Hockey Sense – The What The Why & The How

Creating a High Performance Culture

Every coach has the opportunity to create a high performance culture, one that supports the development of players and coaches. Today’s elite players ask lots of questions and want to be told the truth every day. It is important to create an environment that supports teaching and the learning of the necessary skills, tactics and systems to be successful as a team. Every coach should want to create his or her team’s identity and that is only accomplished when the team plays with a purpose in all three zones of the rink. For players to play with a clear sense of purpose they must understand the key concepts and principles of how the game should be played at the elite level to support the puck and win the Possession Game.

Players should be encouraged to ask questions and coaches should want to provide players with answers as part of the learning and development process. The what, why and how questions are important to creating an identity for individual players and the team. Providing the right answers to the many questions that need to be asked is key to creating the right learning environment for the team.

The what, why and how questions below are samples of the questions that need to be asked to create a high performance culture. The answers to these important questions position individual players and the team for success. If a coach has to intimidate players or bench players to change their behaviours then he or she should examine their processes. Using discipline to change behaviours should always be a last resort. Players and coaches have a vested interest in becoming high performers and reaching level 4 in the hierarchy of learning (skilled or unconscious competence stage) in skills, tactics and systems play. Players need to be engaged in the learning process so they should be encouraged to ask questions and to become self-reliant in their development process. The coach has the opportunity to create a CORE set of values and beliefs that should be used to make all team decisions.

The What Questions

  • What type of team do we want to create?
  • What style of hockey do we want to play in all three zones?
  • What hockey skills do we need players to learn to play our style of game?
  • What other skills do we need players to learn to develop into elite performers?
  • What tactics (individual & group) do our players need to learn to support our style of game?
  • What systems do our players need to learn to play our style of game in all three zones of the rink?
  • What are the best teaching methods to deploy to steepen the learning curve of players?
  • What good habits do our players and coaches need to demonstrate every day to get better?
  • What skills and knowledge do our coaches need to possess to support player development and our goals?
  • What skills, knowledge and tools do our scouts need to evaluate players for our program?

There are many what questions that need to be asked if you are interested in creating and developing elite players and a high performing team. The what questions above are examples of important questions that need to be asked and answered if you want to create a team with an identity and one that plays with purpose in all three zones of the ice surface.

The Why Questions

  • Why do we want to create this type of team?
  • Why do we want to play this style of game in all three zones of the rink?
  • Why do players need to possess these skills and knowledge to play our style of game?
  • Why are these skills, tactics and systems being deployed?
  • Why do we support the puck offensively and defensively in all three zones?
  • Why do we use the ice surface to support the puck?
  • Why do we always need two or more passing options at all times?
  • Why is neutral zone GAP control important to our style of play?
  • Why is maximum effort required at all times by players and coaches when we enter the building?
  • Why do we do things as a team that are aligned with our CORE Values & Beliefs as a team?
  • Why can we never have too many Leaders on the team?

There are many why questions that need to be asked and there are no stupid or bad questions. Developing players and people requires a learning environment where asking questions is encouraged. Knowledge is power so a learning environment that fosters engagement of learners (players & coaches) is important to the process.

There are reasons we do things the way we do them on a high performing team. There are key concepts and principles athletes have to learn to play the game at a high level.

The How Questions

  • How do we teach the skills, tactics and systems to facilitate learning of key fundamentals, concepts and principles?
  • How do we teach character skills?
  • How do we teach the top 10 emotional intelligence competences of high performing people to our players?
  • How do we create a high performance culture?
  • How we teach support the puck offensively and defensively in all three zones of the rink to win the Possession Game?
  • How do we create more Leaders amongst our group?
  • How do we build confidence in our players and coaches?
  • How do we reduce our goals against/games played record?
  • How do we increase our PK and PP efficiency ratings?
  • How do we defend with structure?
  • How do we get better every day/week and benefit from the aggregate of marginal gains?
  • How do we replace bad habits with good habits with our group?
  • How do we create a healthy workplace culture where team members are best positioned to learn and develop new skills and abilities?
  • How do we use technology to steepen the learning curve of our team?
  • How do we measure performance?


