Swarming the Puck a Pressure Defensive Tactic

The best teams defend with pressure on the puck as a group. Swarming the puck is also synonymous with outnumbering or overloading on the puck to create a player advantage. The tactic is used in forechecking and in puck battles to provide the best opportunity to win pucks.

Defensive Zone SWARM

How a defensive group pressures up on a corner puck is a good scenario to describe the swarming or outnumbering/overloading defensive tactical play. How defenders pressure up in their defensive zone on a low corner puck or puck below the goal line; whether it’s a D and F or two D with a low F covering the net zone or even two D with a low F with two other low F’s positioned strong side low below the hash marks in coverage. There will be variations on how the group decides to pressure up based on the situation. Every defender must know their role and how to execute that role.

SWARMING – Good Habits

  1. Win the race to the loose puck.
  2. Speed, speed, speed & physicality.
  3. Outnumber on the puck to create a player advantage.
  4. Box Out the forecheckers from accessing the puck.
  5. First player always creates puck separation while 2nd player recovers the puck.
  6. Set the edges on both sides of the puck (seal) to contain the puck battle area.
  7. Take the right approach angle.
  8. Support the puck with “structure” to secure the puck and to exit the tight space.
  9. Strong hockey position for leverage, balance and effective use of body & stick.
  10. Communicate as a group.
  11. Convert to offence quickly to exit the area and trap the opponents below the puck.
  12. Exit plan (options) on the recovery.
  13. Get into defensive position to man up into coverage should the opponent beat the SWARM.

Pressure Triggers (Read & React)

Knowing when to pressure up and how to pressure up individually and as a group is a critical part of the teaching process. Players must be taught what triggers pressure and how to effectively pressure up to gain access to the puck and box out the opponents. How to separate a player from a puck with effective use of body and stick is an art. Players should work with skilled players who have perfected the technique.

Defensive Team (Blue) Loads the Box (Five in the Box) on the Puck

The defensive team (blue) swarms the puck in the corner and sets the edges to contain the puck battle. There’s nothing more important in your defensive zone than winning pucks and exiting the zone. How a defensive team pressures up on pucks and uses their resources is a key part of defensive strategy.

The defensive group in blue has outnumbered their opponent in the corner to play 5 against 3 down low in the corner. Defenders have to posses strong technical hockey skills to win pucks consistently. Strategy and tactics are important but equally important are the players’ skill levels to use their body and stick effectively to win pucks and exit the zone.

Rod Brind’Amour Teaching the DZ SWARM – Twitter Video

CANES Defend with Speed, Speed, Speed and Pressure the Puck

Beating the DZ SWARM

The defensive group pressuring up knows the forecheckers are going to do their best to create space and move the puck outside the swarm (defenders pressuring up) to a teammate. Relocating the puck outside the swarm of defenders is necessary to escape this puck pressure tactic to one of the following areas for recovery:

  1. Dot space in the face off circle
  2. Low to high puck side
  3. Strong side to weak side

COLORADO AVALANCHE BEAT THE DZ SWAM – LOW TO HIGH 4 ON 4

AVS DZ Failure to SWARM Win a Puck and Exit the Zone

Conclusion

The ability of a defensive group to contain a puck battle to a specific area of the ice and apply puck pressure to recover a puck and exit a tight space is a big part of today’s game. Players have to come back to the puck in their own zone and defend as a five player unit. Swarming the puck is a defensive pressure tactic when executed properly (good habits) will support a group’s ability to win pucks and break out of their own end of the rink.

Taking away ice & your opponent’s ability to carry the puck in zone is a critical part of defending. The goal of defending should be regaining puck possession and control and converting to the offensive game. Swarming the puck (pressuring up) to win pucks must be a big part of your team’s defensive game plan in all three zones. Swarming the puck should be practiced by puck location in the defensive zone; half-wall, corner, below the goal line and the HOUSE.

