Defensemen’s Solution to Pucks Chipped Behind the D-Pairing

Defensemen’s Solution to Pucks Chipped Behind the D-Pair


A puck chipped in behind the defensive pairing into the offensive zone (OZ) is a pressure offensive tactic designed to recover the puck and advance the puck on net off the recovery. Teams that execute this tactic effectively include a strategic forecheck that supports puck recovery and structure (triangulate) to advance the puck on net off the recovery. 

The forechecking team often use a basic forecheck pattern where they send a forechecker:

  • Down the weak side wall into the corner and area below the goal line to prevent the strong side D from a hard rim exit pass,
  • On the puck to win the race to the loose puck,
  • Down the wall strong side to prevent the D from an exit pass up the wall and also to support puck recovery in the corner.

Teams will make minor variations to the forechecking pattern during the game as necessary. 

Every defensemen who has experienced a forechecker pressuring up on them in the race for a loose puck into the strong side corner knows they need help to recover the puck and make a quality play with the puck. Often the support of teammates isn’t in place in a structure that supports puck recovery and clear passing lanes to exit the zone strong side.  

A puck chipped in behind the D-pair is a loose puck which is a “pressure” trigger, so why is the only team pressuring up as a group the offensive team?

When the defending team fails to pressure up as a group strong side to support the puck recovery and exit play they end up working twice as hard chasing and defending which is often times more work. 

A loose puck is a pressure trigger for both teams not just the offensive team. Too often the response from the defending team is not a pressure response and the result is a lost opportunity to regain puck possession and control and exit the zone efficiently. 


Defending players must understand that a pressure response is required to achieve key objectives. The most important objectives:

  1. Puck recovery to obtain puck possession and control.
  2. Exit the zone strong side off the puck recovery. 
  3. Create a structure as a defensive group (Five in the Box) that supports 1 & 2.
  4. Outnumber on the puck to win the puck recovery battle and exit the zone.
  5. Spend as little time as possible chasing and defending the opponent and winning the puck possession and control game in the defensive zone.

Execution Keys

  1. Win the race to the loose puck.
  2. Outnumber on the loose puck recovery even if it means putting both defensemen on the puck. The first forward back into the zone can cover the net zone as well as a defensemen.
  3. Outnumber on the puck recovery battle to ensure recovery, retain puck possession and control and exit ability.
  4. Effective body, stick, puck play (speed and physicality), no fishing and reaching.
  5. All players must be in control of their stick and body and be in a strong hockey position in perfect balance.
  6. Set clean short passing lanes.
  7. Players skate full speed to their specific spots in the box and stop. Stops and starts in the tight space. 
  8. Quality touch passing and short passing skills in tight space.
  9. Every player in the box knows their role and how to execute. 
  10. Set the edges and contain the puck recovery battle.


Every team should have a strong side exit play off pucks chipped behind the D pair or off an offensive strategic dump-in recovery play by the opponent. A pressure offensive tactic must be defended with a pressure defensive tactic and response. 

You win the puck possession game and you win the hockey game. Teams with the best goals against record spend less time in their own end of the rink defending. 

Support you D pairing with a group tactic that takes the pressure off them and provides your team with the ability to recover these pucks and exit the zone strong side, you will be glad you added this ability to your game plan. 

Structure is absolutely essential to win the puck possession and control game in all three zones. Players need to know their roles with and without the puck individually and as important as a group. 


Defensemen Part of the Offensive Game Plan

Defensemen Key to the Offensive Game Plan

The days of the “Stay at Home Defensemen” should be a thing of the past. Teams today are looking to recruit athletic defensemen who are strong skaters with excellent technical hockey skills. Of course size matters and is part of the player profile but in today’s game speed and skills should trump a size requirement. 

Strategy and tactics have become such an important part of today’s game. Every coach is looking to take full advantage of the ice surface and the speed and skills of the athletes to create a winning formula. The Offensive Game Plan of the top teams these days includes the defensemen in the strategy and tactics of the game in all areas of the ice surface without restrictions. 

Teams that play fast understand that supporting the puck offensively and defensively in all three zones is critical to winning the puck possession game. You win the puck possession game and you win the hockey game. There is no better way to win the puck possession game than making full use of your resources on the ice surface to control the puck and advance the puck on the opponent’s net. Spend the least amount of time possible in your own end of the rink. 