The what, why and how questions are important to individuals who live their life with a purpose every day. The what we do, why we do it and how we do it are important to creating your identity as a person, player and as a team. When you live and play with a purpose you establish your own identity.

Take a look under the hood to improve performance

The sooner bad habits are replaced with good habits the better you will be as a player and team.

Take a Look Under the Hood

The saying “take a look under the hood” is one used by coach Urben Meyer. I like the saying because it requires coaches and players to take an honest look at individual and team performance to diagnosis performance issues for the purpose of making improvements. The best tool for diagnosing problems in individual and group performance is studying game video in all three zones of the rink. There is no better way than using slow motion video analysis of game performance paying attention to the details of the game in the execution of skills, tactics and systems.

Performance metrics are essential to measuring performance but more important is the ability to analyze performance with your best analytic tool, your “eyes”. Video analysis provides the opportunity to identify the causes of poor performance so you can make corrections and see better results in the win/loss columns and improved performance metrics. Players and coaches need feedback to be able to teach and video is the best tool to provide feedback. Video break downs focus players and coaches on the details of the game.

Replace Bad Habits with Good Habits

The sooner a player or team replaces bad habits with good habits the better. The longer a bad habit is ingrained in a player or a team, the more challenging it becomes to change behaviour(s). Every player and team should be focused on getting better every day, every week, even if the gains are marginal. If you are not recognizing and correcting bad habits in individual players and the group on an ongoing basis you’re not focused on getting better. Great teams and great players want the truth and they want the truth every day.

Game Highlights of the LA Kings 5-2 Loss to the Vegas Golden Knights

Any time your team has a negative goals against (GA) record or negative goals for/goals against ratio it is important to “take a look under the hood” to diagnosis the causes. You will undoubtedly identify bad habits of individual players and the groupings (D pairs, lines and special teams) that need to be replaced with good habits in all three zones of the rink.

Let’s examine four goals against the Kings to see if we can identify bad habits that need to be replaced by good habits. When a team has five goals scored against them in a game there are likely some bad habits that need to be replaced with good habits in their defensive game.

Bad Habits

Bad Habits Clip 01 Kings VS Knights

  1. Coming off the ice in the neutral zone when the opponent has puck possession and control in the zone.
  2. Over skating the puck in the neutral zone & getting caught above the puck unable to support the puck defensively by providing back pressure support.
  3. Finishing a check late after the puck has been moved and being out of position to be able to support the puck defensively.
  4. Not picking up your checking assignment (late arrivals) in the offensive zone as a forward backing checking from the blue line to your net.
Bad Habits

Bad Habits – Clip 02 LA Kings VS Golden Knights

  1. Getting out of position to defend below your opponent’s net on an Attack Rush Play and not hustling to get back to puck level or above to be in position to defend on a change of possession.
  2. Getting caught as a forward line with 3 players below puck level in the offensive zone.
  3. Pinching as a D down low in the offensive zone without a legitimate chance to recover the puck or move the puck to a safe area with 3 players below the puck in zone.
  4. Back checking giving away inside position (between the dots) instead of angling with inside out control and boxing out your opponent to protect middle ice, especially as F3.
Bad Habits

Bad Habits – Clip 03 LA Kings VS Golden Knights

  1. Coming off the ice when your opponent is attacking in the neutral zone with full puck possession and control.
  2. Not numbering up into man coverage on a 3 on 3 attack rush, allowing one of the attackers to score on the net zone loose puck. Trust your teammates to do their job.
Bad Habits

Bad Habits – Clip 04 LA Kings VS Golden Knights

  1. Coming off the ice in the neutral zone with the opponent in possession of the puck entering and exiting the neutral zone with speed and puck control to attack your net.
  2. Getting caught as a forward line (all 3 players) below the puck in the neutral zone in a counter attack situation.
  3. Strong side D caught flat footed (stationary) unable to match the speed of the Puck Carrier at his blue line unable to defend. The D is not in position to defend.

