Our family currently has two active youth players, a seven year old that is in her third year of mite hockey and a three year old that is just beginning her journey. Our oldest is the guinea pig, we test out ideas and strategies with her to see if they work and then apply them for the three year old or make adjustments based on our learnings. We have one final hockey player that has yet to strap on her skates who is one year old, and we figure by the time she is ready to skate we will know exactly the right path is for her optimal development and fun!

Year 1 (Total Ice Time = 100 hours)

In this post, I will detail out the decisions we made year-by-year for our seven year old. I will also highlight any learnings or changes we made for the next player in our pipeline. This is not meant to be the “right” path or series of decisions for all hockey players, but only a reference on what we have done and where our focus has been to develop a great person and player. I will detail out our year by year decisions, with an assumption that the hockey year runs from October-March.

  • Pre-Season Year 1: Started it all with learn to skate lessons at our local rink, this was pretty basic with learning to balance, march, swizzle, etc. Our daughter really enjoyed skating so we signed her up for 10 private skating instructions. This really accelerated her progress and was a great choice, her coach was a well regarded figure skating coach and helped her nail some of the basics (Total Ice Time = 20 hours).
  • Year 1 Season: Our Daughter’s first year was in our local hockey association 6U program that is geared towards first year players, they call it termites, but know other associations across the country may call it mini-mites or mity-mites. The focus was on basic skating foundations, station drills, having fun, and exposing them to a few cross ice games throughout the year. Was primarily parent coaches and I coached my daughter’s team. We were on the ice three days a week from early-November until the end of February (Total Ice Time = 35 hours)
  • Post-Season Year 1: We enrolled our daughter in two primary off season activities, the first was a “rookie” camp at a private rink a few mins from our home that ran from May through August, they were on the ice twice a week for 1 hour. Primary focus was on edge work, skating, agility on the ice, and basics of carrying the puck. There was a really low instructor to skater ratio (about 1:5), so the kids really got a lot out of it and received very personalized instruction. Our daughter also played in a 3 on 3 league that summer for the first time, this was also a lot of fun for her and us as parents. This taught her more about the game, increased her competitiveness and aggressiveness on the ice. Both of these activities had significant impact on our daughter and really set her up well for Year 2. (Total Ice Time = 45 hours)

Year 2 (Total Ice Time = 115 hours)

  • Year 2 Season: Our daughter played her second year in our local hockey association, this time as a 6U/Mite 1. This is the upper side of the 6U level and continues on what they learned in termites, but with increased focused on skating/ edge work, stick handling, and carrying the puck. The second half of the season they also transition to half ice games vs cross ice games. I mentioned we saw great progress from some of my daughter’s off-season activities and this was really clear when we kicked off year 2. At the youth level the split the teams into three “levels” to keep kids of a similar skill level together during drills and games. The benefits for the kids are to have the surrounded by others with similar skills and abilities and makes it simpler for the coaches to customize the drills. At the end of our Daughter’s first year she fluctuate between the middle group and the upper group (but didn’t perform all that well with the upper group). To start Year 2 she was clearly with the upper group and fit in very well. I also coached this year and was actively involved in shaping how the entire level ran for that season (Total Ice Time = 50 hours). This was the first year we did a backyard rink so we also spent about 30-40 hours extra in the backyard playing games and having fun.
  • Post-Season Year 2: For her second off-season our Daughter tried out for a off-season development program at one of our more elite private hockey development organizations. She made it and this was her primary focus for the off season. This was intense, focused, and structured to build great skaters and start building the sticking skills required to excel. This was a great experience and even through it was hard work and they were on the ice for 1 hour and 10 mins each session our daughter exceled and by the end she was one of the top skaters in the program. She also did two 3 on 3 leagues and we continued to see great progress in the same development areas as the year before, one big difference was that her teams this year was more competitive and they were able to win more games and this made it more fun overall for the players (Total Ice Time: 65 hours).

Year 3 (Estimated Total Ice Time = 165 hours)

  • Year 3 Season: This season we made a big choice to leave the local association (more to come on this in a future blog) and have our daughter play in a private winter league at the same private organization where she spent her summer training. This was big decision for us because of the importance of the community development model in Minnesota for youth hockey. We really didn’t even know if our daughter would make it, she tried out and earned a spot so we decided to give it a try. The focus of this league is to continue to hammer home skating fundamentals and edge work, they also have an increased focused on stick handling and carrying the puck. They play full ice games with offsides, icing , and changing on the fly, so it mimics real games and helps our daughter make a connection to the games she sees on TV or in person. We also enrolled our daughter in an off-ice dryland program that will run throughout the season as well (Estimated Ice Time: 100 hours). We will also do a backyard rink again this year and will really focus on having fun because of how intense most of her on ice activities are this year, we will also look to schedule more playdates on the rink to help make the connection between hockey and fun!
  • Post-Season Year 3: After the season ends our daughter will play on a local AAA hockey team it is through the same organization where she is playing her winter hockey so the development model and curriculum will be the same. She will also continue the off-ice dryland program (Estimated Ice Time: 65 hours).

As I mentioned we are only in year three of our hockey journey and this is what has worked for us up to this point. One change we have made for our three year old is to get her in the “pipeline” of the private organization sooner and leverage their resources, we have really enjoyed their development model and think it is enabling our older daughter to excel. With that being said, instead of doing learn to skate through our local rink we are doing it with the private organization.

In my next blog I will talk about our decision to take our daughter out of our local hockey association this winter.

-North Star Hockey Dad

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