30 Winning Strategies for Coaches, Players & Parents during the Playoffs!
Whether your team finished first or eighth in the regular season, the playoffs are a whole new ballgame. Some major upsets will occur and a number of higher-seeded teams will be eliminated if they are not physically and mentally prepared for the increased speed and intensity of the playoffs. The good news is that coaches still have time to fine-tune their forechecking and backchecking systems and mentally prepare their players for these very emotional and stressful playoff games.
You must convince your players that they can win the series—even against a higher-seeded team—if everyone does their job correctly and follows your game plan. How do you do that?
- Explain to them that everyone has an important job to do—some players are scorers, others playmakers, some aggressive corner men who can dig the puck out along the boards, others are offensive defensemen with goal scoring ability and others defensive defensemen who can shut down scorers and prevent goals. And when everyone works together as a team, success is just around the corner and winning the playoff series is a realistic result.
- Remember that the most important player is your goaltender. The team will only go as far as your goalie can take you. You must build your goalie’s confidence and help by allowing the him/her to see all shots at all times.
- Make your players aware of the possibility of losing a series to a lower-seeded team if there’s not a full 100% disciplined team effort from every player, on every shift, for the entire game.
- Remind players that, during the playoffs, it is much easier to prevent goals than it is to score them. The proven theory is that defensive hockey wins important games and playoff championships.
- Forechecking, backchecking, positional play, short shifts, capitalizing on opponents errors like blind passes, giveaways and big rebounds can turn the game in your favor. Also cutting down on your penalties in the playoffs is essential to remain competitive.
- Prepare a sound game plan and remind their players who the top scorers are on the opposing team. At the very least, know their sweater number (jersey number, for you Americans) because if you let them skate freely and don’t cover/check them closely, they will fill your net with pucks like Alexander Ovechkin and you will be eliminated from the playoffs in the very first round.
- Know your team’s abilities and the opposition’s strengths and weaknesses. Devise a sound game plan based on this information to help your team reduce the opposition’s strength and exploit its weaknesses.
- All goalies have a weakness—study them, identify the weakness, tell your players what it is, then capitalize on it. By doing this you will be very competitive and quite possibly get your team to the next round of playoffs.
- Remain calm yet flexible during the game and if one system/strategy is not working go to plan B. Ensure your best defensive pair is always out against the opposition’s top scoring line.
- Positive comments and a pat on the back from the coaching staff for all good offensive and defensive plays are the keys to building player confidence, team spirit and playoff competitiveness—even against the first place team.
For specific coaching strategies for playing higher-seeded teams, click here for the full story.
To be competitive in the playoffs, you must concentrate on what to do away from the puck.
- On offense, when your team has the puck, you must get into an open area where you can receive a pass or find a seam between two players.
- On defense, when the opposition has the puck, you must find an open man in the neutral and defensive zone and cover him/her like a blanket so they cannot receive a pass, get a shot off or get to a rebound. It’s not the first shot that scores—it’s the rebounds that will kill you. Covering your man reduces the opposition's shooting and scoring chances.
- In your defensive zone, one defenseman must cover the closest player to the net while his D partner fights for the puck in the corner. You must be within 2 feet of the open player, not 5 feet from him.
- The center and weak-side (non puck side) winger must cover the slot area and point.
- Use your long stick reach to intercept or deflect passes.
- The puck-side winger is situated along the half boards and must be ready to help the D in the corner if necessary, or move quickly out to cover the point if the puck is passed back there.
- In some systems, the center helps the defenseman in the corner while the wings cover the slot area and puck side point. This is a coaching decision—listen to your coach.
- Play aggressively and with intensity every time you are on the ice during your 40–50 second shift.
- You must win the battles for the loose puck at both ends of the ice without taking penalties.
- Remember, the goal you prevent might be the one that would have won the game for the opposition. Clear all rebounds out of harm’s way and your goals against will fall like a lead balloon—and you’ll be competitive and in the game right to the very end.
Playoff hockey is much different than regular season games.
- There is less space to carry the puck, more hitting and goals are much harder to come by. Many games are won by 1 goal and the score might be as low as 3–2 or 4–3.
- Your son’s or daughter’s role now is to prevent goals on every shift when the opposition regains control of the puck, then try and get into the clear and score when your team has control of the puck.
- A successful shift is one in which no goals were scored against your child.
- An unsuccessful shift is one in which a goal was scored against your child.
- For a goal to be scored, there had to be a defensive error made by someone. It could be the goalie, a defenseman missing a check, a forward who did not backcheck, but most likely it’s a combination of all three.
- A fantastic shift is one in which your child’s line scored a playoff goal.
- Applaud the good offensive and defensive plays that score or prevent goals—this is Playoff Hockey, after all.
- Playoff hockey can be very stressful, emotional and exciting for all youth hockey parents. But please remember, it’s only a game—and fun is the No. 1 priority for the players.
- Don’t get upset by opposing parents’ comments.
- Relax and enjoy these great playoff games.
Editor’s Note: Thank you to John Shorey of Hockey Made Easy for this story. Edited by Kelly Anton for length.
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