One of the problems with hockey tryouts is that young players don’t know what the coach of the team is looking for.
This problem has two sides, however.
Without a clear understanding of what the coach wants, a player is forced to worry exclusively about himself.
Players who might be on the bubble are unaware of what it might take to be on the inside looking out instead of the outside looking in.
Hockey players need to be themselves first and foremost during tryouts. Players who show off their strengths always get noticed more than players trying to fit into the idea of what they believe the coach wants to see.
Having said that, there are a few things all coaches have in common when it comes time to pick their team.
Goaltenders: coaches want to see their goaltenders stop the puck. This is overly-simplistic, but it’s true. Which goalies stops the most shots? Which goalie controls his rebounds the best? Which goalie wins hockey games?
Defensemen: playing defense is split into two situations, possessing the puck and not possessing the puck.
Possession: how quickly does the defensemen move the puck to the forwards? Does the player have a strong shot from the blue-line? Can the player stickhandle his way out of trouble?
Lack of possession: does the player prevent the opposition from carrying the puck to the net? How does the player fare in 1on1 battles?
Forwards: coaches want to see their forwards contribute at both ends of the rink. How is the player’s basic understanding of defensive positioning? Does the player make accurate, hard passes? Does the player get the puck out of the zone? Does the player score goals or contribute to scoring chances?
While work ethic can’t replace results, coaches relate work ethic with coachability. A player who works hard is more likely to get results than an equal player who doesn’t.
Goaltenders: does the goaltender battle for loose pucks? Where is their compete level in relation to other goalies?
Defensemen: coaches notice when a defensemen gets beat because of poor positioning and they notice when a defensemen gets beat because he was out-worked.
Forwards: the opposite is true of forwards. Some forwards get results through good old fashioned hard work rather than skill alone. For example, a player with limited skill might be able to muscle a puck passed the blue line using grit and determination instead of finesse.
Goaltenders: according to the North Shore Winter Club’s goaltending expert Sean Murray, a goaltender’s skill is evident in their positioning and how they move. For example, how quickly does the player get across his crease? Is the player using appropriate save selection?
Defensemen: coaches love defensemen who can skate and move the puck. Does the player use his feet to pull away from opponents? Can the player stickhandle at a level relative or higher than his peers? Does the player make hard, accurate passes?
Forwards: forwards with strong hands, fast feet and proficient puck control stand out quickly for coaches, because these qualities aid in scoring goals. Skilled players control the play, so possessing higher than average skill with and without the puck (positioning, back-checking, etc.) will help a player get noticed.
To reiterate, the most important thing a coach looks for during tryouts is results. Once a team is made, the coach can work with individual players on their skill development and understanding of systems, but on a level playing field, coaches want players who perform when it matters. The reality is that skill and work (along with many other qualities) are what helps a player achieve these results.
So, a hockey player with above average skill and above average work ethic?
That’s a coach’s dream player.