Chasing the Race

Chasing the Race

It’s human nature to be intrigued and it definitely adds a certain amount of excitement and buzz to the sport. On the other hand, some people don’t give a rat’s ass about points or who wins the league scoring race.

What happens when kids playing minor hockey are captivated with the stat sheet, instead of just playing the game the right way? Well, the answer to that is quite simple, they start chasing the race. Alright, let’s face it, it’s perfectly natural to be continuously checking how things stand when it comes to any league’s standings especially when things get tight, but there’s always undercurrent of discussion and debate revolving around stats at the minor hockey league level.

Should “they” even keep stats at the minor hockey league level?

You see it’s the “they” that controls what some would say is an obsession with points?

Who are the “they” well, I if you have been around the game of hockey for any time, you can identify them almost instantly. Again, keeping stats is perfectly nature, it’s part of the allure of the game, but it’s what it does to certain players, coaches and hockey parents  that’s the most concerning. When does the collection of stats and the fixation with them interfere or cause havoc with a team, a line or certain player?

You can deny it all you want, but you know damn well, each and every kid these days know exactly how many points they have, know who’s leading the scoring race and know how many points they need to catch them.

For some people stats and the game of hockey could be described as “a love-hate” relationship. In today’s game there seems to be a growing emphasis on “numbers” that just didn’t exist even five to ten years ago. Obviously, the game has changed. With analytics taking on such a massive role, the game will never be the same and again that’s perfectly fine and a natural progression. Nonetheless, the question still remains how are stats impacting the player or players? What role should stats play in minor hockey? 

Of course, stats have a place, but on some occasions, they don’t always tell the story and that definitely needs to be reiterated to every young player coming up. Some coaches and managers live and die by stats, to each their own, I guess.

How do these managerial or coach’s decisions play out during “in game” situations? That’s a difficult question to answer.

If you want a divided dressing room or team, the stat sheet or misguided emphasis on points and a scoring race will be a great starting point. 

What are we really teaching young minor hockey players when everyone around the game is hyper focused on numbers? 

Clearly the stat sheet or scoring race doesn’t tell the entire story. 

As a player you know the “pecking order” and some cases the player has to look a long way down that list to find their stats. 

During my coaching career, I had several parents come up to me the last few years in a failed promotional bid of their son/daughter “yeah they had a great year last year, played on the top line, had the most minutes played of any forward and had 52 goals and 33 assists.” 

In effort not to disappoint or insult them I would listen to the pitch and say “wow that’s a great year” and quickly walk away. This usually was coming from 2nd year Atom parents whose child was making the jump to Pee Wee.  So, you know damn well if the parents were stat driven or stat centric you know the kid would be to.

What type of hockey player do we want to produce?  The player who is all about team or individualism?  The player who is a good two-way player that can contribute offensively when needed or the puck hog who is goal or point hungry all the time?

I was also approached several times by parents who are “numerically gifted and wanted to keep the teams’ stats, to this I reply, “that’s great, I don’t want any of the players getting their hands on this.” It’s a shame that Pee Wee aged kids about 5 or 10 games into the season start talking about goals and assists after games and during games.  

They just don’t know, because they have been told by coaches/ parents on previous occasions “wow you have 2 goals today go get a hat trick” rather than just being told to keep it going!   

I used to quickly correct this behaviour on the bench or in the room, by saying. 

It’s about development, it’s about getting you ready for the next level, the points will come and the wins will take care of themselves.” 

As far as stats are concerned, we only worry about W’s and L’s on this team, the other numbers will take care of themselves.”  

Does that type of mindset continue throughout the levels of the game?

Does it happen each year?

Well we can all be the judge of that.

From a scouting perspective, I seldom look at the leagues scoring race. I seldom look to see how many goals Player A has compared to Player B. Quite frankly I don’t give a rats ass, about numbers when I’m scouting. These are the questions, I’m looking to answer when scouting and projecting talent.

Does the player play to their identity and can that player’s skill set translate to the next level?

Can the player skate? 

Can the player effectively see the ice? 

Can the player think the game? 

Can a player play both ends of the ice? 

Does the player pass the puck? 

What type of character does the player possess? Is that player a good teammate? 

How does that player respond to adversity? 

Where do the numbers come in?

Do you see any numbers there because I don’t see any numbers there?  

Don’t get me wrong some stats are great and very important, but do they tell the entire story? No.

Should stats define a young player’s career at the minor hockey ranks?  No. 

Do goals and assists define a young hockey player’s full potential? No. 

Should we post stats sheets and scoring races below the U-14 level? No. 

Do goals and assists in the minor hockey ranks really matter? No

Do stats define a player’s journey in minor hockey? Hell No. 

Is it obvious to see when players or certain lines know they all have a chance to capture the self-perceived prestige league scoring race? Hell yes! In some cases, it all comes to opportunity which also speaks to the cultural framework and scaffolding of the team.

It’s extremely obvious to see, the subtle selfishness involved the game, it’s truly over the top. Unfortunately, some players get consumed by the chase even if they don’t think they do. You see its human nature. They all probably have great intentions and want to be a difference maker, they want to help the team win, but they also want to showcase their individual talents so they can find some upward mobility in the game. In other cases, some have perhaps bought into all of the hype and attention of the scoring race. The chase for the race especially amongst a high scoring deep groups creates healthy competition within the team, but if the culture and character of the group is in question, it will divide the room almost instantly and create even more divide and attention toward the classification and hierarchy of the line combinations. At that point, you’re living on wish and prayer. It’s incredibly difficult to regain any semblance of a team game after certain players or lines are going out on their own to accumulate as many points as possible in order to win the race.

Who’s chasing the race on your team or in your league?

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