USA vs. Canada Final Goal – Lessons for a Youth Hockey Coach

No matter who you were rooting for on Sunday’s Olympic matchup between USA and Canada, it was certainly a shining day for our sport. Sidney Crosby’s game-winning over-time goal couldn’t have been scripted better in terms of promoting the game. Love him or hate him, he is arguably the “face of the game” right now.  Sid’s goal provided an excellent glimpse of just how quickly defensive break-downs can happen.  The same mistakes youth players make happen at the pro level.

As Crosby slid the puck down the wall to Jarome Iginla, Brian Rafalski quickly found himself on the wrong-side of one of the best players in the game. Rafalski committed one of the cardinal sins of defenseman – allowing an offensive player to get on the offensive side of him. Defensemen attempt to keep the opponents on the defensive side of them, meaning they are between the opponent and the net. This forces the opponent to have to go through you as a defender before they are able to get an opportunity to drive the net.  When Rafalski and Crosby were even along the boards, Crosby had already won. There was no way Rafalski could win the race back to the front of the net after Sid took his first step.  It’s a mistake repeated time and time again in youth hockey games, this time displayed on a world-wide stage.

The lessons to take to your players as youth coaches:  1) Stay on defensive side of your assignment 2) You must win the races back to the front of the net.

Crosby's Goal

The next notable thing after Sid gained the inside position driving to the net was the way he handled the puck – or should I say, didn’t handle the puck! As coaches, we spend so much time developing the skill of stickhandling that it becomes an unconscious habit when players receive passes.  Often times we forget about the need for under-handling.  Crosby’s play was a great example of under-handling the puck.  Once the puck hit his stick, he settled it and shot it…zero stickhandles.  This technique requires as much (if not more) practice as “handling” the puck.  If you watch youth players, many are not comfortable shooting the puck or making a pass without stickhandling first.  This is nothing more than a habit – one that (in my opinion) needs to be broken. There are times where stickhandling the puck before moving it is required – rolling pucks, making a move, changing directions – but in a straight-on scenario like Crosby had, the correct play was to not handle the puck.  This gives the shot a much quicker release and takes time away from the goalie to get set.

The lesson to take to your players as youth coaches:  Underhandling skills are  just as important to develop as stickhandling skills.

Congratulations to both Team Canada and Team USA.  Both competed hard and provided us with some very entertaining games.

One Reply to “USA vs. Canada Final Goal – Lessons for a Youth Hockey Coach”

  1. Nice analysis. We get all caught up in the moment. I spoke to my son who is a defenceman and asked him what he thought about the goal. He said that he wouldn’t want to have been the defenceman caught out of position and that he couldn’t believe that he just didn’t simply contain his check in a 4 on 4 situation. Personally, I thought Rafalski played outstanding in the tournament. But it goes to show you how easily not maintaining your composure as a defenceman can lead to what happened. Just before the goal, Scott Neidermayer made a minor league gaff deep in his own zone with a terrible outlet pass attempt and put the puck on a U.S. player’s stick and his quick release shot could have ended it. Nobody talks about that either. You just never know. 2 great defencemen, 2 minor league gaffs, 2 different outcomes.

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