Synergy on the rink means that the whole truly becomes greater than the sum of the individual parts.

Watching the super-fast hockey of the boys’ Upper Midwest High School Elite League, it is obvious Minnesota’s top players have incredible skills. Unlike the USHL, where preventing offense is a greater priority than featuring it, this style of hockey is a wide-open breeding ground for skill.

The second fact – that is universal at higher levels of hockey – is that all the individual skill in the world isn’t enough to beat defenses – the defensemen have gotten too good. They skate so well today, and handle rushes with boring consistency.

NHL highlights always show the very few times per month when someone makes a miracle move and leaves the D in the wake. And even though it is extremely rare, it captures the dreams, and motivates every talented youth hockey player. It must be incredibly fun to toe-drag the puck through the feet of the defender, deke the goalie and celebrate the highlight play of the game.  (I say, “It must be incredibly fun” having not felt that exhilaration myself).

So, rather than give up on attacking defenses that are numerically equal, rather than always dumping the puck when the defensive team is in good position to stop the rush, we need to teach youngsters the concept of INTERDEPENDENCE. Young puck carriers should experiment with three elements: 1) pass to make your linemates better, 2) pass and get open to make yourself better and 3) carry the puck to a lane that invites the defender to make a mental error, because we know you can’t beat a good D on the basis of 1-on-1 skill.

Coaches can experiment with drills that reward young players for thinking creatively to use interdependence. For example, add 1-on-1’s in limited areas, but have a coach serve as a wild-card for the puck carrier. Reward give-and-go decisions or give-and-get open, or using the coach to “pick” the defender. Players in the Elite League were so much better by the end of the season at using their teammates to help create offense, so games became non-stop attack, attack, attack.

One of the truly great minds in hockey, Tim Taylor died a couple of years ago after a lifetime of coaching college and national/Olympic teams. He proposed a great definition of CREATIVITY at higher levels of hockey: Given the unforeseen obstacles that pop up every moment in a hockey game, creativity is the best-and-quickest decision to use all the available tools – considering teammates to be the tools.

Wayne Gretzky used all the tools more creatively than anyone in history, and finished with more assists than any other player had total points (1,567 counting two years in the World Hockey Association, the rival major league). He added 940 career goals to prove that creative interdependence isn’t just about assisting others.

The old Soviet teams were a model of the SYNERGY that results from their philosophy of interdependence. In 40 years in the Olympics, they were beaten only twice (1960 and 1980 by the USA). Synergy on the hockey rink means: The whole truly becomes greater than the sum of the individual parts. 1+1+1+1+1=1,000, not just five.