Track the Right Way – Good Habits Key to Defending Against the Attack Rush Play (ARP)

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

LEAFS Outnumbered and Don’t Get Defensive Position on their Assignments
LEAFS Outnumbered and Don’t Get Defensive Position on their Assignments

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.

Bring “Angling” Back into the Game

ANGLING – AN ESSENTIAL SKILL TO BECOME A COMPLETE HOCKEY PLAYER

There has been a movement afoot in hockey over recent years to replace angling with stick on puck checking where the player reaches and plays the puck with their stick instead of closing the gap to get shoulder to shoulder and cut through a player’s hands to get position on the player to regain puck possesison. The concern about concussions in hockey is legitimate as player safety is important for the athletes and the game. Angling when executed properly does require speed and physicality. Angling executed properly does not require excessive force or need for a hit involving concussive force. Angling is an essential part of the game and it is my hope that the skill that has been missing from the game comes back into the game to the benefit of players, teams, organizations and the fans. Angling will only come back into the game if coaches understand the importance of bringing it back into the game and reintroduce proper angling technique to players and explain when it should be used, why it should be used and how it should be properly executed.

There is lots of room in the game for stick on puck checking because there are times it is the right play and the best play option. What is equally important to recognize is that proper angling is an essential checking skill to protect middle ice (between the dots) and force puck turnovers in all three zones of the rink. Hockey is a Possession Game (PG) and angling, when executed properly, is both safe and the best way of defending middle ice and forcing a puck turnover which makes the game more exciting and interesting to play and watch. There is no skilled play in hockey more challenging for a player to execute than taking the right approach angle, matching the speed of the Puck Carrier and skating that player off outside the dots to separate them from the puck and regain puck possession at the same time, which should be the goal of every angling check.

We see too many instances in today’s game where a player takes the puck North – South through the middle of the ice (between the dots) and scores a goal and instead of questioning the failure to defend we praise the offensive player’s skills. The top teams defend the neutral zone and take away the ability to carry the puck North-South through the zone with speed and puck control.

Angling In All Three Zones

Angling is an essential skill every hockey player must have to become a complete player. Defence wins championships so every player on the team must be a good checker and possess the skills and abilities to protect middle ice and create forced puck turnovers to thwart an offensive attack. Playing with the puck is more fun than playing without the puck so teaching players how to effectively angle check safely to regain puck possession and control is a must. Angling is a checking skill requirement in all three zones of the rink. You cannot be a good forechecking player or group without being skilled in proper angling technique. Every good offensive group uses angling to force puck turnovers to support their transition game and counter attack quickly to create scoring chances.

Recommendation

There is too much reaching and stick checking in today’s game. The reaching and stick checking results in needless tripping penalties and fails to achieve what a well executed angling check will achieve and that’s a forced puck turnover (puck separation) and the ability to regain puck possession at the same time. There are lots of excellent drills out there to support the teaching of proper angling skills with the right technique. The right approach angle allows a player to match the speed of their opponent and “cut through the hands” of the player and get in front of the player to separate him/her from the puck and regain puck possession and control at the same time. Angling should be taught with forwards and defensemen in all three zones both skating forwards and backwards. There should be an emphasis on speed and physicality without excessive force so the Angle Checker remains in balance and control of their body and stick to regain puck possession and control as part of their execution. A player is not a complete player without learning how to take away time and space, protect middle ice and regain puck possession and control from a puck carrier by angle checking. Recommend Angle Checking be the focus for kids interesting in playing the game at higher levels and the higher levels should spend some time teaching the skill to competitive players aspiring to be complete players.

