Cross-ice hockey. Mention these three words to some of the more traditional-minded hockey development people, and you may be accused of “ruining the game.” In Woodbury, however, our association is proud to be one of the early adopters and major supporters of cross-ice hockey.
Why? Simple – it works.
This summer was filled with news relating to cross-ice hockey. Minnesota Hockey’s rule change to sanction cross- and half-ice tournaments at the Mite/8U level was another great step, furthering the benefits and transition to cross-ice hockey.
However, we wonder if Minnesota Hockey’s decision to allow up to 10 full-ice games for the 8-year-olds is the best utilization of the limited ice time available to most associations. We were pleased with USA Hockey’s lead to move all Mite/8U play to cross/half-ice games and we plan to focus all play in our association on cross-ice games at the Mite/8U level.
Just doing the math on full-ice puck touches vs. cross-ice, it’s hard to justify how full-ice games are better for development. Studies have shown one cross-ice game equals the development time of 10-12 full-ice games.
A common argument is “We need full-ice to prepare them for Squirts.” Our observation has been that the few that never see a full-ice game before Squirts are up to speed in only a game or two, with better skills guaranteed. We truly feel the best way to prepare kids for Squirts is to develop their skills as much as we can through small-area and cross-ice games.
In 2008, we even started an in-house, 3-on-3 league at the Squirt/10U levels. The benefits for the players were clear: Significantly more puck touches for all players, increased decision-making skills, improved hockey sense, more shots for goalies and a level of competiveness simply unmatched by full-ice hockey, just to name a few.
One of the key benefits is the development of all players. For the top-skilled players, rather than making one move and skating the length of the ice, they are now required to look up and make several moves in a tight area. The less-skilled players also benefit with more puck touches that simply don’t happen on a full sheet of ice. In addition, the less-skilled players are more engaged, and therefore develop a love for the game. We feel this will result in better player retention and a larger pool of skilled players as they progress through the levels.
Our cross-ice league has been a big success on and off the ice. The players get excited for the games as much if not more than regular season league games. The excitement extends to the stands where parents and fans witness a level of competiveness and plays simply not possible on a full sheet of ice. The benefits of shrinking the ice are indisputable and every step we take in the cross-ice progression is a step towards increased development and excitement for the game.
This year our purchase of hard dividers, through Minnesota Hockey’s Hard Divider Grant Program, will provide the look and feel needed to turn an already successful program into one that even the most diehard full-ice fanatics will have to appreciate.
Brian Livingston is the vice president of hockey development for the Woodbury Area Hockey Club.