Mite Cross-Ice Hockey League (8 & Under)

Picture of Ice Rink - Cross Ice


With USA Hockey’s Red, White and Blue Hockey program — which promotes the integration of cross-ice practices and games into youth hockey — we can raise the level of creativity among players, increase player participation, and create a positive environment for kids to learn and play. 

In hockey, we have 6- to 8-year-old kids skating the full rink surface, hardly touching the puck. How can we expect our kids to develop their skills — or a passion for the game — if they aren’t really participating? Playing cross-ice hockey works for hockey players of all ages. From Mites to Olympians, players split up the ice surface to hone their skills. Not only that, but it’s fun for everyone because everyone is involved. And with kids, the more they’re participating, the more likely they’ll develop a passion for the game. 

To love hockey, kids first need to strap on the skates and play it. Simple enough concept. But it’s more than just playing. Because the more they play and participate, the more likely they are to develop a passion for the game. And it’s this passion for hockey that fuels their desire to excel. Too often we have our kids skip the passion part and go right from playing to excelling. It can’t work that way. We can change this by shrinking the ice surface down to their size. In this cross-ice environment, a player’s activity level skyrockets because their participation increases, leading to an increased skill set and love of the game. Drills are designed to focus on multiple skills and situations, increasing time with the puck and situational repetition. The goalies are also more involved in the drills because they get more shots to stop. It’s nonstop action for everyone involved. 

The original results found the following:

  • In a 60-minute hockey game between 6- to 8-year-old children, the average player had possession of the puck for 20.7 seconds. 
  • Top NHL and international players were also timed and no player exceeded 85 seconds of puck possession time 
  • Youth players took an average of less than 0.5 shots per game and only 1.5 shots per game for junior and professional players. 

The study concluded that:

  • For young players in the “full-ice game model” of development, the youngest players would require 180 games and the older youth players would require 80 games to enjoy 60 minutes of actual puck possession time to execute their stickhandling, passing, pass receiving and shooting skills.
  • Professional and international players would require 60 games to ensure 60 minutes of puck-control skill development.
  • Many players never touched the puck in the game, especially in youth hockey. With all the increased touches and playing time they’ll get with cross-ice hockey, kids will remain active over the course of an entire game. And the more active we can keep them, the more enjoyable their experience will be. Because at the end of the day, all that matters is how much they love the game 

Hockey is a game of inches. And playing cross-ice will use every one of them. But implementing cross-ice practices is one thing. How does a cross-ice game work? With 4 teams, there should be a minimum of three coaches on the ice, with two officiating the games and one organizing practice in the neutral zone. The practice in the neutral zone is designed to keep the kids focused on developing their skills and then applying them to the game format as they move between the zones. If there are 6 teams, you can substitute the practice zone for a third game.

Picture of Cross-Ice Zones

Kids would spend five minutes warming up in each zone. They then play a 17-minute game with a one-minute break in between sessions before rotating through and playing two other opponents. The game works like any regular hockey game, with face-offs used after goals and coaches changing lines every 90 seconds or so. With the smaller ice surface, kids would need to make quick decisions with the puck and lean on the skills they developed in practice. The optimum playing situation is 4-on-4, plus a goalie. But in some situations, coaches can be flexible; using whatever combination works best — one shift at 4-on-4 and the next shift 3-on-3. They may even change the combination per shift, to give players different looks. Coaches will try to group players by ability and try to match lines, and while no penalties are called, coaches can instruct as to proper fair play and respect. The beauty of the cross-ice game is that it’s flexible. Coaches can decide how each zone is run, and whether it’s a game or a practice. Any way they decide to run it, kids are getting more puck touches, they’re playing against increased competition, they’re learning the game at an age-appropriate level and parents are saving money on ice time