It is that time of year, youth hockey season!!
So, it is officially that time of year again for our family – youth hockey season! It is an exciting time. Our daughter started learning to play over 2 years ago when she was just 4 years old. She first started with a learn to play program that Sidney Crosby and the local Dick’s Sporting Goods put together every year. With the program, they get young children into hockey by providing them with head to toe gear and lessons. It has really boosted youth hockey in the area. Once we got her into that, she was hooked. After that program completed, it wasn’t difficult for us to find other learn to play programs around here at local rinks for her to take part in, so we did that on and off for a few months.
Once she turned 5 years old, we started looking for a team for her to play on. This part deemed it self difficult; more so than I thought it would be. The hardest part was trying to find when tryouts were for all the teams. I emailed and called several people. I either never got a reply, could not get someone on the phone (it was in the middle of the season) or people I did talk to didn’t quite know and would tell me to call back. Then one morning I was checking my email, and there was a reply to one of the emails I sent out to the owner of the youth hockey team, the Pittsburgh Predators. it was inviting her to practice on a Friday to see if she enjoyed it.
Needless to say she loved it… That is until the next practice the next day at 7am. Before we left after practice Friday night the coach said see you tomorrow at 7. I looked at Liz and asked, “He meant pm right?” She said, “No.” So, we woke our daughter up at 5 am!! She was not so happy about that. “Daddy, it’s still night time out!” I explained to her that it is one of the things you have to do to play hockey hockey. Then she was OK with it.
So, now this season is already off and running, or should I say… skating? She had her first practice Friday night – and that can be tough. It starts at 5:50pm and goes until 7:10, so finding time for dinner can be rough on Fridays. I know some people would say eat before hand, but that is easier said than done. We have to leave here by 5 in order to get there and have her ready in time. Then there is another little issue, it takes our daughter AGES to eat. She has to be one of the slowest eaters. It can become frustrating when we are trying to get ready for things. Is there anyone else that has this issue?
So this past Saturday while mom was at Mom and Baby Yoga class, she had her first sort-of early morning practice of the season at 8:30. Getting up at 6:30 was not as hard as I thought it was going to be for either of us. Getting up then gives us an hour and 20 minutes to wake up, get dress, and get something to eat. Sometimes it takes about 20 minutes to get all of the equipment on if she decides she would like to play around while we try to get her dressed. Fortunately Saturday was not one of those times. It went rather smoothly and she got to warm up on the ice before practice started.
At the start of practice, the whole team always has a pregame pep talk. At which point Allie always skates as fast as she can towards the pile and almost runs everyone over. She doesn’t, but she has come pretty close. Sometimes it’s hard to watch.
It’s so neat to see the kids all on the ice taking a knee before practice listening to their coaches. They instill respect for each other and the game into the children of youth hockey right from the start. We learned this at the first game last year that she took part in. A child got hurt (not seriously injured) and took some time getting up off of the ice. A whistle blew and everyone on the ice (all 3 games) stopped what they were doing and took a knee. As soon as the child got up, every one of them tapped their sticks on the ice to cheer for him. It amazed me that they start teaching them that kind of respect for each other right from the start.
On the ice they have it broken down into six separate practice drill stations. The Mites team is broken down into two skill levels, Majors and Minors. Then each of them split into 3 groups. Each group will start at one station and practice that skill for 10 minutes. At the end of 10 minutes, a buzzer sounds and all of the groups rotate clockwise, I couldn’t believe it, I checked my clock which by the way is a tough outdoors smartwatch perfect for sports or if you have kids.
The first practice station she was at was to practice her stick handling (an area which is at this point probably her weakest skill). Most older hockey players told us to worry about her skating skills because she can always learn the stick part later.
At first she was sort of slow, just standing there pushing the puck back and forth on her stick, sort of getting a feel for the puck. Then once she got a bit warmed up, she was ready to go.
She pushes herself hard most of the time and takes notice of things she may not have done the way she would like. She will ask if we can practice it when we go ice skating. With stick handling it is a little more tough as there are a few rinks around here that have stick times, but they are almost always too close to the time that she gets out of school, so we are unable to make them.
The second skill station was skating and hopping over hockey sticks they have laid on the ice. The first time she did this, she jumped on the third stick and went flying. But after that, she did it a few more times without an issue jumping right over each stick.
After practicing that a few times, they were supposed to walk sideways crossing their feet over one another. Well, the kids in the back were not paying attention (this included Allie), so when it came time for their turn, they did the same thing they did before and just jumped over each stick. Granted, she did it extremely well, but she still didn’t do what she was supposed to do. She really enjoys jumping over things while skating. She practices jumping over the lines and the black padding, so she was just eager to jump over the hockey sticks.
The next skill station was working on passing the puck. Almost all of the children need more practice in this area. They are either just barely making the puck to the person or passing it so hard that it is off the mark and flies across the ice. I have a video of this but its a little tough to see. You can view it on my Youtube Channel
The fourth station may be her favorite thing to do on the ice besides playing hockey. It is called sharks and minnows. For those of you who may not know what that is, it is a game where a shark or sharks are in the middle and a bunch of minnows are on one end. The minnows try to skate to the other end trying not to get touched. If you are touched, you become a shark and this continues until all minnows are gone. You can tell how much she loves it. When she gets to the end you can see her celebrate by raising the roof.
Now at the fifth station, they have the children line up and each one stick handles a puck around a few cones and shoot it into a net. Sometimes they do this as a race, but they did not do that this time.
At the last and final station the coaches had them practice skating around the circle with a puck and shooting it into a net. After 60 minutes, most of all the kids are still going strong. When we first started her on a hockey team last year, she would last about 40 minutes (the typical length of a learn to play or skills class) before she was laying on the ice or sitting down the padding. She does not have that issue any longer (so far).
After all of that, they will play a 20 minute game. They split the rink into 3 areas and have cross ice hockey games. That is how they play in Mite youth hockey so that the children don’t wear themselves out too quickly.
She played nearly the whole time and was having a blast out there. Then, about halfway through she shoots and SCORES!!!! She was so excited and skated all the way down the ice and game me a fist bump through the glass. I was so excited I stopped recording.
I thought it would be nice to write a lot about what goes on at a youth hockey practice for people that may not know. If you have any questions about youth hockey feel free to contact me on Facebook or twitter and I will try to help you out.