Rob French welcomes a mandate from Hockey Canada to have young hockey players develop their skills on a playing surface more manageable for those just getting started in the game.
Hockey Canada’s new policy for the 2017-2018 season mandates cross-ice and half-ice hockey for boys and girls ages five and six and the national body is promoting the Initiation Program from coast to coast.
French has been a promoter of developing skills through a smaller ice since he began running hockey programs a number of years ago and will be helping young players adjust to the change in his role as technical director for the Corner Brook Minor Hockey Association.
From a coaching vantage point, when it comes to skill development French believes Hockey Canada is going in the right direction. He said he has seen how European countries have followed the same philosophy of a smaller ice surface for young players learning the game and have been producing some amazingly skilled players who have came to North America to play in the National Hockey League or other pro hockey leagues.
“It’s like the ‘stickhandling in a phone booth’ philosophy,” French said. “You’re in a smaller area so you have to do more things with the puck as opposed to just skating in straight lines.”
All too often, when it comes to five-year-olds, a player can be seen racing the length of the ice for a shot on goal with nobody within reach or getting a touch on the puck, but that’s not going to be the case with the new change because players will have to be agile and quick on their feet to weave in and out of traffic with less room to work with so they will find it challenging.
While he knows Hockey Canada has the young player in mind when bringing the rule into play, French knows there are lots of parents who don’t want their child playing half ice because they want their boy or girl to get a sense of what a real game is like and he hopes they take a real good look at the philosophy behind the change.
“It’s not as exciting for a parent to watch and I think the for kids who are used to playing full-ice games it’s going to take a little while for them to get used to it, but they’re so young to them they will get used to it pretty quick and it doesn’t matter to them as long as they are playing a hockey game.”
More touches on the puck. More shots on goal.
French believes the players who will have to adjust will eventually see Hockey Canada had their best interests at heart when it comes to providing an environment conducive to skill development at a young age.