One of my favorite activities to do at a practice is something called Game Flow. I won't go into the whole thing here, but it ends with a game of Down By Two.
You'd be surprised how many games come down to one team being down by two goals near the end of the game. A fantastic example of this is the UNC/Oregon Men's College Semifinal that happened yesterday. The conceit of Down By Two is obvious: one team is down by two (12-10 or 13-11) in a game hard to 15. There are two levers to play with: who is down, who is pulling. The pulling really matters. Being down two and pulling is a harder game to play.
So why play this game? I said that many games come down to this, but many games come down to 4-3, so why don't we practice that? The idea is that a late game differential is emotionally different than a mid-game differential. You have to think and behave differently when you are down by two late in order to win the game. Prior momentum is irrelevant, as teams can quickly develop or kill momentum with a single goal at this stage. Everything feels amplified, and that is something teams need to practice. Pulling with a two point lead feels different, as the game is about emotionally maintaining balance and confidence as you close out a lead. Receiving down two is a little different because you know you are going to have to get a break eventually to win this game. I could talk about this for a while, but the point is that the mental states are different and worth practicing.
Watching the UNC/Oregon game reminded me of that. Often I feel like I make up things and try them with little feedback on how they go. Sometimes players tell me things, but I don't really trust them to give me honest opinions in the moment. Once a player commented that Nethercutt gets his teams to play 4v6 often. It was incredibly gratifying because I have to idea if that game is actually beneficial, but at least one person smarter than me thinks it is worth doing, so that is something. So seeing the score 13-11 and watching Oregon lose reminded me that Down By Two is a pretty important game and that skill is valuable. Now to figure out if my crazy red zone is really worth it.