David Urquhart – Angling and How to Teach it Video

Excellent Presentation by David Urquhart on How to Teach Angling
One of my favourite Angling Tweets from @nickleary13
@TLPF_Hockey Angling Tweet in the Defensive Zone

Conclusion

There should be a focus on teaching angling to players in all three zones. Stick on puck checking is fine but it doesn’t replace the effectiveness of proper angling in hockey which has been a fundamental part of our game since its inception. Angling is a lost art and it needs to come back into the game and become an effective defensive play to help teams win the Possession Game. The reaching by players and playing stick on puck in situations where they should be angling needs to be addressed in today’s game for the development of the players and teams and benefit of the fans.

A Values System Approach for the Right Culture

A Values System Approach

Every Head Coach has the opportunity to create a team culture that supports the learning and development of important skills. One of the often overlooked ways of creating the right culture is the creation of a Values System so the players, parents, team and organization know what the coaching staff and the organization values. These values then form the basis for all of the team’s decisions and the organization’s decisions. Every player on the team is expected to use these same values in their own decision making process to help them make the right choices. The values must be effectively communicated to the team and be the emphasis of daily coaching in the interaction with individual players and the group.

Think Less Play Faster Hockey’s top 10 values to create the right culture for the development of individual players and the group are:

#1 Meritocracy – Everything is earned on the team from a roster spot, position in the depth chart, specialty team minutes, who you get to play with and playing minutes. Seniority on the team does not mean anything in terms of any special privileges or considerations. Everything is earned.

#2 Team 1st – Every decision is based solely on what is in the best interests of the team.

#3 Getting 1% Better Every Day – The goal is constant and never ending improvement by every member of the team. When we are not getting better and have reached a plateau we are headed in the wrong direction. Best effort is required in everything we do and will be constantly evaluated. Practice preparation is game day reality so our focus is on practice because that’s where we get better and games are an opportunity to demonstrate that we are getting better.

#4 Be Where Your Feet Are – Mental toughness is about an awareness mindset. We must all be focused on the moment in front of our face. Being present in the moment to perform at our best and not be distracted by the “noise” or matters outside of our control.

#5 Health & Wellness – There is nothing more important than the safety and wellness of the players and all members of the team and organization. The daily coaching work involves interaction with individual players and the group and we are always assessing the wellness of the team. Mind, body and spirit are linked and essential elements for us to reach peak performance and our goals.

#6 Hockey Sense – Hockey sense is taught and as a team we are striving to educate and develop our knowledge of skills, tactics, concepts and systems to improve our abilities to play situational hockey in all three zones. It is not how fast you can skate that matters it’s how fast you can play the game.

#7 Playing the Right Way – Hockey is a Possession Game (PG). Players must learn the important concepts, skills, tactics and systems to play the game as a unit/group to support the puck offensively and defensively in all three zones of the rink. The best teams in any league have players with the best technical hockey skills and knowledge of how to play fast. The ability to play fast is essential to winning the PG. Playing the right way means we have the knowledge and skills to support the puck offensively and defensively in all three zones individually and as a group – so we can win the PG.

#8 Character – The data overwhelming supports the fact that character drives performance on and off the playing surface. High performers in life and sports are skilled in character and emotional intelligence competencies. Sports doesn’t teach or develop character skills, it is the responsibility of the coaches to teach and develop character and emotional intelligence skills.

Character Skills (Competencies)

10 Emotional Competencies of High Performers

#9 Leadership – A team can’t have too many leaders. Leaders are people who make the people around them better. Leaders are focused on relationship building with teammates and coaches and building those relationships to support the group’s achievement of their goals and objectives. Selflessness is a skill taught and developed in every member of our team because what matters is the success of the group not any one individual player.

#10 Relationship Based Approach – A person 1st > athlete 2nd approach is a requirement of every coach. We are focused on a holistic coaching approach where the health and wellness of the player includes mind, body and spirit. As a coach and mentor of people (athletes) we often have to have tough conversations with individuals and it is essential the coach-player relationship is maintained and #1. That relationship is based on mutual trust and respect and is the foundation of the coaching work done with individuals and the group.