Mobile Defensemen – Part of the Offensive Game Plan 

The following are examples of the things defensemen are being asked to do as part of the Offensive Game Plan to win the puck possession game and create scoring chances, such as but not limited to:

  1. Joining the Attack Rush with the forwards in the neutral zone.
  2. Coming down off the point into the offensive zone (OZ) to set a passing & shooting lane.
  3. Coming down off the point to obtain a loose puck in the corner, weak or strong side (deep into the OZ) to maintain puck possession and control. 
  4. Working the Give and Go play to get the puck back in all three zones of the rink to be part of advancing the puck on the opponent’s net.
  5. Coming down off the point on a face off win to take the puck down the wall below the goal line and advance the puck on net.
  6. Coming late deep into the OZ on the Attack Rush to set a passing and shooting lane. 
  7. Moving to open ice to create a passing lane in the OZ to support the puck carrier. 

The video below provides you with examples of some of the tasks defensemen are performing in today’s game to support the puck offensively. You’re encouraged to work with young players to support their development by helping them acquire these skills and abilities so they can play at the next level. 

The teaching and coaching of the “Rotation” concept ensures coverage for Defensemen and the success of their engagement in your Offensive Game Plan. 

The Youtube video provides examples of tactics performed by Defensemen in today’s game.

Protecting Middle Ice (Area Between the Dots)


Strategy & Tactics

Goal scorers know the importance of entering and exiting the neutral zone (NZ) with speed and puck control. These players know the shortest distance to your net is through middle ice (between the dots) so you’d better be prepared to defend this area. It’s much harder for a puck carrier to take the puck wide outside the dots and beat a defender with speed to the outside and drive the net than it is to take the puck directly at a defender, push it through or by them and pick it up on the other side.
In the video clip below the puck carrier has full puck control in the neutral zone and he is able to beat two defenders by pushing the puck through and by the defenders, picking it up on the other side of them, to go in all alone on the goalie. Lucky for the defenders, the puck carrier didn’t score on the play. The talented player with the puck makes the two defenders look bad because of their failure to defend against a play that should be easy to defend.

The following are the keys to defending middle ice in the neutral zone:

Proper Angling Technique: the ability to exercise (use) inside out control on a puck carrier by controlling/protecting middle ice and forcing the puck carrier to the outside. Taking the correct approach angle toward the puck carrier is key. The defender must judge the skating ability and speed of the puck carrier because the only option for the puck carrier is to take the puck wide and beat the defender with speed. The player angling the puck carrier must get shoulder to shoulder with the opponent and NOT reaching first before playing body|stick|puck. A player who has mastered Angling Technique & Fundamentals never gets beat to the inside.

Playing Body|Stick|Puck: the ability to be in a good hockey position; right amount of knee flexion, butt out with chest over thighs, weight on the inside of your feet in good balance to get shoulder to shoulder with the puck carrier to separate the player from the puck with your shoulder and get your stick under the puck carrier’s to gain access to the puck in the same motion. The puck separation through the checking motion is non violent. The goal is to regain puck possession, not to knock the player over or down.

Defensemen Defending the Blue Line: the ability to defend the blue line requires the defensemen to be able to match the speed of the oncoming puck carrier by backward skating between the dots (protecting middle ice) and giving the puck carrier ONLY one option to beat him and that is to the outside. The defensemen’s partner must be playing between the dots as well backing up a couple stick lengths at most apart from each other to protect middle ice. A defensemen must have the skills and abilities to pivot to the outside and use speed to close the gap and get into the puck carrier taking away space forcing the puck carrier to the wall. Defensemen must play tight GAPS in the neutral zone to ensure their ability to match an oncoming forwards speed with the puck at their blue line and play one stick length GAP at the blue line. A skilled defensemen doesn’t give away the blue line by continuing to back up when there is defensive back pressure support from forwards.

Defensemen One on One Play – Body First and NOT the Puck: the ability of a defensemen to defend against a puck carrier in a One on One situation with the puck carrier entering the offensive zone requires strong fundamentals.

The following fundamentals must be adhered to if you’re going to prevent yourself from being beat One on One by a forward carrying the puck into the offensive zone:
– Back up between the dots, protect middle ice.
– Match the puck carrier’s speed with your backward skating speed.
– Good posture matters and assures the ability to remain in balance, weight never forward on
your toes.
– Never allow the puck carrier inside your stick length, if you do, you’re beat.
– Eyes on the puck carrier’s sternum (chest) NOT on the puck. Your peripheral vision allows
you to see the puck while your eyes are on the chest.
– Keep your stick arm bent at the elbow so that you can poke or sweep check effectively. Never
out reached with a straight arm fishing with weight forward on your toes.
– Always keep your body between the puck carrier and your net and get your shoulder into the
puck carrier when playing the body.
– Timing of your Pivot is key to being able to close the gap and stay with the puck carrier as
your force him wide (outside the dots) towards the wall.

