Proof that small ice hockey is better for kids

January 18, 2018 6 Comments »
Proof that small ice hockey is better for kids

Editor’s note: This article first published on February 15, 2017.

For the last few years, a debate has raged in the hockey world. On one side you have hockey specialists that recommend that kids aged 8 and younger play on a smaller surface (often half-ice). On the other side of the debate are the hockey purists and parents who believe that half-ice hockey is not “real hockey”.

For the advocates of a small ice surface for small kids, the main issue is proportion. A full ice surface is simply too big for younger kids.

In these short videos adults had to play hockey and soccer on surfaces that were proportionally as large as a full surface is for an 8-year-old. Their comments give us a sense of how a young child feels playing on a full-size ice sheet.

“The ice looks so big, it’s overwhelming,” one man says. “I barely got to touch the puck,” says another. “The other players are so far away, you can’t catch them, I gave up,” one player admits.

And this revelation: “It’s no fun.”

Science to the rescue

This is where the science of data analytics comes in. Data analytics is when technology is used to gather data about different components of a sport. The advantage of data analytics is that it provides evidence-based facts.

Back in 2014, the National Hockey League (NHL) data-analytics division brought their professional expertise and technology to Detroit and gathered data from kids 8 and younger who had experienced playing on both a full ice and a small ice sheet.

The facts they captured tell a clear story: Kids who played on the cross-ice surface touched the puck more often, attempted more passes, and took twice the number of shots as kids who played on a full ice.

The infographic to your right was created by Sport for Life and is a visual representation of the data captured by the NHL data-analytics team.

Double everything that’s good

I’m no scientist, but as a hockey dad, the conclusion that I take away is this: Kids who played on the smaller ice surface had a better opportunity to improve their skills and, more importantly, they had twice as much fun.

Related Articles


  1. Richard Monette
    Richard Monette March 27, 2017 at 3:49 pm - Reply

    Actually, the article was timely. Hockey Canada just came out with a policy for half-ice at the initiation level:

  2. Richard Monette
    Richard Monette March 6, 2017 at 10:34 am - Reply

    John and Ken, your comment bring up a good point: the smaller ice surface must be adapted to the level of play and skating of the kids. As per the question of “norms” or “standards” of how many kids should play on smaller ice surface, I suggest you consult with your provincial hockey association – You will find a complete list of the contact information for all provincial hockey branches in this article:

  3. Ken February 26, 2017 at 7:25 pm - Reply

    My oldest is 6 and has only been playing for a little over a year, so I’m new to these debates. He’s played 1/3 ice only. Last year, he was just getting skating down and this year has been primarily 3 v 3. Is 3 v 3 the norm at that size ice? It seems to allow for passing and open movement. The last few sessions they’ve been playing 4 v 4 or 5 v 5 which has been a mess. Between a 3-4 of kids going for the puck and 3-4 just trying to stay up on their skates, it’s just a mass of bodies.

  4. John February 21, 2017 at 8:48 am - Reply

    As a long time coach of minor hockey I have a few issues with using cross ice hockey as the only source of games for kids.

    I agree that younger, beginner hockey players benefit greatly from playing cross ice and the player who wouldn’t normally touch a puck, may occasionally get a few more puck touches.

    As the kids progress, the small ice becomes too tight to teach them many aspects of the game. Even at 5-6 years old, (assuming they are playing 5 on 5), cross ice turns into a lot of banging and crashing and doesn’t allow room or time for kids to find open ice and get up to full speed. There is also not much room for passing and any passing is limited to quick/short passes, not teaching them how to lead each other with passes at speed.

    The other big issue I have with limiting the kids to cross ice games, is that it makes it impossible to teach some of the rules of the game – for example there are no offsides or icings and the players can’t be taught the different areas and proper ways to line up for face offs.

    I guess it all depends what your focal point is. I’m a big proponent of focusing the majority of time on skating in the first couple of years, and feel that limiting them to the small ice scrums doesn’t force the weaker players to become better skaters. All the analytics used in the article relate to puck touches and shots, but don’t take any consideration into things like skating and performance.

    Personally, I prefer a mixture of cross ice and full ice games for the season, trying to get the best of both worlds. Use the cross ice games as a station at practices and use full ice for games and you get a taste of it all.

  5. Mac February 16, 2017 at 10:16 am - Reply

    Great article! Thanks for your thoughts. It’s a hot topic in our area! We have cross ice with the 4-6 years olds and I think that’s fantastic. They have recently included the 7 year olds and want to move it up to 8. My son is 8 and was grandfathered in and plays full ice. He would not do well at half ice but some kids it might benefit. They are really leaning how to pass the puck which would be tough with less room. My issue is that they are still playing 5 vs 5 for a smaller surface. If you reduce the playing surface, you should reduce the amount of players. other sports such as soccer, volleyball and basketball follow these principles. The other concern I have is that we need to be careful about jumping on the analytical band wagon. The kids that were used in this study were all high level athletes and of similar caliber. Most associations don’t have that option in the younger levels. If you put a player on the ice that has been playing for 4 years with a first year player, results will be different. If you put me on the ice with an NHL player, I’m not touching the puck! No matter what size the playing surface. LOL

    • Richard Monette
      Richard Monette February 17, 2017 at 6:01 am - Reply

      Hi Mac. From looking at the number of players on small ice surface, to insuring the caliber of players are within a certain range to keep the games meaningful, I agree with all your points.

      Your comments highlight another key element: we need more studies to assess the many aspects of this debate. And the big question that should direct all of this work is “How can we ensure that young players develop their skills, confidence and love of the game?”

      From one hockey dad and fan to another, thank you for your very thoughtful comments.

What do you think?

Click here to cancel reply.