I have always been a proponent of implementing cross-ice only games at the mite level of hockey. I believe in what USA Hockey is doing through the American Developmental Model (ADM) and I am a big believer in young hockey players also being young “insert another sport here” players. Also, I believe that young kids shouldn’t subject themselves to the same rink specifications of NHL or international leagues. Although I also believe in practicing what you preach, I must admit that I am guilty of questioning whether or not cross-ice games would be good for my own son.
My son started to learn how to skate when he was 3. He participated in learn to skate and hockey programs and then began playing cross ice at age 4. When he was 5, he played at the full-ice mite recreation level. The year after that, he played at the travel full-ice level. Although he played in 2 complete years of full-ice hockey, he also competed in several full-ice tournaments. While his games were played in the full-ice format, all of his practices consisted of drills and games done in small areas. Practices were done twice per week and they always followed the ADM principles.
At the time, I though the progression was fine. My son is a little bigger than most of the other kids his age and I would consider him to be average to above average in skill and skating. To him, it seemed like full-ice hockey wasn’t a big deal.
After his first year of travel hockey, we found out what was going to take place this season- one half of his games the season are going to be played in the cross-ice format, and one half of the season is going to be the full-ice format. This is taking place because USA Hockey is mandating that mite level hockey is all cross-ice. However, there is a transition period going from full-ice hockey to cross-ice hockey so kids in my son’s age group who have played full ice don’t have to make such a drastic transition. For my son, the reality is that because of his birth year, he must participate in this. If he was a year older, he would be eligible to play up to the next level. For him, I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing and most importantly, he could care less.
After much anticipation and wondering how it was going to go, we played in a recent cross-ice holiday weekend tournament. After watching the tournament, I wanted to share my thoughts (Again, this is all new to a large group of kids around southern California):
- More time with the puck- It seemed like the puck came to all of the players more frequently while more aggressive players got the puck much more
- Players had more opportunities to display individual skills. Kids had more opportunities to make moves and beat their opponents one on one
- Quicker decisions- The game was fast and it seemed like there wasn’t much room to make plays. Kids had to make quick plays
- One minute and 30 second shifts which were controlled by the sound of a buzzer- This was great. Equal ice time for everyone and both teams changed at the same time. Brilliant.
- No off-sides calls- I do like this even though the kids aren’t learning the off-sides rule.
- Kids seemed much more confident with the puck- Don’t know if it was because of playing against a weaker team or not, but was still good.
- When the puck went out of play, the clock kept ticking. The ref didn’t have a back-up puck to continue play
- The higher skilled players are still the higher skilled players. Yes, the lower skilled players got more puck possession time, but the higher skilled players still touched the puck much more. The higher skilled players still scored the most goals but I will say that since puck possession seemed higher per player, everyone had more opportunity to score goals
- Lots of goals were scored and there were face-offs immediately after each goal. Retrieving the puck and conducting a face-off is time consuming. I like the pick-up hockey format where the team that gets scored on plays the puck out of their net. This would allow play to keep moving. If the score isn’t being kept, then who cares?
- Growing pains are going to happen. There were many times when it seemed like the facility was trying to figure it out while it was going on. For example, some referees didn’t know some of the rules and the locker room situation was crammed. I guess if you have 4 teams playing on the ice at once, you will need more locker room space.
All in all, I think this is going to be great. There are lots of concerns from parents about possibly delaying their sons/daughters development. However, when I offer my opinion on this, I tell them to think long term. Don’t worry about their child being the best mite but rather think about him being the best bantam or midget. When I think about my own son, I think he will benefit from this. Since he is already a little bigger than most of the kids, he will learn how to handle the puck in small areas under pressure from the smaller and quicker players. When I think about how much more time that he will have the puck on his stick versus times in a full-ice situation, it is a no-brainer. Also, I don’t think 4 months out of their hockey development where they are put in competitive situations that suits their abilities is going to hurt them. It can only make them better- especially when they return to full ice competition.