Video Breakdown

In the clip below the following mistakes were made resulting in the puck carrier being able to take the puck the shortest distance to the net (between the dots):

• Defender #26 stopped skating when he attempted to angle the player wide and chose to reach and play the puck instead of getting shoulder to shoulder and play body|stick|puck. Never play puck first and reach when you’re angling an opponent.
• The Defensemen made the following mistakes in his execution of the One on One:
– Backward skating speed didn’t match the opponent’s forward skating speed,
– Weight was forward on the toes and he was reaching with his stick too far forward to playing
– Eyes were on the puck NOT the opponent’s chest,
– Played the puck first instead of the body,
– Allowed the puck carrier inside his stick length which is always fatal,
– Failed to force the puck carrier wide and gave away middle ice.

Development Focus
Young players are reminded to focus on proper technique and fundamentals. There is right and wrong way in executing fundamentals, no easy way. Good players practice what they are weak at not their strengths. If you’re aspiring to play at higher levels of competition, focus on fundamentals.

Back Pressure Support from Forwards Critical to Defending


Back Pressure Support from Forwards Critical to Defending 


A common problem that shows up in reviewing game video is a lack of quality back pressure support from forwards. Back pressure support from forwards in the neutral zone is a defensive responsibility. The NZ is defined as the area between the top of the face off circles at both ends of the rink. The best defensive teams avoid playing in their own end of the rink by being diligent defending their blue line and the area from the blue line to the net zone. 

Generally, most coaches say a back checking forward should leave the puck carrier to the strong side defensemen or the defence pair if they’re unable to force a puck turnover by the time the puck carrier gets to the red line. At that point, back checkers are tasked with the role of picking up opponent’s without the puck in man coverage all the way to their own net. 

Good Habits

Back checking forward responsibilities should include, but not be limited to, the following good habits:

  • Swivel Head to identify opponents joining the Attack Rush that need to be covered,
  • Skating full speed between the dots (shortest distance to your net is middle ice) to pick up individual defensive coverage assignments,
  • Communicating (verbal and non verbal) with each other,
  • Selecting a player to defend in the NZ and taking that player to their own net,
  • Getting on the defensive side of the puck (opponent’s inside shoulder),
  • Getting shoulder to shoulder (no reaching) with the player being defended,
  • Continuing skating, never stop skating or glide into the defensive zone from the blue line into the net area until you’re shoulder to shoulder and matching speed with your defensive assignment,
  • Getting your stick under your opponent’s and tapping up to keep their stick off the ice going to the net to prevent the player from receiving a pass or getting their stick on the puck for a deflection, shot or rebound,
  • Support the strong side D in one on one play against the puck carrier if there isn’t an opponent to pick up on the Attack Rush.

Bad Habits

Teach kids to replace bad habits with good habits. The following are bad habits that start in minor hockey and may continue into the professional levels if not replaced with good habits:

  • Coasting in the NZ without a sense of urgency to pick up a coverage assignment,
  • Consistently getting caught below the puck in the offensive zone & unable to provide back pressure support,
  • Not coming back between the dots to protect middle ice, 
  • Coasting or gliding into the defensive zone from the blue line to the net area,
  • Not getting on the defensive side of the puck, shoulder to shoulder with the opponent, and reaching to defend using the stick versus making the effort to skate harder,
  • Not using a Swivel Head, being puck focused as a defender, watching the puck carrier instead of picking up your coverage assignment.


The best thing you can do for a young player is teach them how to play with and without the puck in all three zones. Tactical knowledge plus sound technical hockey skills are necessary for the development process. 

The sooner bad habits are replaced with good habits the better the player will become. It’s not about wins and loses, it’s about player development. 

Video Link:

Use of the Width & Depth of the Ice Surface in the Offensive Zone


Use of the Width & Depth of the Ice Surface in the Offensive Zone 

We have all heard that hockey is a game of time and space. Strong offensive teams deploy tactics that create time and space while strong defensive teams deploy tactics to take away an opponent’s time and space.

Using the width and depth of the Offensive Zone is an offensive tactic to achieve the following key objectives:

  1. Maintain puck possession and control in the zone,
  2. Create time and space for the player with the puck and players without the puck,
  3. Require defenders to move their feet and increase their work rate defending,
  4. Open up seams and lanes to the net,
  5. Create passing and shooting lanes,
  6. Use your teams speed and skills in the zone to create scoring chances,
  7. Engage the D pairing in the offensive zone to support the puck. 

Video Clip

The short video clip below is from a recent game between the Bruins and the Devils. The Bruins demonstrate their ability to achieve some of the above objectives by using the width and depth of the offensive zone that results in them scoring a nice goal.

Strategic Dump-in Recovery Play – An Offensive Pressure Tactic


The Strategic Dump & Recovery Play – A Pressure Offensive Tactic

In the video below there are three short clips that provide examples of “strategic” dump and recovery plays that are well executed. In all three cases the puck dumped into the offensive zone (hard rim or soft dump) is recovered and taken to the net.

