One of my favorite coaching presentations came a few years back from University of Minnesota Head Coach, Don Lucia. In it, he talks about the importance of stressing the technical, not the tactical side of the game, even at the elite levels.
The team that will win the most games at the Mite hockey level is not the team with the best systems. It is the team with the most skilled players. Period.
When I was 8 years old I played for a mite team that did not win a lot of games. One weekend, however, we established a 6-2 lead on a “rival” club from about an hour north. We had never beaten the club and were truly enjoying our "breakthrough moment". With about 2:30 left in the game, all of that changed when the opposing coach lined-up his top player to take the faceoff. The talented center controlled the puck off the draw, made no fewer then four of our players on the ice including our goaltender look like the highly immobile objects we were at 8 years old, and buried a goal to make the score 6-3.
He then proceeded to do the same on each of the next three ensuing faceoffs until the game was tied at six with just under 30 seconds left to play. The young man scored 4 goals, pretty much at will, in a matter of two minutes and there was nothing we could do about it.
Our defensive efforts hadn't failed us because our 1-2-2 had broken down. We could not stop the budding superstar because we could not skate with him. Part of the problem, and one USA Hockey has since worked to rectify, was that we were playing "Mite Travel" hockey. The hour we spent being driven each way to have the confidence sucked out of us by more talented players at age 8 should have been used for a pre game jovial soccer match with teammates and a 30 minute cross ice game against other locals. After the game we all should have been worrying about what type of Slush Puppie we would be getting, not wondering what has just unfolded before our cemented legs and wide eyes.
We had a number of kids on the ice that day who went on to be fine players, once they learned the fundamental side of the game. The opposing team had players who by age 9 had already been focusing their efforts on skill development for years. The results spoke for themselves.
The opposing coach apparently had a heart. He could have left his young gun out to finish what he started and secure yet another victory for his club. Instead, he pulled him off the ice after his fourth goal in 120 seconds and settled for the tie.
By the way, that nine year old who had more fundamental skating and stick handling skills than everyone else on the ice back in 1990? Apparently he continued to work on those skills as he still displays them, though in front of slightly larger crowds in the NHL these days.
His Mite coach never had to worry about tactics or strategy. The organization had worked on developing a room full of players at a young age who could already do things, technically, better than anyone else in Central New York.