Conclusion

Every coach has the opportunity to create their own Values System to establish the right culture for their team. The 10 values shared were to create an awareness of values and how using them to make decisions can be helpful to the coaching process for players, coaches and organizations. You should always want the players to know what is important to the coaches and how decisions are going to be made on the team. How a coach creates their team’s values system and chooses the team’s values is up to every coach. Players shouldn’t have to guess what their coaches value, it should be crystal clear what the coaches value as well as the expectations and standards of play.

Constant Player & Puck Movement in Zone

Playing with a Purpose – Player and Puck Movement in Zone to Create Quality Scoring Chances

The What

Constant player and puck movement in the offensive zone to create chaos and make it more difficult for defenders to defend against our technical skills.

The Why

Why Constant Player & Puck Movement in the Offensive Zone?

  • Create chaos for defenders and make defending more challenging
  • Make defenders move their feet and get off the dot to force them to defend in man coverage
  • Create player mismatches in skills in areas of the ice surface
  • Create outnumbered/overload player advantage situations in areas of the ice to advance the puck
  • Retain puck possession and control in zone by relocating the puck and players
  • Take advantage of our unit’s technical hockey skills
  • Create good looks (scoring chances) in key scoring areas
  • Create time and space and take the puck to the net
  • Separate from defenders into open ice to support the puck
  • Make effective us of all five players and play more as a “unit/group”
  • Take full advantage of the width and depth of the offensive zone to retain puck possession & control
  • Players without the puck have a responsibility to get open to support the puck and the Puck Carrier
  • Make sure the Puck Carrier has at least two passing options at all times
  • We want to manage the puck as a group effective because hockey is a Possession Game

The How

  • Use of structure to support the puck with players moving into position at the right moments
  • Timing of player and puck movements – clearly there must be timing in the execution of player and puck movements
  • We work the area outside the dots (perimeter) as a unit to find the right opportunity for players to attack inside the dots to play inside of the defensive structure
  • Get offensive position on defenders – players without the puck getting open to receive the puck by pass or shot on the net (misdirected puck)
  • Change direction to separate from man coverage (stops & starts, tight turns, give & go plays, cycles, switches and reverses
  • Use of the width and depth of the zone to relocate the puck to separate from defenders and reload from a different area of the ice to attack from
  • Use of our strong technical hockey skills (speed, quickness, puck control and passing skills & skating skills
  • Never stationary unless posting up to perform a “Setter Role” in middle ice or on the perimeter
Narration of the Offensive Zone Play by Team Canada – Constant Player & Puck Movement in Zone to Attack Middle Ice (Between the Dots)
Diagram of the Offensive Zone Breakdown by Levels (1-3) and Perimeter (Outside the Dots in Blue) Inside the Dots (Good Ice in Green)

The Setter’s Role in Hockey

Setter’s Role in Volleyball

“When you think of the setter position you automatically think volleyball. The setter in volleyball is much like the quarterback in football or the point guard in basketball. They are in charge of the offence. They decide who should get the ball and when. It doesn’t matter how good a team’s hitters are if it doesn’t have a setter that can consistently deliver a good ball to hit. The setter is a critical position in volleyball.” live about.com definition

Setter’s Role in Hockey

The setter in hockey is a player (forward or defenceman) who finds an area of the ice surface (all three zones) to support the puck offensively. The role of the setter in hockey is to distribute the puck to a teammate to better position the puck for one of the following reasons:

  1. retain puck possession & control,
  2. rebuild an attack,
  3. advance the puck up ice or,
  4. advance the puck on net.

The setter role is often used to execute the give and go tactical play in all three zones. The video clips below are shared to provide examples of situations where an offensive player has posted up in an area of the ice surface to support the puck offensively for the purpose of bettering the puck position as the setter.

