a full pressure system all players need to be able to play forward and defensive positions. Youth hockey forwards need to learn how to play defense and defensemen need to learn how to play forward.
Moving players around to different positions will help them gain a full understanding of what their teammates are experiencing during games. This is important as players move to higher levels.
In order to make this work youth coaches need to be relentless about their skill development of all players. It is easy to hide a kid on the wing due to skill issues, but that does not serve the player well nor the team. Focus on transition skating, passing and receiving passes, and smart hockey plays.
All players need to skate better and this needs to be emphasized all season long with skating fundamentals taught regularly. During the off season all players should work hard on their skating skills. The pros do and so should youth players.
Youth coaches can follow Coach Yeo's example of being calm and collected on the bench and staying focused on what matters. The rest is a distraction to you and your team.
When watching the rest of the playoffs look for some of these elements in the games and see how you can help your team can work towards a higher level of play.
Hal Tearse is a longtime hockey coach and hockey safety advocate, and Former Coach-in-Chief & Safety Director of Minnesota Hockey.