Tips To Help You Make It To The Next Level
By Don Jackson

Not too long ago, I received a letter from a young defenseman trying to make it to the next level. He was a decent player. His skill level was good but he was sometimes afraid of the puck. Offensively he was above average. This is my response to that player.
Dear Ry,
Just a note to let you know that I believe that you are on the right track.
Keep these things in mind: At a young age, until you are ready to take the step into juniors, college, pro, your skill level is the prime focus for hockey evaluators (coaches, managers and people responsible for picking teams).

Playing  hard best describes what hockey evaluators are looking for. Talent is taken for granted. Everyone competing for the positions on teams that you are trying to make have some talent. At this point, teams do select character over talent to fill out teir rosters. When a player is cut from a team, they can’t believe they got cut over some guy with less talent. The chosen player is supplying some sort of element to the team that has to do with character, such as those who consistently play hard. Playing hard can be identified when you see players in great physical condition, consistently finish their check, block shots, win races to and battle for the puck. They are willing to take a hit to make a play and compete as hard against the big guys as well as the small guys. They also let the other team know with body language that they will never be beaten (and if it happens once, never show it).
At the same time you are letting your teammates know the same, which gives them the confidence and inspiration to perform like you. That is leadership! That is exciting! It is like a fever that is contagious.

At the same time, playing smart is the next important thing that you will have to show those hockey evaluators. For you, ad a defenseman who wants to lead the play up the ice, passing the puck is the name of the game. Consistently make the right plays with and without the puck.

What are the right plays with the puck? First of all, if you are a defenseman who is always chasing the play back into your end, then something is wrong.

If this happens, then you are making wrong decisions on the attack and up ice. You should always headman the puck to anyone ahead of you. You can use deception to open someone up by looking away from them or not "telegraphing" your play.
While carrying the puck through the neutral zone, it is my suggestion that if you do not have someone open ahead of you and you have a good speed, take the ice that is given to you. You should make decisions with the puck early and not all of a sudden when you are under pressure. This is when mistakes with the puck occur. When carrying the puck through the neutral zone, you will have only a couple decisions to make:

1. Headman the puck by making a pass to a forward who can attack the net.
2. Put the puck into an area where your teammates have the best chance to get to it first.
Examples include:
• A soft chip into an area behind their defense or into the corner;
• A hard rim shot to enable forwards time to react to get the puck before or at the same time as their defense. This will create a situation where they can win a battle for the puck in the corner;
• A cross corner dump that bounds off the boards into an area where your teammate can get the puck.
 What about being their defense one-on-one? Remember that simple is better. The best NHL players such as Jagr, Lemieux and Sakic beat defensemen maybe three out of ten times while all other types of players will do it one out of ten. Play the odds. Do smart things with the puck that do not put you into situations where you may create turnovers with the puck. If you find yourself chasing the play from behind back into your own end regularly, then your decision-making can be made better.
Gaining the blue line and making a confident play to a forward in the clear is great. If that option is not available, then putting the puck behind the net is smart. The forward who is driving the net will be there to pick up loose pucks. If not, your team will be in position to forecheck.

On point shooting, get lots of shots quickly on net. Shoot low so that your teammates are not in fear of going to the front of the net. These shots create rebounds if you do not and give your teammates a chance to put the puck in the net.
Knowing your strengths and limitations is a key got players to advance to greater challenges. Working to improve the skills that you are weak at is being pro-active and part of any successful personal plan. If you want to make the best impression, play hard and play smart.


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