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Lots to be learned in watching an NHL game

by Brian Hunter /
Ask any of today's NHL players, or even the hopefuls coming up through the AHL, collegiate or junior hockey ranks, and they're bound to have a special memory or two from the first time they went to watch a hockey game live and in person.

It might be a favorite player scoring a couple of goals or making the big save, or just the bonding experience with family members. It could involve the first glance of that great sheet of ice or the blare of the horn after a goal is scored.

In addition to great entertainment, though, there's plenty an aspiring youth hockey player can learn just from watching the pros compete. Studying the game at the NHL level offers ways to develop your game, learn new techniques and concepts, and become a smarter player.

One of the biggest things former NHL players Jamie Macoun and Perry Berezan highlighted that would be important to observe is how the various players position themselves on the ice.

"I think the obvious thing that they should be looking at if they don't realize it is positioning -- keeping in good position, keeping your head up -- and the effort that's out there," Macoun said. "Even though some guys are exceptional and make it look so easy, most people have to be trying to make it look easy. You have to be skating."

While it's easy for any fan attending a game, much less a child, to get lost in the brilliant saves or highlight-reel goals, Berezan pointed out that hockey can always be broken down into the simple plays which, through repetition, have been part of the players' routines for ages. There are plenty of little facets to the game an accompanying adult can point out to a child -- though Berezan said there's no rush in turning a leisurely afternoon at the local rink into a clinic.

"Probably at the earliest of ages, just enjoy it. When they're 10, 11, 12, you can point out positioning, you can point out passes, simple parts of the game, because at the highest of levels, they practice the simple parts of the game over and over and over again," Berezan said.

"You can point out, 'See how the defenseman gets it and moves it to the winger,' point out the way somebody skates -- 'That's the way you skate, you skate just like that.' Simple things. And then of course as they get older and older, kids will pick up what they want to pick up because it's important to them."

Macoun echoed those sentiments when it comes to other aspects of the game such as skating, which might go unappreciated by young players.

"A lot of that stuff that you see in the NHL, a guy gliding but he's gliding so fast, he's honed his skills in thousands of hours of practice. He's got to that point," Macoun said.

Above all, going to watch a hockey game should be about experiencing the joy of competition, something players like Macoun miss more than anything once their playing days have ended.

"The NHL's fun," he said. "When you're out there playing hard, you're having fun, and guys can be mad afterward, but I used to love to get up and get ready for that game, the challenge, the opportunity to prove ourselves again."
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