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The Cross Ice Revolution

By Joe Heaton, 09/17/16, 9:15PM CDT



USA Hockey did an in depth study in the 90’s to determine why half the NHL is comprised of European players when the United States had more than double the youth players and rinks at their disposal.  What they found in Finland, Sweden and the Czech Republic is the beginning of the Cross Ice revolution.  They found that the Europeans were teaching age appropriate concepts and more effectively utilizing ice time, allowing players to develop more rapidly.  Furthermore, at the early stages, they committed to the idea of “letting the game be the teacher.” This assured that the kids experience a very high volume of competitive skill challenges while having fun.

When a Mite plays a full ice game, that individual player will play an average of 10-14 minutes within a 33 minute game.  That’s 10-14 minutes of competitive action for every 60 minutes at the rink!   This is a lost opportunity--an inefficient use of time that cheats our kids from development opportunities.  

By placing “time playing hockey” as the priority, kids skate more, shoot more, pass more and battle more.   This is a very basic formula.  More frequent, competitive hockey opportunities will naturally develop players more rapidly.

Our Cross Ice format increases that “competition time” to nearly 30 minutes per ice our per child, or more than double the “competition time” previously experience for every event.   Measured across the entire season, that's impactful.

At the Mite level, the full-ice game does not represent the game of hockey.   The kids are so small, their strides are so short and the rink is so long.   In terms of scale, a Mite playing full ice hockey is equivalent to an adult playing on a 600 foot rink (rinks are 200 feet long). 

For entry level players at the Mite level, a full ice game more often resembles a track meet than a hockey game.  By that, we mean 2 or 3 of the more skilled players skate the puck coast to coast while everyone else chases them, admires them or cheers for them. 

Even more, statistically speaking, during a full ice game, a large percentage of kids (20%) will touch the puck only ONE time during the entire game. 

The Cross Ice Game gives all 10 players a chance to battle for and win the puck…often.  Cross Ice players are rarely “out of the play.”  With a little hustle, they are quickly back “in the play.”  When they have the puck, they are forced to see the game in front of them and carry, pass or shoot the puck.  These competitive situations (skating, battling, controlling and moving the puck) are challenges forced upon the competitors due to the Cross Ice format.  The confined area and related challenges create a “real hockey platform” (as opposed to track meet) and are the foundation of long term player skill development.

In the Cross Ice format, the amount of time a player competes for the puck increases 3-4 fold.  We switch players every minute or less with as few game stoppages as possible.  This, combined with a smaller playing area, translates to 3-4 times as many puck touches, passes, shots, battles and changes of direction.   Twice as much ice time plus four times as many puck battles--that is a significant and will lead to rapid player development. 

This structure is not sympathy for the less skilled and less competitive players.  The confined area forces the most skilled players to make real hockey plays that are necessary to succeed at the higher levels.   They can no longer outskate everyone along the rink perimeter with the puck to score a goal.  They must weave, cut, cross-over and most importantly consider their teammates as part of the process to score a goal.  

By Pee Wee, the days of “skating past everyone” are long gone.  All players must learn to see the game in front of them, demonstrate skills and make decisions based on heavy traffic hockey.  The Cross Ice Hockey creates the “heavy traffic” quick decision environment that is required for player skill development.

Some will suggest the kids need to understand system and/or positional play.

Positional play and hockey sense are important, but at the entry level, the investment must be in individual skills and not system instruction.  If kids don’t have the ability to carry, pass, shoot or win the puck battle, it does not matter if they are in the right “place.”  Without the ability to skate, carry, pass and shoot, no system can be executed. 

Systems represent a series of skills executed properly.  Players gather the puck, see the ice and choose to carry, pass or shoot.  All hockey system play is based on triangles--something the Cross Ice format forces players to deal with nearly every time they touch the puck. 

The emphasis on individual skills is even more essential at the entry level House League level.  Most kids ages 6-8 are not ready to absorb abstract concepts like positional play and triangulation.  So the time spent teaching systems will be wasteful while the investment in skill instruction becomes hugely beneficial. 

Within games lessons, we want kids to play high tempo hockey.  We want them to learn the reward of battling the opponent and winning the puck.  We want them to see the ice and begin to consider choices.  With those choices, they apply their tools---they skating, puck control, passing and shooting skills. 

Overall, the evidence is overwhelming for the Cross Ice format when individual skill development and fun are the objectives.  For the first time ever less than 50% of the NHL is made up non-Canadian born players.  Who do you think has taken the biggest bite out of their numbers?  You guessed it.  We did.  Currently 24% of the NHL is made up of US born players, up from 13% in 2000.  This is in no small part to the American Development Model and the Cross Ice, small area hockey that has been prevalent nationwide for decade.

Please contact me with any questions or concerns regarding Cross Ice hockey.  I am happy to discuss it with you.

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