Observations From the Rink: Routes to Pucks, Board Play and Can They Play the Other Side?

Above Board
I’ll never forget teeing it up at the Meadows as a kid with two older gentleman. One was a former British Naval officer, the other a proud Acadian with several hidden talents. Oh the conversations they would have. As a 14 or 15 year old kid, my friend and I relished every minute of those rounds.
One day we on 17th tee, we were talking about playing pool, which we did a lot of that back in the day. The older Acadian gentleman looked at us and said.
“Pool eh, I used to make the cue ball talk.” We all looked and him and started to grin. He was dead serious. Harold our old British friend grinned and said, “I’m sure you did.”
There are some athletes out there with the uncanny natural ability to excel in certain areas of the sport or game. They’re almost like wizards, it just comes naturally to them while others have to work their arses off to try to match their ability.
We have all played with those kinds of players that are seemingly wizards, but the most underrated of them all are probably the players that are best on the boards.
Board play is such an underrated skill that many players don’t appreciate or practice nearly enough. Handling the puck under pressure is a must at the next level or any level for that matter. Wingers that make plays in the D zone often believe it goes unnoticed, trust me it doesn’t. Those players always jump off the page. Obviously, some players are naturals while others struggle with that skill. My questions to coaches now more than ever before is why aren’t they teaching every player how to use the boards more efficiently and effectively. We live in an era where everyone wants to play fast, so the chip and chase or indirect pass is everything. Nevertheless, it all comes back to one on one puck battles along the boards or dirty areas of the ice. It seems like board play is a lost art, in all three zones. There’s no wizardry anymore, and those that possess that sorcery might not be allowed to use their creative gift as much as they would like, but when they do, it’s special and great to see.
Sure we are seeing more indirect plays, but it’s the subtle plays by the clandestine hockey playing wizards that make you take notice or put you on the edge of your seat.
Some players can seemingly make the puck or the boards on this case talk!

Take the Long Way Home
Some players are taking the long way home to pucks.
Everyone in the entire rink can see how scared they are. It’s really unfortunate that so many players are taking poor routes to pucks. Tons of players are struggling with the concept of angling and puck retrieval especially young defenders. Everyone talks about transitional D, but so many skate into trouble and turn pucks over.
If you want to get noticed as a defender, take care of your own zone, have a great stick, make good decisions, take good routes to pucks and first and foremost move the puck efficiently and defend. Clearly it’s all about the little things, but as young players start climbing the ladder, it’s the little things that get harder and harder. Puck retrieval is everything, no wonder kids look scared, hell everyone would be scared if they took routes to pucks like 85% of players do in the game today. A lot of players today are taking more linear routes to pucks and are trying to avoid hits rather than taking a hit to make a play. Players are bailing out all of time because they are putting themselves in vulnerable positions, and they only realize that when it’s too late.
People can argue about how fast the game is these days, and try to justify how difficult it is to retrieve pucks in any sequence of the game, but it all starts with routes. What route are you taking? Let’s hope every young up and coming player is being taught the value and importance of taking solid routes and subtleties of puck retrieval before it’s too late.
Here’s some food for thought,
With so many U-18 aged players struggling taking good routes to pucks, maybe if we still had contact at the U-13 level kids would learn the skill quicker, and they wouldn’t be putting themselves in vulnerable positions. That particular debate ranges on.

Take me to the Other Side
It might be a great Aerosmith song, but I often wonder if some young defenders and wingers can play the other side. As I wrote early this week, so many young players are getting played out of position, which is really unfortunate. However, there comes a time from a scouting perspective that I would love to see some players ability to play the other side. Case in point, there’s no doubt the smooth skating transitional defender can play the other side, but I would love to see it.
You see at the next level, that’s where the left shooting defender will probably be put in training camp.
I guess it all comes back to playing the player out of position, but so many QMJHL and NHL scouts try to project and predict a players maximum success at a certain position at the next level. Can a left shot D-man play the right side, of course, but they better have great puck skills especially on the backhand if they want to survive. Can the lumbering center play that position at the next level or are they going to thrown to the wolves on the wing the following season at the next level?
You see these are questions that scouts ask. Obviously, it’s our job to project that, but it gets a lot easier if we can see it first hand.
Is the kid a center, a right or left winger or right or left D?
I guess time will tell where they fit best, but in many cases it’s on the other side.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.