Small Sided or Small Area Games are useful, in that they get most of the players actively engaged in the short time available in an on-ice practice slot. They are not the be-all, end-all, as there are skills of the game which require repetition to establish good muscle memory. However, since hockey is a read-react game, it follows that practicing read-react scenarios will teach game sense better than repetitive drills. Most of the time, these drills requiring pre-planned skating, stick-handling and shooting maneuvers bear little resemblance to game-like action. Although repetitive drills can sometimes teach game awareness, the physical skills required of players can also be established in game like action - which most players consider much more fun. But, it requires a change in the old-fashioned teaching paradigm of 'drill oriented' practices. This paradigm shift in designing and inventing games does take a little time but it is sure worth it in the end.
Working alongside Finnish Olympic hockey legend, Juuso Wahlsten, noted Canadian teacher and coach, Tom Molloy and EHC coach, Matt Greenlaw, I've learned to utilize the ice surface more efficiently by using predominately small sided games and continuous-flow drills which resemble, as close as possible, real competitive game-action . Once established in this mindset, looking for more creative input, I made a phone call to Bill Beaney, noted legendary coach at Middlebury College, asking for some ideas to continue this thought process. Coach Beaney, who came to the same conclusions in using small sided games at about the same time that Juuso and Tom did, sent me some of his ideas for creative practices. I am the beneficiary of these great minds.
Once this new paradigm was in place, I searched for other teachers who were also of similar mind, borrowing their ideas shamelessly. And, once comfortable with the concept, I began designing and implementing games of my own to teach and solidify the skills I perceived necessary for any particular team. Obviously there were favorites of both mine and the players. And, like some, I did stand back to admire my inventions at times. I did try though, to make a conscious effort to design and build games, simple to advanced, which actually addressed the needs of the team. This can sometimes be difficult, but once secure in the mindset, it does become easier. Let The Game Teach The Game!
Here are a few links to three publications which helped me immensely in beginning the 'rethink'! I will add my own games as I remember them.