Neutral Zone Setter – Opponent’s Blue Line – Give & Go Play
Neutral Zone Setter Middle Ice Between the Dots – Face-off Win
Defensive Zone Setter – DZ Exit Play
Offensive Zone Setter Designated Shooter Play
Neutral Zone Setter Opponent’s Blue Line
Offensive Zone Setter Give & Go Play
Setter on the Power Play
Tampa Bay Lightning – Middle Ice Setter Role – Tip/Deflection Breaking Winger

Conclusion

The setter in hockey plays an important role in support of the puck offensively. Hockey is a possession game and the setter can play an effective role in retaining puck possession and control and in creating offensive scoring chances. The setter role can help a team manage the puck in all three zones.

Grit Zone – The Area of the Ice Surface Outside the Face-off Dots

Grit Zone (GZ) – Incorporates all 3 zones (DZ,NZ & OZ) but is ONLY the area outside the face-off dots.

Accepted Zones of the Ice Surface

The 3 zones in hockey today:

  1. Defensive Zone (DZ) – Defensive Team, blue line to end boards
  2. Offensive Zone (OZ) – Offensive Team, blue line to end boards
  3. Neutral Zone (NZ) – The area from the top of the face-off circles at both ends of the ice surface
  4. *Grit Zone (GZ) – Includes all 3 zones above but ONLY the area outside the face-off dots

The Grit Zone should be added to the list of zones used to identify key areas of the ice surface.

Definition of GRIT

For a hockey player to be a strong Grit Zone Player he/she must consistently demonstrate grit in their performance of the skills and tactics in this key area of the ice surface.

A Grit Zone Player

The following are the essential qualifications of a Grit Zone Player. A Grit Zone Player must be able to demonstrate on a consistent basis, the following skills and abilities in this key area of the ice surface:

  1. Win races to retrieve loose pucks
  2. Angle and play the body to separate a player from the puck
  3. Pressure up individually and as a group to win puck recovery battles
  4. Be strong on the puck and protect the puck (with the body) to retain puck possession & control under check pressure
  5. Execute tight turns to change direction quickly with the puck & control the puck
  6. Separate a player from the puck & regain puck possession
  7. Take the puck to the net from the Grit Zone
  8. Cycle the puck low & high as a unit/group while maintaining control of the puck
  9. Relocate pucks to safe areas for retrieval to retain puck possession
  10. Advance and control the puck as an individual & a unit/group in a crowd
  11. Not take penalties (remain in control of emotions)
  12. Be in control of mind, body and stick in all situations
  13. Maintain control of the puck individually & as a unit/group
  14. Compete for ice to establish offensive & defensive position as required
  15. Hunt, recover, rebound and deflect pucks in tight space
  16. Use the boards to effectively manage and control the puck
  17. Prevent the opponent (individual & group) from carrying or advancing the puck (North-South)
  18. Win one against one player battles
  19. Take away ice of a puck carrier with stops and starts and effective angling technique
  20. Work give and go plays and make short passes to control the puck

Develop Grit Zone Players

The best hockey players are able to dominate the game inside the dots and outside the dots. The best players have grit, perseverance and the necessary courage to play the game in traffic and to execute the skills and tactics of the game, where the game is most physical and challenging, in the Grit Zone (outside the dots).

Hockey is a Possession Game and that game is generally won outside the dots in battle areas. Player development should focus on the skills required for a player to become a strong Grit Zone Player. You can never have too many strong Grit Zone Players on a team.

There’s Power in Numbers & How They’re Organized

Hard Forecheck Pressure – Defending Up Ice A Common Hockey Defensive & Offensive Tactic

Hockey Concepts Have Not Changed – Anatoli Tarasov’s Vision 1975

  • Retaining puck possession is of key importance
  • Retreating and rebuilding attacks is encouraged when appropriate
  • It’s more about the players without the puck than those with it
  • Interchange positions to create confusion & openings
  • Attack with speed & counter attack as quickly as possible
  • Pass the puck and then immediately move to make yourself available fore a return pass option
  • The puck belongs to your teammates
  • The purpose of having the puck is to return it to a teammate

In the clip below we examine how the Tampa Bay Lightning’s defensive zone break out structure beats the hard forecheck pressure by the Florida Panthers. It is common practice for teams to defend up ice with an aggressive forecheck in both the offensive zone and the neutral zone. The strategy to defend up ice is about regaining puck possession and scoring as a unit off the puck recovery.

