Defensive Concept – Defending Middle Ice (Between the Dots)
The concept of defending the area between the face-off dots (middle ice) in all three zones of the ice surface has been a well established defensive concept in the game of hockey. The concept should be taught to players early in their development so good defensive habits can be ingrained in the player’s game from an early age. You want good habits to be part of every player’s game so they don’t have to think about what to do in different situations, they will know what to do.
Defending Middle Ice
- Net and Slot Zone (Prime Scoring Areas) – Key areas of the ice where defenders are taught to not allow offensive players to get in behind them or get in between them and their goalie/net. Defenders are taught to box out the offensive players and keep themselves between the offensive players and their net and not allow any stick on puck rebound or deflection opportunities.
- Angling – Checking with a purpose to force a puck carrier outside the dots to the boards (wall). Defenders are taught to exercise inside out control, take an approach angle that protects middle ice, and force the puck carrier wide to the outside of the ice to either force a puck turnover or make the puck carrier make a play with the puck from the perimeter of the ice surface.
- Back Checking – Providing back pressure support for the defensive pairing when defending against an Attack Rush Play by the opponent. Players back checking are taught to come back between the dots (the shortest route to their net) and not allow any player without the puck to skate to the net uncovered. The concept of a Swivel Head is taught to defenders so they make shoulder checks to identify their coverage assignment between the dots when back checking. Back checkers are taught to get on their opponent’s inside shoulder (box out) and take the offensive player to the net while defending the stick and preventing any stick on puck rebound or deflection opportunity.
Pervasive Problem in Today’s Game
A common problem in today’s game is the tendency of players defending to over defend the puck carrier. It is a significant problem when players back checking become too focused on the puck carrier. Back checking players must come back between the face-off dots to provide back pressure support for the defensive pairing. What happens all too frequently is multiple defenders defend the puck carrier and allow offensive players without the puck to skate by them uncovered to their net to receive a pass or make a play on net for a deflection or rebound opportunity. No offensive player without the puck should be allowed to skate to the net uncovered when you are defending against the Attack Rush Play as a defensive player back checking.
Players should be taught the concept of defending middle ice (between the face-off dots) in all three zones. No back checker should allow an offensive player without the puck joining the Attack Rush Play to skate to the net uncovered between the dots. When young players learn key concepts of the game they will develop good habits which will allow them to read and react without having to think what to do, they will know what to do. How to defend middle ice is an important defensive concept which players must learn at an early stage in their development.