How to Succeed as a Small Hockey Player

If you listen to the close-minded opinion of certain scouts and coaches, it can seem like an impossible task for short hockey players to make it far in hockey.

As a coach myself, it devastates me to hear the stories of a kid having fantastic skill and potential but having a coach cut him from the team simply due to his physical size not matching up to an arbitrary height requirement for the team.

First of all, we should always be building kids’ confidence and abilities up. Secondly, there are plenty of players throughout NHL history that have proven the skeptics wrong:  

  • Marcel Dionne was 5’8” and scored 731 goals and earned 1771 points across 18 NHL seasons. 
  • Henri Richard was 5’7” and only 160lbs, but that didn’t stop him from winning 11 Stanley Cups. 
  • Theo Fleury is the shortest one of them all, coming in at 5’6”, yet he still had a massively successful career earning 455 goals, 1088 points in 1084 games, and leading the Calgary Flames to their only Stanley Cup title win. 
  • Martin St. Louis is 5’8” and had a playing weight of 176lbs, yet he played in six NHL All-Star Games and won the Hart, Art Ross, and Lady Byng Trophies. 
  • We also have Alex DeBrincat, Tyler Johnson, Cam Atkinson, Conor Sheary, Pat Verbeek, Brian Gionta, Stephen Gionta, Mats Zuccarello…the list could go on and on.  

It’s not about what you have to work with, it’s about how you work with what you have.

Let’s talk about the different ways you can maximize your genetic size to enhance your chances of going far in the sport of hockey. 

Get Strong

The shorter you are, the lower your center of gravity is. This means it’s easier for you to keep your balance and remain stable. 

Strength in a short player is key, because the marriage between a low center of gravity and a high level of strength creates a hockey player that is nearly impossible to knock over or “bully” out on the ice. 

This is quite ironic, because scouts will often say that shorter players are too easily knocked off the puck. But this isn’t the case at all, provided the hockey player regularly partakes in hockey strength training. 

If you’re short, total body strength will keep you from getting knocked off the puck and getting bullied—and it will increase your confidence dramatically in physically tough situations. 

Strength also plays a major role in speed, conditioning, agility, and shot power, so you are getting huge benefits far and beyond just taking advantage of your low center of gravity. 

Smaller players need real strength training to emphasize their attributes. This means you have to program this type of work year-round and avoid solely focusing on things like edgework training or conditioning. 

Get Good

“It’s not how tall you are, it is how GOOD you are.”  –Marv Dunphy, 1988 Olympic Gold Medal coach. 

Hockey forces players to use multiple skills. Puck control, shot power, shot accuracy, edge work, offensive/defensive awareness, strategy, passing, and many other qualities are all major assets to any hockey team. 

This means you have several different areas where you can “stand out” compared to others. For example, when Martin St. Louis joined the Tampa Bay Lightning, he quickly became one of the most creative passers in the league. This led to him being one of the most productive offensive players on the ice.  

It’s important to get good at every skill; but, when you have a superskill, you become an invaluable player regardless of your stature. 

In some leagues/teams, larger players are more able to “coast” on their natural size rather than work hard off the ice to make up for a smaller size. 

However, in the end, it’s always the harder working, more skilled player who will make it the furthest. Make sure you are doing the best at-home skills drills every day so you can blow by your competition out on the ice. 

Get Intense

You may disagree with me on this one, but I believe that as a smaller player, it becomes more important to signal to everybody that you’re willing to dig for the puck, do the dirty work if you need to, and refuse to back down. 

Stan Jonathan was the NHL’s tough guy in his day despite standing just 5’8”. Despite giving up a sizable advantage in height, reach, and weight, he took on all comers. His style of play helped him earn a Stanley Cup with the Bruins and be named as one of Don Cherry’s all-time favorite players. 

Am I saying you need to be the tough guy and get into fights? Of course not. But I do think there is something to be learned from the never-say-die attitude that Stan Jonathan carried with him to every single game. 

The coaches and scouts who think you’re too small to play tough and win puck battles will only be proven right if you allow them to. 

Play smart and use your skills, but make sure everyone on the ice knows that you’re not a pushover—and that if they mess with you, they should expect to get messed with right back. 

Your mind is one of your most powerful tools out on the ice; use it wisely

Get Fueled

The hockey world is still very much in the dark ages when it comes to paying attention to macro- and micronutrients. 

You may think being a smaller player is a disadvantage, but I can tell you with the absolute greatest confidence that more than 90% of hockey players out there are doing next to nothing from a nutritional perspective to optimize their performance, recovery, and body composition. 

If you take the time to learn about true hockey-specific nutrition, you will be able to effectively fill out your frame with lean, functional hockey muscle tissue and create a massive performance and strength advantage for yourself. 

Nutrition bridges the gap between you and the bigger players, because it allows you to fuel and build your body on an entirely different level. 

Get Smart

Everyone is so quick to point out physical advantages that they completely forget how big of a role mental advantages play in hockey. 

As a shorter hockey player, knowing more than your opponents can make you really stand out on the ice. 

Knowing the tendencies of the other team can frustrate them and throw them off their game. No one, regardless of size, plays a good game when their strategy and tactics fall apart. 

The best part? Your height has nothing to do with how much film you watch, how many books you read, how many tactical videos you watch, and how much research you do. 

You’re not going to “out-height” your opponents, but you can certainly outsmart them. 

Get Coachable

Hard work combined with a great work ethic will always pay off. Never underestimate the power of hustle and heart. Attitude and confidence can get an “undersized” athlete places no one expected them to. 

A major part of this winning attitude is your ability to always stay coachable. Coaches see which players are truly passionate about the game and will do whatever it takes to win.Good coaches know what they are looking for and can mold any player into the athlete they are searching for. Be that athlete. 

Always ask to do more. Always ask, “how can I improve my game?”. Always be the first one in and the last one out of any drill, game, or workout. These are things that get the recruiting world chattering. 

Coaches share both good and bad information. Being a part of the good side of that talk is ideal.

Stay open-minded, stay coachable, and stay hungry.

Final Thoughts

There is a widespread stigma in hockey that the taller a hockey player is, the bigger their potential. 

I have told you the stories and names of many great NHL players in this article who ignored the stereotypes and wrote their own story when it came to living their hockey dreams. 

As long as there is hard work, a detailed plan, confidence, and a lot of heart, your height will never hold you back. 

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