Half-Ice, Full Effect

NHL Clubs Throw Their Support Behind Shrinking The Rink To Net Big Developmental Gains


Martin Hlinka can’t take credit for the growth of 10 & Under half-ice hockey in the Pacific Northwest, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t proud of what’s taken place in the shadow of Mount Rainer.

Hlinka, the youth hockey director at the Seattle Kraken Community Iceplex, stepped into a growing trend among youth hockey associations in the Pacific Northwest thanks to a 2016 mandate that states that all PNAHA league games at the 10U level be played on half ice. Some youth hockey organizations in Oregon and Alaska have adopted the rule as well.

With the growing interest in hockey in the Seattle area and around the state thanks to the successful first year of the NHL’s Kraken, Hlinka has seen an explosion in the number of kids looking to hit the ice. Creating a half-ice environment not only opens the ice to more youngsters, it allows them more opportunities to develop their skills and have fun.

“Obviously, there are more puck touches and everybody is included and involved,” Hlinka said. “It’s a really good program, so I’m excited. I can’t take credit for it, but I’m glad we are part of it. ” 

The Kraken aren’t the only NHL team throwing their support behind cross-ice hockey. The Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators have also implemented similar programs at the 10 & Under level, and have received the same enthusiastic response from players, coaches and parents.

“It’s a collective effort, but we’re really good about communicating and making sure that there’s no secrets to what we’re doing, but we also want to make sure that they understand the details of all of the intricacies that half-ice hockey has to offer,” said Andrew Franklin, manager of amateur and youth hockey for the Predators.

While it’s hard to refute the science behind half-ice or cross-ice hockey, it helps to have the marketing muscle of an NHL team behind the program.

“Obviously having a brand behind it definitely helps support the state and the people that got this off the ground,” Hlinka said. “The results are in the science. Anything you read about 10U half-ice hockey, or half-ice hockey in general, it’s better for development and keeping the kids in the game and making sure they are having fun.”

In Dallas, the Stars were looking to add another component to the programming already being implemented within the StarsCenters, a vast network of ice rinks scattered around the Metroplex.

“It all started when our organization started to focus on the entry level grassroot player development instead of high performance and travel hockey,” said Dwight Mullins, the director of hockey development for the Stars. “It really brought the bottom up to meet the expectations of those higher levels.”

To take it even further, the Stars worked closely with USA Hockey to follow the guiding principles of the ADM.

“From Day 1 we followed the direction and the advice of USA Hockey and it’s paid huge dividends,” Mullins said. “The only missing piece to our development program was implementing some type of half-ice gaming at the 10U level. By adding that component, they get some full ice, they get some half ice and some station based skill development practices.”

All these gains have Joe Bonnett, the ADM regional manager for the region, praising the ongoing efforts and encouraging others to follow suit. It’s all part of the age appropriate progression that is at the cornerstone of the ADM.

“These three NHL programs have had a lot of success rolling out cross-ice programming and followed ADM recommendations in terms of practice style and using modified spaces,” Bonnett said. “These clubs have done a great job at 8U and it’s just a natural progression as these kids go into 10U hockey, which will set them up even more well-rounded hockey players as they get older.”

Half-ice practices and games are not a be-all, end-all magic bullet but rather just a piece of the overall development puzzle that teams have implemented in their rinks. 

“As NHL youth hockey professionals, they’ve blended the half-ice component to be part of their 10U program,” Bonnett said. “It’s not their complete program. They still have technical practices. They still teach skating and stickhandling. They still have team practices, but it’s a tool that they’ve added to their 10U program to make it even better.”

At the various rinks owned and operated by the Predators, half-ice games and practices are integrated into full-ice opportunities.

“Our main goal is making sure that our practice plans are as detailed as possible so the player, the coach and even the parents in the stands understands that the end goal is to get from half-ice to full-ice,” Franklin said. 

“It’s a collective effort, but we’re really good about communicating and making sure that there’s no secrets to what we’re doing. We want to make sure that they understand all of the intricacies and benefits that half-ice hockey has to offer.”

With three of the more forward-thinking NHL clubs leading the way, the momentum is likely to spread to other NHL cities where teams will implement similar developmental systems within their own youth hockey programs.

“By doing this we’re setting a good example to show how we grow and the results are going to come the down the line,” Hlinka said. “I can’t take credit for it, but I’m really excited to be a part of it. And the Kraken are a hundred percent behind it as well.”



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