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Shorthanded Skill Plays Becoming the New Normal

By USA Hockey, 12/04/17, 11:30AM EST

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That tactical shift at the highest level – foregoing icing while shorthanded and looking to make a play instead – is reflected in USA Hockey’s decision to no longer legalize icing by shorthanded teams at 14U and younger.

Goal-scoring is on the rise in the NHL this season, up more than a half a goal per game, and one of the contributing factors is an increase in shorthanded goals. ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski explored the trend with New Jersey Devils head coach John Hynes, who cited a change in the way teams approach the penalty kill in today’s NHL.

"Lots of times the penalty kill used to be 'Defend and get it out,'” Hynes told Wyshynski. “Now, because of the attributes of the killers, you're seeing quickness. If you can get on the attack, you don't see teams icing it. They're looking for a play."

That tactical shift at the highest level – foregoing icing while shorthanded and looking to make a play instead – is reflected in USA Hockey’s decision to no longer legalize icing by shorthanded teams at 14U and younger.

The announcement of that rule change in June 2017 foreshadowed how the game was changing at the highest levels. It also provided another avenue for youth hockey coaches to emphasize true skill development at the grassroots.

“We want to encourage players to get their heads up, think and make skillful, intelligent plays,” said Ken Martel, technical director of USA Hockey’s American Development Model. “Those are attributes coaches want to see in their players at the highest levels. So for kids, rather than just blasting the puck down the ice on the penalty kill, they’re now learning to skate or pass their way out of trouble, use greater touch to chip a puck out, or even go on the attack. They’re developing true skills that contribute to winning at the highest levels. That’s why we adopted the rule – to enhance skill development.”

USA Hockey has used the rule successfully at its National Player Development Camps for more than a decade, so despite its recent widespread introduction at 14U and below, the foundation for the change is time-tested.

“Skill development and play-making is an emphasis at the professional level and it should be an absolute priority at the youth levels, so I support USA Hockey’s decision to change the rule,” said Mike Sullivan, Pittsburgh Penguins head coach and back-to-back Stanley Cup champion. “It encourages kids to make more skill plays with the puck, and that will help develop their full potential as players.”