Take a Look Under the Hood – Conclusions

Players and coaches at the professional level got there because they are talented individuals. The only way players and coaches improve is when they take responsibility for getting better every day, every week and are committed to the process of getting better. There is no easy solution, it’s hard work, perseverance, attention to details and takes the character of the group to make the sacrifices to do the hard work to clean up bad habits and replace them with good habits.

Often, you will see bad habits repeat themselves from game to game until they are corrected and replaced with good habits. Take a look under the hood as players and coaches, diagnose the bad habits and replace them with good habits.

Two Key Concepts To Winning The Possession Game


Concept # 1 Outnumbering/Overloading

Hockey is a Possession Game and there are two offensive concepts every young player needs to learn to become a better offensive player. The first concept is Outnumbering also referred to as Overloading on the puck/strong side to create a player advantage. The higher the calibre or level of play the more difficult it becomes to beat a defender one against one. You need to create outnumbered situations where your team has the player advantage to support the advancement of the puck.

The Russian players from the 70’s were famous for outnumbering or overloading in space to create the player advantage to advance the puck. The players as a group possessed strong technical hockey skills and were suited to the puck support game which required them to ensure the Puck Carrier had passing options to advance the puck. As a group, the players would be patient with the puck and didn’t mind going backwards or sideways with the puck before going forward with the puck because of the passing options present at all times. Every good player is patient with the puck because they are confident in their technical skills and know they have the support of their teammates to support the puck.

Concept # 2 – Puck Support (Offensive)

Teams that support the puck (Puck Carrier) are excellent at retaining puck possession and control. These teams seldom put the puck off the glass to get the puck out of the zone (defensive zone or neutral zone) and prefer to pass the puck (direct or indirect) to retain puck possession and control. The players without the puck are responsible for finding open ice to set a quality passing lane to support the Puck Carrier. The players without the puck can be above the puck, below the puck or adjacent to the puck but they must “arrive on time” to ensure a quality passing lane option exists. The Puck Carrier is responsible for being patient with the puck and timing his/her passes to players to ensure the group retains puck possession and control to advance the puck. The advancement of the puck is the result of time and space created by the group supporting the puck to create open ice to accomplish the task.

The video below is of the Red Wings Power Play unit made up of five well known Russian players who possess strong technical hockey skills. The players demonstrate patience with the puck and the ability to find open ice, support the Puck Carrier and to create an outnumbered situation to advance the puck. The video clip is worth watching to see these concepts being executed.



The concepts of Outnumbering or Overloading and Offensive Puck Support are key to a player’s development. It is a lot more fun playing with the puck than without the puck. The learning of these concepts support the development of a young player’s technical hockey skills. Players need to have excellent technical hockey skills to execute these concepts to retain puck possession and control. Players should be given the freedom to be creative once they learn the concepts to make plays. Give and Go play is a tactic that is under coached and supports the execution of these two key concepts. Player and puck movement are essential elements of the Possession Game.

It’s not how fast you skate that is important but rather how fast you think. Our young players need to know this and understand key concepts to ensure their technical hockey skills are developed. They will make mistakes but that is how they learn.

PP|Setting Up The Net/Slot Zone Deflection

Setting Up The Net/Slot Zone Deflection Play

Every successful Power Play (PP) unit is focused in zone on trying to take the puck to the net to create quality scoring chances. There are several tactics deployed by the PP unit to force defenders to move their feet and require them to defend the puck carrier and players without the puck, which opens up passing and shooting seams/lanes & breaks down the defensive structure of the PK unit.

The tactics deployed by a PP unit to infiltrate and break down the defensive structure include but are not limited to the following:

  • Player and puck movement at different levels within the zone.
  • Movement of the puck around the perimeter of the defensive structure, side to side & up and down within the zone.
  • Players without the puck finding open ice to support the puck by creating passing lanes.
  • Outnumbering the defenders in a specific area in zone to create a player advantage.
  • Give and Go plays to take advantage of an outnumbered situation.
  • Movement of the puck strong side to weak side on the boards & cross ice.
  • Movement of the puck to a player in the Prime Scoring Area.
  • Patience with the puck to make quality puck management decisions.
  • Always moving (never stationary) to force defenders to move their feet to create time and space.

