Minor Hockey Chronicles: 6th Edition: Hockey’s Class System

You know you write a lot about the game, when you wake up from a dream about the lack of playing time bottom six forwards get, Can you imagine the nightmares they all must be having?

Well it’s true, I did wake up in the early morning hours from a dream about bottom six forwards.

I don’t know why, but I did.

Maybe I need more sleep, or maybe I’m on to something.

Every championship team boasts four lines. They have depth and skill and grit on every single line.

That’s how you win a championships.

Believe it or not that’s a coaches dream or nightmare, to have four lines that they can throw out there at any time and trust them to get the job done. Nevertheless, labeling players seems to be happening more and more especially at early ages, which is hindering their development and progress.

Typecasting is notorious for youth sports. The coach identifies certain roles and there’s zero chance for upward mobility. The player is trapped. Are coaches trapping players at early ages by not giving them opportunities that the perceived top six forwards are getting or are coaches trying to balance out their lines and shortening benches late in games?

Creating effective lines keeping depth in mind is seriously an art form. It’s an incredible talent to have as a coach, but clearly it’s not being applied across the hockey world. Obviously, in elite level hockey you need to have your best players playing against the oppositions best players or that’s the thought processing, but why are the coaches of minor hockey matching lines?

Honestly I can say that I matched lines, I did it several times, that’s coaching, that’s how you win, but is that you develop players?

Looking back on it now I should have taken a different approach, but I really tried to make a concerted effort to find balance in my lines and tried to steer clear of labeling them the 3rd and 4th line.

Instead of calling them that, I would give each line nicknames.

Should minor hockey coaches be looking for balance and depth or load up heavy with two over the top lines and then thin things out when it comes to their bottom six?

Well, if you want the answer to that one just go watch a minor hockey game, it won’t take long to notice.

Coaches are trying their best to find balance and develop, but there’s so much emphasis on winning today in the game that they have to load up and put all their supposed talent on the top one or two lines.

Coaches are in complete control of the lines and dictate which lines are going to get all the time and which ones don’t.

You can’t tell me it’s not a hierarchical system because it is.

Players become entitled, it’s hockey’s version of a class system.

Top six players stay on the ice a lot longer, the coach put them in different situations for success and inadvertently sets the other lines up for failure.

Ultimately, the coach controls it all.

Don’t get me going on speciality teams because that creates even more divide. Not teaching every player on your roster how to play on the power play or penalty kill is an injustice, but that’s happening more than ever.

So how do we fix this? How do we change it? Well, I can tell you it has nothing to do with accountability and everything to do with teaching the game and developing players.

Setting players up for success should be a coaches main goal.

Exposing them to tough situations isn’t the same as setting them up for failure, if that’s what coaches are doing then as a coach that’s failure.

Minor hockey coaches should change up their lines from time to time, so every player has an experience to play with other players in other situations.

The search for chemistry, shouldn’t set players up for failure, it should set them up for success.

Playing the same players with each other all the way up through the ranks isn’t the answer.

Again, the parents and people that complain about lines changing are the ones that believe they are entitled and the most informed when it comes to the game.

That’s a big problem.

Can you imagine having a team that is so deep it’s hard to find the right amount of ice time for everyone?

Well that shit happens every year and usually it happens to championship caliber teams.

The ruination of championship aspirations lie in playing time and a coaches inability to create role identity and instil value in each player. You see every player should have a role, that role can change given on a moments notice, given the opportunity or situation. Typecasting players hinders their development in many ways. It’s like going to a player that has been buried on the “4th line” all year and expecting them to score goals and pressuring them to do it.

“Why aren’t you scoring, I’m giving this opportunity and you’re not stepping up, what’s wrong with you, I thought this is what you wanted.”

Valued role identity is incredibly important for team culture.

There’s no easy fix to this.

Hockey’s version of a class system is on display every time out.

It’s very rare that we see a coach that promotes a balanced attack.

I really hope that we continue to see young players being valued and treated fairly, given the opportunity to earn upward mobility in the line up if warranted.

That’s not a class system, that’s just earning your ice time and there’s a big difference between there. Minor hockey teams should have a balanced approach until the U-18 AAA ranks and even then all four lines should be valued and played appropriately.

That’s how you develop players and at the end of the day that’s what it’s all about.

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