Even for players fully grown, an ice hockey rink is a menacing length, especially late in games. Imagine (or remember) what it’s like for a youth player skating in a program such as USA Hockey, Sweden Ice Hockey or Hockey Canada.
That’s all changing.
In 2009, USA Hockey mandated cross-ice games — or multiple games played at the same time on the same rink using rink dividers — in all games until the age of eight. Shortly after, Sweden followed suit and implemented similar regulations. Hockey Canada has now instituted the rule for players 5 and 6 years old.
“Re-sizing the playing surface to cross-ice or half-ice means more puck touches, which result in more chances to practice puck control and shooting, as well as overall more movement and motor skill-development – twisting, turning, balance, coordination, agility,” said the vice-president of membership development for Hockey Canada, Paul Carson, in a press release. “Their field-of-play matches their size, and these players hone in on their skill-development in a way that larger ice surfaces just aren’t conducive to.”
More Puck Touches = Better Experience
The smaller rink size means that players are more tightly contested together. This brings up a question among parents: What if I want my child to experience “real” hockey? Won’t this hinder that experience?
As USA Hockey notes in their Level 1 Coaching Manual, George Kingston, a well-publicized Canadian hockey coach, conducted a study of hockey games played on the full ice surface and found the following:
- In a 60-minute running time hockey game between 6-8 year-old children, the average player had possession of the puck for 20.7 seconds.
- Top National Hockey League and international professional players were also timed and no player exceeded 85 seconds of puck possession time.
- In a 60-minute children’s game, the actual playing time of the game was 20 minutes and 38 seconds.
- Taking this into consideration, the individual player is only on the ice every third or fourth shift depending on how many players are on the team, resulting in even less ice time.
- Games included an average of less than 0.5 shots per game for youth players and only 1.5 shots per game for junior and professional players.
The study concluded that:
- For young players in the full-ice game model of development, the youngest players would require 180 games and the older youth players would require 80 games to enjoy 60 minutes of actual puck-possession time to execute their stickhandling, passing, pass receiving and shooting skills.
- Professional and international players would require 60 games to ensure 60 minutes of puck-control skill development.
It’s a matter of simple math, actually. If young players are consolidated to a smaller playing surface, they will see the puck in play for a much higher percentage of time. The larger the rink, the less time players are spending actually playing hockey.
Less Rink-Time Issues
No matter if you are playing in a small town with one rink or a big city with numerous rinks, ice time is always hard to come by. It’s not like soccer or baseball where fields can be formed from large backyards or playgrounds.
In any given weekend day, a rink with one sheet of ice crams 10-15 games in spanning over a 14-hour period. Imagine being able to fit the same amount of games in half that time! All of a sudden, the rinks can add more leagues into the days, or allow for more time between games so that games scheduled later in the day aren’t starting 45 minutes late. It’s a win-win for league administrators, coaches, parents and players.
The Dividing System
Dividing the rink up into sections is as easy as looking at the three zones of the rink. The diagram below, provided by USA Hockey, displays how you will likely see Hockey Canada games divvied up next fall.
Since games for kids of this age do not allow for checking of any kind, padded barriers are used across the blue line to stop the puck from entering the other game. Many of these rinks use our xDividers, which we featured on this blog last August.
Most forms of these dividers are created using open-cell, high-density foam with comfort in mind, as there are many young players who are still unable to stop (and to also not allow pucks to ricochet across the ice when banked off the boards). It’s a perfect dividing system that will keep players from getting injured, no matter how hard they crash into or over the dividing system.
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