Setting up the Net Slot Zone Deflection Play is no different than setting up the cross ice “Shooter”. The PP unit utilizes the same tactics to force defenders into coverage to create time and space and break down or infiltrate the defensive structure of the Penalty Kill (PK) unit.

In the video below you see an excellent example of the tactics deployed by the PP unit to set up the Net Zone Deflection that results in a goal. The puck is moved from down low to up top to force defenders to cover the puck carrier who is a potential shooter. The player and puck movement opens up a passing and deflection lane for the PP unit player located in the PSA with his stick on the ice ready to deflect the puck from P#55.

Play Options – Bottom 3 PP Unit Group

  • Deflection by the player in middle ice or low weak side
  • Pass to strong side low F (anchor) who passes to player in middle ice or low weak side
  • All 3 low F’s positioned for rebound on a puck on net



The Net Slot Zone Deflection Play provides an option for creating scoring chances on the Power Play. It is a good option to exploit the defensive structure of the PK unit. The key is having players in roles with the skills to execute the play.

Considerations For Conducting Player Development Meetings

Player Development

The key to successful organizations are evaluating, recruiting and developing the skills and abilities of their people. Once you have recruited and signed an athlete, the development process starts immediately and is a never ending process as illustrated in the above diagram. One of the effective methods used by organizations is to conduct regular One on One Player Development Meetings to establish and build the relationship between the player and his/her coach and the members of the organization.

These meetings are used to support the athlete in the development process. The steeper the learning curve the better and for this reason the process must be efficient and effective in managing the development issues faced by the person/athlete. The goal should be self-reliance, the player should be able to manage his/her own development process with diminishing need for the meetings and support as time goes on. Every player should be supported to get to the skilled or unconscious competence stage in the hierarchy of learning in all aspects of their sport. When we teach and coach character development we are preparing the person/athlete for life because failure is inevitable and they will need to have the skills to overcome adversity.

Purpose Statement

It benefits everyone involved in the player development process to understand the ‘why’ behind the participants involvement. A clear purpose statement should identify the reasons for conducting these meetings. You want to ensure there is a commitment to the process by the participants and they recognize there is value in the meetings to achieve individual, team and organizational goals.


  1. Head Coach
  2. Player
  3. Assistant Coaches
  4. Subject Matter Experts
  5. Technical Support (as required)


The environment for conducting the meetings is important to the process. Lighting, temperature of the room, access to electrical outlets, comfortable seating, technical aids (video) and amenities to ensure an effective meeting.


An agenda for the meeting with input from the player and coach is important to keeping the meeting focused and time oriented. Setting time to address issues and a time frame to conduct the meeting demonstrates to the participants everyone’s time is important and the meetings are focused.


The frequency of the meetings should depend on the player’s needs. Keeping a record of the meeting is essential to tracking the issues addressed and following up on key work and issues in subsequent meetings. What needs to be brought forward to the next meeting must be tracked and on the next meeting agenda.


  • Player Evaluation
  • Development Plan
  • Development Issues
  • Performance Issues (current)
  • Performance Measurement
  • Health & Wellness
  • Family & Friends
  • Circle of Influence
  • Educational Issues
  • Life After Sports
  • Questions & Answers
  • Hobbies & Interests
  • Leadership & Emotional Intelligence
  • Character
  • Expectations of Player & Coach

Problem Solving

There are always going to be issues that surface that need to be addressed. Making time to listen to the player and his/her problem(s) and possible solutions is important to the development process. Coach can help by effectively listening and to help the player land on solutions.

Technical Aids/Resources

The more objective the meetings the better so being able to breakdown video and share data and statistical information is important to the development process.

Player’s Goals & Performance Objectives

It’s important for the Coach to know the player’s goals and performance objectives and the work the player is currently engaged in daily to achieve them. Every coach should be interested in learning from the player his/her daily habits and focus to achieve improved performance.


It is really important to make the player aware of the support that the team can provide to their development process. The player has to do the hard work and be self-disciplined and committed to getting better but the team and organization should ensure the player is fully supported by the resources available to them.

