With the stakes heightened at playoff time, confidence can play a huge role in how successful a team might be. Building confidence through the season is clearly something coaches need to consider - particularly when it comes to those situations that don’t happen in every game during the season. The classic situation is with the goalie pulled for an extra attacker. I have always been a traditionalist when it comes to an extra attacker to find the tying goal. Typically, if I am down one goal, I try to get the goalie out around the 1:00 mark. If I am down two goals, then I try to pull around the 1:30 mark. My thought is that giving the opposition more than that will produce a goal against and dash any hope of tying the game up. But clearly, there is a lot of thought to pulling a goalie much earlier. In fact, the NHL stat on how long on average it takes to score a goal with an extra attacker is around 1:30. So, statistically, you need to pull the goalie around the 3:00 mark in order to score two goals to tie a game.
Rico Blasi, head coach of the University of Miami (OH) RedHawks, took it to a whole other level in the 2015 NCAA tournament. Down four goals against Providence 6-2, Blasi pulled his goalie with just under 13 minutes left to play. Here is a time lapsed recap of how they did: http://deadspin.com/redhawks-play-with-empty-net-for-12-minutes-score-thre-1694535269. How much confidence must players have to have to play 13 minutes with the goalie out and just know they aren’t going to give up, not just a goal, but a shot?
In my book Creating a Culture of Confidence, I talk about putting players in different situations so that when the game is on the line they know what it’s like to have been there before. This can be accomplished in three ways: visualization (players imagining that they are in certain situations), putting players on the ice in these game situations throughout the year, and simulating these situations in practice. As crucial as a goalie out situation might be, I don’t think as coaches we practice it very often. In fact, there are a number of situations we don’t practice very often and when they come up in a game, the team (and coaches) are typically unprepared to handle them - which doesn’t go a long way to build confidence. Where is a coach unprepared? Let’s take a goalie out 6v5 situation. How are you going to juggle your lines? Now that you have four forwards instead of three on each shift, what’s that going to look like on a rotation for two or three minutes? So, it’s important for the entire team to be well prepared for 6v5 in order to play in the situation with confidence.
Practicing more of these atypical situations will absolutely help your players. A good
example is a defenceman playing a 1v1 rush. With no goalie in net, the defenceman will play the 1v1 very differently, usually challenging the attacker much earlier in the rush to avoid a long shot into the empty net. Playing these rushes in a scrimmage setting in practice will give your players that experience and therefore the confidence to play them in a game situation.
Here are some situations that need more attention in practices in order for players to be confident when the game is on the line:
1) 6v5 - great way to end a practice with a goalie out scrimmage. It can make a great competitive drill and, works well when you only have one goalie at practice.
2) 6v4 - happens more that you think it might.
3) 4v4 - although coincidental penalties has done away with a lot of 4v4 play, referees will often call an “even up” penalty creating a 4v4.
4) 4v3 - Although the two-man down penalty kill will look very similar, the 4v3 power play can be radically different.
5) 6v3 - Here is an interesting strategy when you have a 5v3 for more than a minute: pull the goalie to make it a 6v3 and assign 3 players to play man on man against the penalty kill while the other three players try to score. (A quick side note: when you pull the goalie at an odd time (not the end of the game) give a quick call to the ref on the ice as he gets close to the bench so that he doesn’t think it’s too many men on the ice.)
Although coaches will not want to give up a lot of development time to work on these situations, they are fun for the players, make good scrimmage situations, create lots of offensive opportunities and will undoubtedly come in handy in those uncommon situations that invariably come up during the season.