“Tracking” is Back Checking
The term tracking is synonymous with back checking in hockey. Tracking the right way to defend against the ARP is something players should be taught in minor hockey because the sooner good habits become part of a player’s game the better. Every young player needs to learn how to play a 200′ game and what that means. Teams today counter attack quickly with speed and puck support. Outnumbering the opponent offensively with a player advantage on the ARP is common practice in today’s game with the weak side defensemen often joining the rush which heightens the importance of tracking the right way to thwart the ARP.
10 Good Habits
1/Be on the Right Side of the Puck in the Offensive Zone and Neutral Zone – Be defensively responsible at all times as a player when forechecking to regain puck possession in the offensive zone and the neutral zone. When applying forecheck pressure as a group every player must be aware of their positioning on the ice surface so that the group is positioned to defend should the opponent beat the forecheck system. If you’re caught below the puck not in a position to close the gap and provide back pressure support, you have let your defensemen and team down. The same applies to attacking off the rush or when following through on a puck off net in the offensive zone, you must be defensively aware of your positioning so as a group you are not caught below the puck unable to defend. As a player and group you want to be on the right side of the puck to be in position to defend against the ARP.
2/Always Outnumber Never Outnumbered – Outnumbering or overloading is an offensive and defensive tactic deployed by teams to create a player(s) advantage. Getting outnumbered puts your group at a disadvantage defending so you always want to “Number Up” or “Outnumber” your opponent to avoid giving your opponent a player advantage offensively.
3/Sort Out Coverage– As a player and group of players you want to quickly identify man coverage assignments when defending against the ARP. It’s important to not be outnumbered, but if you fail to sort out defensive coverage assignments and responsibilities as defending players, you’re not in position to defend. The common rule of thumb is when a forward is unable to pressure the Puck Carrier to force a turnover or dump-in by the red line the forwards leave the Puck Carrier to the defensemen and the forwards pick up their individual man coverage assignments from the red line into their net. Talk to Coach about how he/she wants to sort out the coverages.
4/Protect Middle Ice (Between the Dots)- The shortest distance to your net is middle ice so it should be no surprise that your opponent will try to attack quickly and take the shortest distance to your net to score. When tracking come back at full speed between the dots to pressure the puck and to establish defensive position on your man coverage checking assignment. No gliding!
5/GAP Control – Defensemen should control the gap between the pairing and the distance between the pairing and the Puck Carrier. As a D pair you should back up between the dots and protect against your opponent exploiting middle ice between you as a pairing. The D pair should only give the opponent space to beat them outside the dots. Forcing the puck outside the dots provides the forwards with additional time to close the gap and get into defensive position on their assignments. The rule of thumb for a D pairing; 3 stick lengths from the puck at the opponent’s blue line, 2 stick lengths from the puck at centre ice and 1 stick length from the puck at the blue line.
6/Establish Defensive Position – Back pressure support from the forwards must include closing the gap, getting inside position on the players being tracked without the puck (shoulder to shoulder), the defender’s outside shoulder must be on the player without the puck’s inside shoulder, the defender should be in position to cut through the hands of the player without the puck to prevent a stick on puck play. The forwards must take their checking assignment to the net and prevent rebounding and redirecting pucks on net. Often we see forwards tracking not closing the gap (gliding) and not establishing defensive position on players without the puck which does not constitute defending, it’s watching. Don’t be a player too focused on the puck instead of doing your job of numbering up and establishing defensive position.
7/Angling (Angle Checking) – Angling in the neutral zone by forwards and defensemen to pressure the puck and point of attack is necessary to thwart an ARP. It’s important to take away time and space and angling is the best way to defend entrance into your zone (your blue line). The only way your defensemen can angle and defend their blue line is with the support of the tracking forwards numbering up and establishing defensive position on the attackers without the puck. Backing up instead of angling is creating time and space for your attackers, with time and space, puck management becomes easier and the likelihood of the Puck Carrier making a good play with the puck increases.
8/Protect the HOUSE – As defenders you must maintain defensive position on your opponents to the net. You must retain defensive position (inside position shoulder to shoulder) and take offensive players to your net to prevent them from rebounding or possible stick on puck play in the net/slot zones (redirected puck).
9/Follow Through on Loose Pucks – As a group you must follow through on pucks that miss the net or are redirected by the goalie off net. A loose puck is a pressure trigger so following through to the puck as a group to set the edges and structure for a puck recovery battle is part of defending the ARP because the attack doesn’t end until your group has regained puck possession and control to execute an exit play.
10/Communication – Communication on the ice is verbal and non-verbal. Communication with your teammates to sort out coverages and work together as a functional group is essential to playing as a five player unit.
Video Analysis of Breakdowns in Defending Against the ARP
Good Habits NOT For Everyone
Your habits as a player and as a group define you. Are you hard working or lazy? Are you highly competitive and competing to make a good play all the time? By watching a team play you can tell a lot about individual players and the group by their habits. There aren’t a lot of choices to be made, there is a right way to play the game. The top teams in the NHL all play the same way, the right way. Hockey is a Possession Game, the team that wins the PG, generally wins the contest. The skills, tactics and systems to play the right way aren’t a secret. The challenge is finding the players with the discipline and willingness to grind and execute tactics and systems the right way which is hard work and demanding of the athletes.
Defending the ARP is an example of the need to defend with the right habits. Defending the right way takes skill, right tactics, techniques and cohesive group play which is not easy.