Defending the Slot & Net Zones: 7 Tips for Young Defensemen

The chart reveals the area where most goals are scored in the game of hockey. The dark green area (net/slot zones) is a prime scoring area. Goals scored in the dark green area result from some of the following offensive tactics:

  • puck deflection by a player standing in the green area,
  • wrap around by a player coming from behind the net,
  • walk out by a player coming from behind the goal line area,
  • offensive player driving the net with his/her stick on the ice for pass or deflection,
  • player beating a defensemen one on one and going to the net from below the hash marks or front of the net area,
  • player winning a loose puck battle in the green area and getting a shot on net. 

Tip # 1 – Strong Hockey Position

Defensemen defending the green area and area below the hash marks in the defensive zone must be able to dominate in one on one puck battles and one on one situations. The ability to be able to defend this key area of ice is an important part of a defensemen’s development process. Each year players get bigger, faster and stronger so working on your technique and fundamentals is essential to being a skilled defender of this area of the ice surface. Being in a strong hockey position is essential to being able to:

  • Execute explosive stops and starts,
  • Use your body & stick effectively,
  • Move quickly in any direction,
  • Be in a balanced position and remain in a position of balance. 

Check off these boxes to ensure you’re in a strong hockey position at all times when defending:

  1. Butt out
  2. Chest over thighs
  3. Head up
  4. Knees flexed (right amount of flexion)
  5. Weight on your inside edges
  6. Feet outside your shoulders

Tip # 2 – Swivel Head 

Too often defenders as a group are focused on the puck carrier in this critical area of the ice surface. The D pair must work together to ensure players entering the green area are picked up in man on man coverage situations. This fact, requires the D pair to be communicating (verbal and non verbal) instructions to teammates to ensure coverages are being picked up. 

Having your head on a swivel as a defensemen means you’re regularly looking in all directions to ensure your individual man coverage assignment is picked up.  A swivel head also allows the D pairing to communicate other assignments to teammates. Offensive players are constantly looking to skate an open lane/seam or open space to get open for a pass or shot on net in this tight area. A swivel head is critical to being able to respond in a split second to a coverage assignment.

Tip # 3 – Keep Yourself Between the Net (Goalie) & Offensive Player 

An offensive player’s job in the green area is to get open so that they’re in position to get their stick on the puck for a deflection or receive pass to shoot. Offensive players are taught to set up in the area outside the blue paint to screen the goalie and block their field of vision and to be able to get their stick on the puck for a deflection, pass or rebound situation. 

Defensemen have a responsibility to ensure the area of ice outside the blue paint in the net zone is properly defended. It is important to know that as a defensemen you’re entitled to defend this area of the ice surface. By keeping yourself between the offensive player and the goalie in a strong hockey position is important to defending. Recognize the fact that offensive players will be skating to this area so position yourself on the opponent’s inside shoulder and keep yourself between him/her and the net (goalie). 

Tip # 4 – Physical Strength & Conditioning Level

If you want to be a dominant player in the green area and other tight spaces take pride in your physical strength and conditioning level. A superior level of strength and conditioning will give you the advantage in many areas of your game. You want to be tough to play against and dominate one on one battles with opponents. Get your work done in the gym. A strong upper and lower body will help you in tight spaces. 

Tip # 5 – Mental Toughness 

Defending in tight spaces in high level competition isn’t for everyone, lets be honest. If you want to be tough to play against and dominant in the green area or other tight spaces you must have the right mindset. Don’t let yourself be distracted by the opponent’s tactics to reduce your effectiveness and ability to do your job. Being mentally tough means you are mindful and emotionally aware of your opponent’s intentions to prevent your from doing what you’re supposed to do, when you’re supposed to the way you were taught. Be mentally tough and don’t take a needless penalty because of any opponent’s actions towards you in the heat of battle. 

Tip # 6 – Quick Feet

Whether you’re a fast or slow twitch athlete you should work on foot speed and agility. There are on ice and off ice drills to help you with foot speed quickness, agility and mobility. The drills whether they’re on ice or off ice will focus on posture, balance and being in a strong athletic (hockey) position. 

Young defensemen are encouraged to work on developing their ability to effectively move in all directions in tight spaces. 

Tip # 7 – Effective Use of Body & Stick

Defending tight spaces isn’t easy in the game of hockey, especially, in this green area. Being able to use your body and stick effectively to defend is a difference maker. We share the do’s and don’ts in the effective use of your body and stick in one on one coverage.

Do’s

Dont’s

▪︎be in a strong hockey position ■stand up tall with feet shoulder width apart – you have zero leverage
▪︎two hands on your stick when you pressure up on your opponent ■don’t have one hand on your stick and push the opponent with your other hand
■be in control of your stick and don’t let it get above waste height ■don’t be reaching in coverage
■perfect the sweep and poke check but always return your arms close to your body after – you loose power when your arms are away from your body don’t cross check the opponent
■timing of when to engage (pressure up) coverage assignment matters
■get your stick under the opponent’s and tap up, keeping opponent’s stick off the ice which prevents them getting stick on puck
■keep square with your opponent and lead with your shoulder
play the body in all one on one situations; you can play stick body or body stick but always play the body one on one

 

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