Tampa Bay Lightning bring five players back deep into the defensive zone to outnumber their opponent below the hash marks. Set up a structure (five in the box) to support the puck offensively strong side to exit the zone. In the clip you see TBL players support the puck through the neutral zone on the attack rush as a unit.

Rugby Coach speaks to power in numbers and pressing the ball/puck to regain possession & score on the recovery.

Power In Numbers & How They Are Organized

The Rugby Coach is speaking to the use of resources (players) to support the ball/puck as a group and deploying tactics that support regaining possession and scoring off the ball/puck recovery (dual purpose). What we are seeing in hockey is the elite teams pressure the puck in all three zones and deploying tactics to retain puck possession and to recover the puck back as quickly as possible to counter attack and get back on offence.

The best defensive teams in their own zone are excellent at winning races to loose pucks as a five player unit, outnumbering off pressure triggers and regaining possession for the purpose of quickly attacking the opponent.

Breakdown of the Tampa Bay Lightning Goal Against the Florida Panthers

  1. TBL bring five players back deep into the defensive zone to support the puck recovery and exit play.
  2. The low F #19 Goodrow curls inside to set a passing lane for the D and receives a short pass.
  3. F#19 Goodrow runs a give and go with F#37 Gourde whose stationary on the half wall.
  4. TBL run a 3 on 2 (outnumbered) Attack Rush Play with D#81 Cernak part of the 3 player attack.
  5. TBL move puck in the o/s lane and take the puck deep for a play on net.
  6. TBL #37 Gourde has time to arrive late (Arrive on Time) skates by a defender to the net to bury the rebound.

Conclusion

The Tampa Bay Lightning, last years Stanley Cup Champions, get it. The have mastered the concepts referenced above and support the puck extremely well offensively and defensively. The five players on the ice are interchangeable, they defend up ice, win their share of puck battles and will bring four players down to the net zone to score a goal as demonstrated in the video.

The common problem defenders have defending the Attack Rush is they are too puck focused. As defenders you must always have your head on a swivel and expect the attacking team to have their D pairing fully engaged in the offensive game plan. Often the offensive team will take the puck deep into the offensive zone on the Attack Rush, turn back or run a delay and move the puck to players arriving late (on time) to support the puck offensively above the puck. The TBL goal scorer is F#37 who was stationary in his defensive zone to work the give & go with F#19 Goodrow. Defenders can’t allow offensive players who arrive late in the zone to skate by them uncovered for a play on net.

Athletic Posture One of the Keys to Performance

Being in a position of balance & control is critical to an athlete’s ability to execute the skills and tactics of their sport.

Balance Key to Athletic Performance

Being in a position of balance and in control of your body is essential to being able to execute every technical skill a player performs in their sport. As a hockey player, whether you are shooting or passing a puck, checking, skating or stick handling your ability to execute the skills correctly requires that you be in full control of your body.

The same holds true for baseball players, football players, rugby players, soccer players, golfers, basketball players and players in all sports, the skills of the game must be executed in a position of balance and control of the body and this cannot be over emphasized.

The Hockey Position

In the photo above a coach is demonstrating for the players the hockey position. Knees flexed, chest over his thighs, head up, feet slightly outside shoulder width apart, weight on his inside edges, backside out (butt), with forward flexion at the waist (correct spine angle) that allows for the chest to be over the thighs. The hockey position assures the correct athletic posture of the player so that they are in a position of balance and control of their body.

