By ROB JONAS
GLENS FALLS – There is a certain flow to 4-on-4 hockey that you can’t get when teams skate five per side. The rink opens up, there is more room to maneuver and you create more scoring opportunities.
This is one of the reasons why Queensbury hockey coach Dean Williams created the High School Hockey Summer 4 on 4 Tournament two years ago.
“Four-on-four hockey promoted puck movement. It promotes creativity,” said Williams. “You don’t have right wing, left wing, center and defense. You’ve got four hockey players on the ice playing offense or defense.”
The first two editions of the 4-on-4 Tournament did not draw many Section 2 teams. However, Williams moved the tournament one week earlier this year than when he scheduled it the first two times, and it resulted in an expanded eight-team field representing six Section 2 programs – Queensbury, Shenendehowa, Burnt Hills/Ballston Spa, Saratoga Springs, Christian Brothers Academy and Adirondack (a combined program between Glens Falls, South Glens Falls and Hudson Falls).
“It was a challenge to get teams the first two years because it was a week later in August, after fall teams began practicing,” said Shenendehowa hockey coach Juan de la Rocha. “A lot of kids play football in the fall.”
The first two days of the tournament – August 10 and 11 at Cool Insuring Arena – were played in a round-robin format. The eight teams were divided into two divisions, and each team played a total of three games. The first place teams from each division met in the championship game August 12, with the second, third and fourth place teams meeting in consolation contests.
Games were played in two 25-minute halves with running time. The clock was stopped in the event of a penalty or in the final two minutes of the contest if the goal differential was less than three. The championship game was played in two 30-minute periods with running time, and overtime was allotted, if necessary.
The 4-on-4 format promoted back-and-forth action, a lot of goals and a lot of saves. Coaches cared more about how their players performed than the final scores.
“It’s an opportunity to see your team before the regular season begins,” said de la Rocha. “I want to see creativity, but I also want to see how unselfish they can be [with the puck.]”
“Scores don’t matter, but I’d rather have an 8-7 game where it’s back and forth than if it is one-sided,” said Williams.
Queensbury and Adirondack struggled the most during the tournament, primarily because they split their squads into two teams. Williams said he wants to create more of a competitive balance next year by creating divisions based age level and experience.
“I want to have a futures division and a varsity division,” said Williams. “The futures division would be for eighth and ninth graders who would be trying out for varsity for the first time, and the varsity division would be for the older players.”
The 4-on-4 tournament is part of Section 2 hockey’s strategy for keeping high school players involved in the sport beyond the regular season, which runs from November through February. Section 2 hockey coaches also created a “wrap program” in the fall where players can either try out for one of two elite teams (18-and-under, 16-and-under) or play for their community’s team. The wrap program holds its playoffs in the spring, once the regular high school season ends.
“The wrap program has helped [improve play and retain talent], especially the first couple of years,” said de la Rocha. “A lot of what we’re up against is a lot of youth [travel] teams telling our kids, ‘You play 20 games; we play 50.’ The wrap program gives our kids an opportunity to play more games.”
Having an event such as this weekend’s 4-on-4 tournament also helps the Section 2 coaches’ efforts.
“I like it a lot. It gives the kids an opportunity to see how creative they can be,” said de la Rocha.
A photo gallery from the tournament can be found here.