Record/Note Taking

Notes are helpful for reflection and tracking the development process.

Player Engagement

The player is ultimately responsible for their own development as a person and athlete. As a coach and participants to the process it is important to learn the perspectives of the player on development issues. Active listening and engaging the player as an active participant in problem solving and solutions is critical to the goals of self-reliance and their development. Asking the player open ended questions is one of the keys to learning the player’s thoughts and ideas on specific subjects. You cannot coach a player who doesn’t want to be coached so their engagement in the development process is critical to building their trust, respect and a relationship, which will be helpful to the developmental process.


Player development meetings can be a highly effective tool to the development process and in establishing a high performance environment for players.

Keys to Defending Your Blue Line & Entrance into Your Own End of the Rink

Defending Entrance into Your Own End of the Rink

Being able to defend your blue line on the attack rush to force a dump-in or create a turnover to prevent your opponent from entering your zone is one of the keys to becoming a good defensive team and a better puck possession team. Too often you see the defensive pair back up and give away entrance into the zone and a shot on net or quality scoring chance because of a failure to defend (take away time and space).

Keys to Defending Your Blue Line

  1. Forecheck in the neutral zone as a group (D pair and F’s) to force a puck turnover and change of possession.
  2. D pairing control of the GAP between the puck carrier and the defensive pairing. The D pairing must support the forechecking forwards by playing the right GAP.
  3. D pairing positioned to defend by backing up between the dots and protecting middle ice.
  4. Use of effective angling with inside out control by F’s and the D pairing. Never allow the opponent to carry the puck N-S through the neutral zone. You want to prevent your opponent from entering and exiting the neutral zone with speed and puck control.

The Art of Angling —Defending Entrance Into Your Zone (Blue Line)

Coach Laura Schuler provides an excellent analysis of the strong side Defencemen’s role angling with inside out control to pressure up on the puck carrier outside the dots to defend entrance into the defensive zone. The defending team’s forwards are forechecking their opponent in the neutral zone to pressure the puck and push their opponent outside the dots to force a pass, dump in or puck turnover. The D pairing is supporting the Forecheckers by controlling the GAP between the puck and the pairing. The D pairing is not in a defensive position to angle unless the following steps are in place:

  1. Control of the GAP (distance between puck and D pair),
  2. Positioned between the dots,
  3. Able to match the speed of the puck carrier when backward skating (just before the pivot).
  4. Back pressure support from F group in the neutral zone.

Rule of Thumb Gap Control

  • Puck at the opponent’s Blue Line – 3 stick length distance between puck carrier and the D,
  • Puck at the Red Line – 2 stick length distance between puck carrier and the D,
  • Puck at your Blue Line – 1 stick length distance between puck carrier and the D.

Video Analysis: Laura Schuler, Art of Angling

Excellent Analysis of the Art of Angling for by Coach Laura Schuler

Video Clip of Defensive Pairing Backing Up Giving Away Not Defending Entrance Into Their Zone

What Happens When The Defensive Pair Backs Up Without Angling To Defend the Blue Line


Defending entrance into your zone (blue line) as a group by protecting middle ice (between the dots) and angling with inside out control in the neutral zone is essential to taking away time and space and forcing puck turnovers.

The D pairing has to get accustomed to controlling the GAP in the neutral zone and getting out of their comfort zone. Anybody can back up and give away ice but that’s not defending.

Establishing Defensive Position

Defensive Position on Opponents

Establishing Defensive Position

Whether you’re a weak side Defenceman or back checking Forward defending the Attack Rush, getting defensive position on your opponent is critical to defending. There are good habits you should be aware of in your execution.

Good Defensive Habits

  • Swivel Head to identify arrivals into the zone supporting the puck carrier,
  • Establish defensive side of the puck (box out) to establish defensive position, keep yourself between the puck carrier and the player without the puck,
  • Track between the dots to protect middle ice & to establish defensive position,
  • Strong Hockey Position (maximum strength and balance),
  • Stick under your opponent’s, tap up, to prevent stick on puck,
  • Take your opponent to the net,
  • No gliding, full speed to get shoulder to shoulder then matching speed,
  • Communicate coverages with teammates.