It is important to differentiate between a dump and chase play where there is no evidence of strategy or tactics being deployed and a strategic dump-in recovery play. A strategic dump-in recovery play tactic properly designed and executed is an offensive pressure tactic that should be part of every good offensive team’s game plan.

In today’s game the neutral zone is generally well defended to prevent the opponent from entering and exiting the zone with speed and puck control. Teams deploy NZ forechecking tactics that pressure the puck for strategic reasons, such as but not limited to:

1. Creating puck turnovers to regain puck possession and control,
2. Creating offensive scoring chances off the counter attack,
3. Taking away the opponent’s ability to carry the puck through the zone and get scoring
chances off the Attack Rush,
4. Taking away the opponent’s ability to carry the puck deep into the offensive zone to set up
and advance the puck on net.

The Strategic Dump & Recovery Play

To counter a pressure defensive NZ forecheck it’s important to teach a method of dumping the puck into the offensive zone that provides the ability to recover the puck and advance the puck on net. Whether you deploy a soft dump-in or a hard rim there must be group puck support to ensure recovery of the puck and the ability to advance the puck in the zone off the recovery tactic.

Execution Keys:

1. 1st player enters the offensive zone with speed to the puck.
2. 1st player ability to separate the opponent from the puck.
3. 2nd & 3rd player enter the zone with speed to contain the puck battle area.
4. Every player knows their role and how to execute their role in the puck battle recovery play.
5. Triangulate off the recovery in tight space to advance the puck as a group.
6. Use of short touch passes and indirect passes or chips to open ice off the recovery.
7. Every player involved in the puck recovery play should be in a strong hockey position.

A strategic dump-in recovery play is a pressure offensive tactic that must be defended with pressure. If the defending team doesn’t number up or outnumber in the puck recovery battle to recover the puck and exit their zone, watch the video below to see what may happen. The teaching of young players on how to win puck battles in all three zones must be part of the development process.

A Business Case for 1 on 1 Meetings with Players

I watched a short video clip on The Coaches Site recently with Ken Hitchcock. Ken was saying that the majority of players these days need one on one coaching sessions. I couldn’t agree more with Ken’s statement. I would advance the statement to say all players need coaching sessions one on one. I would even add to the statement to say that every coach, team, and organization need one on one meetings because it is one of the best development tools out there to build strong relationships between coaches on a staff, the Head Coach with his GM and the GM with his owner.

The days of intimidating players and benching players to change a player’s behaviour should be part of our past. Don’t get me wrong, when all else fails there is a time and place for discipline. Taking away an athlete’s playing time is sometimes necessary but should be a last resort. If it is a chronic issue, the player should know in a one on one meeting that this disciplinary measure may result, if necessary.

It’s my strong belief based on personal experience that one on one meetings executed properly can lead to strong positive relationships between a coach and player (employee). For these meetings to be valuable, both the player and the coach must know there is value in attending the meetings. The meetings must be a conduit to helping the player achieve their goals and objectives and the coach his/her goals and objectives. These meetings require time, energy and effort when conducted properly. If the time, energy and effort isn’t part of the process the meetings will be a waste of time for the participants.

The business case for holding one on one meetings with players is an easy one to write. There is a lot of information out there in support of these meetings, which can be highly effective when executed properly.

Effective one on one regular meetings with players provide:

  • A setting and process to forge strong relationships
  • A platform for open, honest, and safe communications between player and coach(es)
  • An opportunity to set clear expectations with a player on a regular basis and the chance for a player to set clear expectations with his/her coach
  • An environment to listen and find out what is going on in the player’s life to be able to understand the player’s behaviours and provide support
  • An opportunity to provide meaningful feedback to a player on their performance with tools like video to support the coaching session and replace bad habits with good habits
  • An opportunity to listen to a player’s self-performance assessment/evaluation
  • A platform for development planning; setting goals, objectives, and the key necessary work to be done to accomplish goals
  • A means of following up on the development plan in a constructive environment and format
  • A platform to teach, coach, and work on character development issues that may need strengthening
  • Character muscles are the same as the muscles in the body, they need to be exercised to remain strong and fit for maximum performance
  • An opportunity to put a self-improvement plan together to deal with any current issues
  • An opportunity to have open lines of communication and send messages the player should want to hear and know because they support his/her development and ability to control their own destiny

The common theme between successful sports teams and private sector businesses is their ability to evaluate, recruit, and develop talented people. One on one meetings are an effective tool in this process. You can’t coach any individual who doesn’t want to be coached. I recommend you take the first step in coaching and that’s to forge a strong relationship with each player.