KC Ice Center introduces Xtreme Hockey program to develop skills in young players

xtreme hockey at KCIC

APRIL 2017 – Xtreme Hockey is practice gone wild.

There is a theory that 75 percent of hockey comes down to one-on-one battles. The other hockey elements — skating, stick-handling, passing and shooting—are important, but none of those matter if you do not win the individual battle for the puck.

That’s the premise that has spawned a new Spring program at the Kansas City Ice Center called “Spring Xtreme Hockey.” It is an 11-week program that will work on the individual skills of players from the U-8 through the U-14 levels.

“Our Spring program has always been designed to keep kids on the ice if they want to be, in kind of a relaxed atmosphere,” said Dean Nelson, general manager of the Kansas City Ice Center. “It’s more for enjoyment and fun, than for competition. It’s also for skills development.”

The structure of Xtreme Hockey is similar to battle camp, held at the end of camp season every Summer.

“It is an 11-session program, with six of them being focused on individual skills and five of them being game nights,” Nelson said. “They’ll still have the competition that they desire, but they’ll be able to work on their skills in a unique way. This was taken from our battle camp in the summer. This will be like an 11-week battle camp, with drills to develop their skills while having a great time.”

You might think there are a limited number of ways to practice hockey, but Xtreme Hockey will stretch those limits. They’ll have drills using a tennis ball instead of a hockey puck. It’s hard enough to control a heavy puck that tends to stay close to the ice. Try controlling a tennis ball that is just as likely to bounce. It certainly will help develop the stick-handling skills.

There also are unique ways to work on skating, passing and shooting. The Xtreme Hockey program will have drills where the skaters must skate backwards or with their skates on the ice at all times. That is not the case when the skater is trying to go as fast as he or she can, but much of the game of hockey involves maneuvering through tight spaces on the edge of the skates, so that is a necessary skill.

Passing and shooting drills will defy common logic as well. The passing drills will range from passing on the move to a large area to passing while stationary to a smaller area across the ice, and everything in between. The longer the completed pass the more points the player will get.

And shooting is really only passing to a stationary space, with at least one opposing player in the way. Xtreme Hockey will use tires inside the nets to gauge how quickly and how accurately players can shoot the puck.

The concept is make skill development fun.

“I run one of these sessions once a month for our practices and the kids don’t want to get off the ice,” Nelson said. “That’s what we want—we want them to want to come to the rink and not want to leave. After 75 minutes, they’re mad that the practices are over.”

Let’s take a quick look at each of the skills. The skating session will focus on speed and agility. These drills will include obstacle courses, straight-line skating, frontwards, backwards and transitions. The ability to go from stopped to full speed is critical, as is the ability to transition from forward to backward.

Maneuvering around the offensive end looking to get open is critical in power-play situations, and chasing the open opposing player is equally important. Of course, sometimes players just need to get to the other end as quickly as possible.

Add a stick in your hands trying to control a sliding puck, and it gets tougher. Xtreme Hockey will use weighted pucks to have the same effect as a weighted bat in baseball. Many young players need to develop the strength in their wrists and forearms. Using the weighted pucks will make it easier to speed up shots and passes once they return to the regular pucks.

Shooting and passing are the offensive portion of hockey. Just like “chicks dig the long ball” in baseball, goal-scorers are popular in hockey. One way Xtreme Hockey will help raise up more teen idols is teaching these youngsters how to saucer-pass.

A saucer pass is passing the puck over another object, like a stick, while limiting the height of the puck. The best way to do that is to keep it flat, like a flying saucer.

“That’s something they don’t get a chance to work on during the regular season,” Nelson said.

Nelson’s goal is to get the kids to fall in love with the details of the game so they can succeed in the game in general.

“Hockey is a continuous one-on-one battle,” he said. “You’re lucky to get the occasional two-on-one or even three-on-one, but it’s mostly one-on-one battles. The other skills, like stick-handling, skating, shooting, passing, will help you win those battles.

“If you can’t win those battles, it doesn’t matter how well you skate, handle the puck, pass or shoot. You won’t have the puck in your control and the other player will.”

There is still the element of the game in Xtreme Hockey. Five sessions will involve games, usually 4-on-4 instead of the more structured 5-on-5 of regular hockey. But another change from previous years is teams won’t be formed at the beginning of the 11 weeks.

“When we used to do the 4-on-4 leagues, each team started out with 10 or 11 kids at the beginning of the league,” Nelson said. “You’d come to a game on a Saturday night and one team would have five players and one team would have all 11. It was hard. The kids have other things going on in the Spring, and they can’t always make all the games.

“The way we’ll do it now is pick the teams when they get here for that night’s games. It’s pick-up hockey. They might be on the yellow team one night and the green team the next night.

“If we do something that’s a novelty, they’ll be learning a skill without thinking about it being a practice setting. We’re hoping the kids will develop a skill while having extreme fun. We’ll also have those five game nights to meet their need for competition.”

Sounds pretty extreme.

For more youth sports coverage visit: http://kcsportspaper.com/category/youth-sports/

Article by David Smale.

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