Late Arrivals into the Offensive Zone

When there is a good structure defending established and no play on the net your opponent may delay and turn back for offensive puck support arriving late into the zone. It is critical late arrivals are picked up and defended. Teams are dropping their Defencemen down to support the puck offensively into open ice (lanes/seams) to support the puck so there must be constant awareness of the position of players without the puck in the zone.

TLPF_Hockey TW Shared Below

  • Weak Side D does an excellent job establishing Defensive Position on his opponent.

What Happens When You Don’t Establish Defensive Position —Video Goal Against

How You Support The Puck Offensively Key To Possession Game

Offensive Puck Support

  • One of the keys to the Puck Possession Game is the ability to effectively support the puck offensively and defensively. In the TW video below you see evidence of constant player & puck movement that is skillfully timed in execution. The players without the puck find open ice at different levels; above, below and at puck level to create passing options for the puck carrier. The team with the puck is patient in their approach to finding a teammate breaking away from coverage to get into a scoring position to make a play on net.
  • Support of the puck offensively in all three zones is one of the keys to winning the Possession Game. The Art of Supporting the Puck is essential to becoming a good offensive team. The ability to support the puck effectively is key to your ability to exit the Defensive Zone, Enter and Exit the Neutral Zone with speed and puck control and to advance the puck on net in the offensive zone at Even Strength and on the Power Play.
  • Timing of player and puck movement and the group’s technical hockey skills are essential to supporting the puck effectively.
  • Teams that have mobile skilled Defencemen should give them the green light to engage with the Forwards to create offence. So long as you have rotational coverage up top the Defencemen should be part of supporting the puck to advance the puck.

Down Low Game Below The Hash Marks

To control the puck below the hash marks you need to support the Puck Carrier offensively. Great example in the TW video below of excellent support of the puck. You see strong technical hockey skills, timing in player & puck movement to attack the net.

Interesting Article About Constant Player & Puck Movement

The Competitiveness Character Muscle – CC#04

Competition – Getting Up When You’re Knocked Down

Coach Bill Belichick coaching the character muscle with his team in the video clip below. The theme of the week was “Competition”, getting up when you get knocked down and competing to the best of your ability is the expectation. Important coaching message for the person-athlete. Character drives performance in life and sports.

Overcoming Adversity – Expect Adversity
Getting Up When You’re Get Knocked Down


Young Fighter Terri Harper broke her hand in the 4th Round and won the fight on a stoppage in the 9th. Clearly, she overcame adversity, made adjustments in the fight to find a way to win.

Focus on Today

Keep Your Feet On The Ground

One of the keys to getting better is your ability to focus on ‘today’. We are what we do every day and must be focused on the things we need to do today to get better. Can’t change the past, must be able to work through adversity and challenges, get the work that needs to get done today out of the way. Coach Saban coaching the Perseverance Character muscle with players.

Competitiveness Mindset

The point of competition is getting up after you get knocked down, expect adversity and challenges, and compete to the top level you are at and your best effort consistently is the expectation.

Defencemen — 10 Keys To Better One On One Play

One on One Attack Rush Play Defending – Defencemen

Keys for Defencemen Defending a One on One Attack Rush Play

Defending Entrance Into Your Zone – Angling Tips
Excellent TW from @TheCoachesSite and @LauraSchuler27 on the art of angling in this video clip from their latest edition of Finding the Details. Extremely important subject and relevant to the One on One Attack Rush Play for Defencemen. Laura explains the importance of inside out control, opening up and closing the gap on the puck carrier.

Every defenceman should work on controlling their neutral zone gap (distance between puck carrier and D pairing) to improve their skating skills and ability to match the speed of a puck carrier on the Attack Rush. The D in this clip plays a tight gap to support the F’s and opens up and angles effectively to strip the puck and get position on the puck carrier at the blue line 👍.

Excellent Videos Shared by Nick Neary Below on Proper Angling

Defending: The use of Gap Control and Angling to Take Away Ice (Time & Space)