Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Just one more player

Remember in the movie Miracle when one of the USA Hockey administrators consults with Coach Herb Brooks about his decision to keep injured defenseman Jack O'Callahan on the Olympic team roster.  "If you lose just one more guy," the administrator warn, "you're gonna have a hard time putting a decent team on the ice!"

I wondered how that could be, in my pre-System days.  Surely having only 18 skaters instead of 20 wouldn't affect a team's performance, would it?  Now I know it does.  So when I get the occasional  email from a coach thinking about running the System, and asking for advice, my first question is always:  "How many players on your squad?"

It can be exciting to install a new style of play, but the hard truth is that there are two ways to run the System: 
  1. Effectively, or
  2. At less than full strength.
Even at full strength (i.e. 13+ players) success is not guaranteed.  With less than that, it's very difficult to operate at the level of intensity necessary for making the press and fast break work, due to the decrease in rest intervals. Now maybe in high school with the shorter games and quarter breaks you can get it done with ten.  I don't know.  I wouldn't want to risk that, because going every other shift takes a lot of energy and a lot of luck (no injuries, no DQs).  Maybe it can be done, but my feeling has always been, "The more the merrier."

We have lost three players in the past week.  We might get one back soon.  Or we might not.  Injuries are iffy things.  But we are down to 13 healthy players now, and are shuffling positions to find good combinations... not something you want to be tinkering with this time of year, especially facing the defending national champions tonight.

The good news is that it can work with 13.  The players we have left know the System.  The tempo is hardwired, the habits ingrained. 

But if we lose just one more player...

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