Correct Posture = Position of Balance and Control

When a player is learning a skill it is important to make sure they are in a good hockey position. As the player demonstrates the ability to execute the skill in a position of balance and control the speed or pace the skill is being performed can be increased. Nothing is done at the expense of balance and control of the body. Being in a strong hockey position is a good habit. The more a good habit is emphasized and reinforced with players the better, it soon will be automatic and something the player does all the time without thinking (Unconscious Competence).

NHL Player Examples

The best players in today’s game are always in a strong hockey position . You see it when they perform the skills of the game skating, shooting, passing, stick handling and checking. These 3 highly skilled players demonstrate the importance of being in a strong hockey position at all times:

  • Steven STAMKOS
  • Nathan Mackinnon
  • Connor McDavid

Watch the videos below to see how being in a strong hockey position (position of balance & control) helps these players in the execution of their technical hockey skills. Being in a strong athletic posture supports the player’s ability to perform.

STAMKOS – Nothing at the expense of balance. These Steven STAMKOS highlights are a must watch.
Nathan MacKinnon demonstrates how being in a strong hockey position supports his ability to execute.
Connor McDavid – always in a position of balance and control.

Conclusion

Being in a strong hockey position is necessary to learn and develop technical hockey skills but it is also important for a player’s safety. The game of hockey at higher levels is played with speed and physicality. Being in a position of balance and control of the body is important for a player’s safety.

No Surprises In Flames 4-3 Win Over Leafs

No Surprises from the Flames

The LEAFS lost a tough one last night to the Calgary Flames 4-3. One would expect a Daryl Sutter coached team would show up and try to establish the pace of the game. One would expect a Daryl Sutter coach team would be physical and establish the forecheck in the offensive zone and try to create offence by being first to loose pucks in the offensive zone and forcing puck turnovers. The Flames worked the puck low-high often in the o-zone, set screens and established a strong net presence.

The LEAFS have made significant improvements in their defensive game this season by playing with structure to support the puck better defensively and offensively. The LEAFS defensive zone exit play has improved as the result of bringing five guys back deep in the zone to support puck recovery and exit play. Any time you are getting beat to loose pucks in your defensive zone, struggling to regain puck possession and struggling to make quality passes to exit the zone you know its going to be a tough night. Last night the LEAFS were not as sharp as they usually are in the defensive zone and it cost them the game.

The LEAFS had shown a commitment as a group to play a 200′ game this season. Last night, the group needed to be better in their defensive zone for sure and as a result they gave up four goals. Your goalie has to see pucks on net, you have to box out and defend the net/slot zones between the dots. You have to win races to loose pucks in your defensive zone to regain possession and shut down your opponent’s offensive game and time of possession in your zone.

Below are a few clips that reveal how the FLAMES generated their four goals against a LEAF team that has seldom given up more than 2.5 goals a game against this season.

Flames work the puck low-high and set the net presence to block the goalie’s view and set up the deflection/rebound plays.
Bad 1st pass on the puck recovery results in a turnover and the Flames getting the puck to an uncovered player in middle ice.
LEAFS turn the puck over in the defensive zone on the exit play and the puck ends up in their net.
Flames PP goal -win the draw and move the puck low-high and the point shot goes in off Muzzin’s back side.
Flames win the race to a loose puck off a SOG and regain puck possession on the forecheck to get a quality puck on net.

Consistency

The LEAFS have demonstrated the ability to improve defensively this season as evidenced by the GA/GP metric. The game last night showed there is room for improvement in the consistency of their defensive game. The LEAFS have to pay attention to details in their execution. In the stretch to the playoffs they will be tested by teams physically and they will have to be a lot better boxing out in the defensive zone (net/slot zones), protecting middle ice, winning races to loose pucks, forcing turnovers and exiting their defensive zone. The LEAFS have a lot of offensively talented players but the key to a playoff run will be whether there’s enough grit and character in the dressing room to get the job done defensively and consistently play a 200′ game. Time will tell.