Chairmen Of The Boards

Portable Hard Dividers Help Take Cross-Ice Hockey To Another Level

Perception is reality, especially when mom and dad are watching their sons or daughters playing cross-ice hockey.

While the skill development benefits of youngsters playing on age-appropriate sized surfaces – more fun, increased puck touches, making plays in tight spaces and the quicker decision making that comes with it – have been well documented, some parents still get turned off by the use of fire hoses, pylons or foam rubber dividers to separate the rink into thirds.

That’s where portable boards are taking cross-ice hockey to the next level by giving the smaller ice surface the same look and feel as full-ice games.

“The kids love them because they are playing inside a real rink with real corners, and I think it makes them feel more a part of the game,” said Dave Bereson, Flagstaff (Ariz.) Youth Hockey Association vice-president.

The first time the FYHA set up the boards, players started using them to make passes and were aggressive in the corners because they didn’t have to worry about falling over the foam bumpers that the association had previously used to divide the ice.

“The boards immediately changed the pace and how the kids played the game,” Bereson said. “The kids had a blast. And the parents saw it, too.”

Across the country in western Massachusetts, Don Derosia spends much of his time traveling around the Bay State espousing the virtues of cross-ice hockey.  

“Before when we were using the bumper boards for cross-ice people would say ‘this isn’t real hockey.’ But when we put up these boards, it completely changed things,” said Derosia, a Massachusetts Hockey vice president and a driving force behind the ADM in the state.

“It looked like a real rink. Now the parents have bought into cross-ice and the ADM, and it was the boards that really turned it around.” 

The portable boards divide the ice in half or in thirds and allow associations to get more players on the ice, which reduces the cost to play.

On most Saturday mornings, the Northtown Center in Amherst, N.Y., is abuzz with activity as parents and grandparents watch and cheer as their kids play cross-ice. From Bob Schell’s perspective, the cost of the hard dividers (approximately $14,000 per set) is the best money his association has ever spent.

“They are well worth the investment. The boards have boosted our program,” said Schell, the tournament director for Amherst Youth Hockey Association, whose 8 & Under program is operating at full capacity. “From the standpoint of Amherst Youth Hockey, the boards have been a home run.” 

It’s not just Mites who are getting in on the fun. Squirt and Peewee players across the country regularly use the boards for small-area games. 

At the Strongsville (Ohio) Youth Hockey Club, located just outside Cleveland, even Bantam players have been using them on a regular basis, said Tom Filippou, president of the SYHC. 

“When high school teams saw them being used with our older players, they asked to use them, too.”



Things That Go Bump On The Ice

Teaching Checking Skills Can Pay Off Long Before Players Reach The Bantam Level 

By Harry Thompson

Playing in the Swedish Elite League, Guy Gosselin saw firsthand how hockey is played and taught in Sweden, a country of 64,000 registered players that consistently ranks among the top hockey countries in the world.

Among the many differences he noticed was how the Swedes approached the skill of checking.

“They have a soccer mentality in taking the man off the puck, and we have a football mentality to hit and punish,” says Gosselin, a two-time U.S. Olympian. 

“We need to lose that football mentality because that’s not how the game is played.” 

So when USA Hockey’s board of directors passed the Progressive Checking Skill Development Program in 2011, Gosselin was among the many who hailed the move as a step in the right direction.

“The checking had gotten out of control,” said long-time NHLer Doug Zmolek.

“The goal for many wasn’t for ‘Billy’ to advance the puck and/or score, it was to deliver the killer hit. … How’s that for player development?”

The decision to delay the start of legal body checking to Bantams was designed to enhance skill development consistent with the American Development Model and its long-term athlete development principles. An important byproduct is to reduce the risk of injury and make the game safer.

A critical part of this change was that coaches needed to teach the principles of body checking, which starts with angling, body contact and positioning at an early age. 

These are skills that naturally developed during the bumping and battling of cross-ice hockey at the Mite level and can be further developed at Squirts and Peewees, so that by the time a player reaches the age where body checking is legal he is both mentally and physically prepared to do so. 

Still, some coaches are more concerned with winning than with development, and since their players can’t use the skill in games, many don’t want to “waste” the time in practice.

Gosselin considers that thinking to be misguided.

“It doesn’t have to be rock ’em, sock ’em type hockey, but it has to be working on angling and body positioning,” he says. “Once we master those types of skills, our players are going to be much more confident in their play and more stable on the ice. Along with stability comes confidence, and if you have a confident hockey player he’s going to excel.”

All it takes is a little creativity on the part of coaches to introduce these concepts through the use of small-area games. 

“It’s just creating that environment in practice that encourages that competiveness,” says Roger Grillo, a disciple of Bill Beaney, the small-games guru from Middlebury College.

“People look at checking as hitting, but it’s not about that at all. It’s really about trying to win back the possession of the puck. The game is still going to be physical and there’s still going to be contact, but if we don’t encourage that mentality at a younger age then they won’t be prepared for it.”



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