World Junior Tournament Offers Learning Opportunities for High School Players

    The ongoing IIHF World Junior Ice Hockey Championships, which features players age 20 and younger, offer an opportunity for hockey fans to watch future NHL player in action.

For high-school players, the tournament offers insights into what it takes to play the game at an elite level.

Neshaminy coach Matt DeMatteo looks at the tournament as a learning experience for his players.

“The kids playing are only a few years removed from where our high school players are at this moment in their lives,” he said. “They are really still maturing and learning and making some of the same mistakes our guys do. It’s good for them to see that in such a high-level tournament.

“This (tournament) is more relatable because of the age of the players and where they are in life. They’re not millionaires (yet) and are working hard to be able to play at the next level. There is still an urgency in their game.”

St. Joseph’s Prep coach David Giacomin encourages his athletes to observe the players competing in the Junior World and incorporate aspects of their games into their own; specifically a strong worth ethic.

“I think when watching elite-caliber players you try to find something in a player you like and try to emulate it into your game,” he said. “Playing at that speed and performing like they do takes a lot of practice and hard work.”

DeMatteo notes the significance of a work ethic and cohesiveness at the pinnacle of junior hockey.

“I loved seeing the Czechs upset Canada (5-2 on December 26),” he said. “Talent alone will not guarantee a win. (Canadian coach) Dylan Guenther’s quote after the game was spot on and something we try to preach to our players; “We’re trying to skill our way through it, we’re trying to toe-drag, beat guys one-on-one. To win, you have to play the right way, play together and play as a team. It starts with the simple side of the game. Winning battles.” To me, that statement sums it all up.”

In addition to being the head coach at Central Bucks West, Dave Baun has been USA Hockey coaching instructor for almost two decades. He’s been following the World Junior tournament and tweeting insights to his own players.

 “Probably the most important on-ice point is the need for players to follow their shots to the net and establish net presence,” he said. “This is something that Coach (Rand) Pecknold mentioned in his talk-up but a skill so many of our American players don’t learn in youth hockey. Our players all want to be perimeter players and going to the net is not part of their game habits.”  

Another topic Baun addressed was game tempo and, along with it, players’ proficiency at changing lines on the fly.

“Everyone wants to play fast,” he said. “Coach Pecknold encouraged his team to play fast. But, playing fast isn’t just a function of just having fast skaters. It’s a combination of playing well without the puck and making and receiving passes.  A bobbled pass that bounces three feet away from a player in the WJC is a turnover, it’s probably two feet in the NHL.

“When I poll our Atlantic District coaches on whether they work on line changes in practice, one or two Tier I coaches out of 80 may raise their hands. The vast majority just aren’t working on line changes here in practices at all. Knowing to dump the puck bench side, have F1 angle while D, then Forwards, change behind is a skill that we all need to work on. Pro teams do this in practice.  Effective changes help you gain tempo. When you can only change at the whistle, the refs are setting our Team’s tempo, not us. Teams that can change effectively can play faster. This is true of the USA WJC team, NHL teams, and our SHSHL teams.”

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