04 March 2012

Some thoughts on playing defensive hockey

I haven't played much defense, but I played D the last few games and frankly was terrible. I realized that I just don't know how to play defense. So I watched a college Division I game and some videos and here's what I've noticed.
  1. The keys to defense are:
    • Reading the play
    • Positioning
    • Angling
    • Gap control
    • Limit time and space
  2. When to pressure:
    • The puck carrier has his/her back to you
    • The puck carrier has poor puck control
    • Support is available
    • The puck carrier is isolated
    • The puck carrier is a scoring threat
  3. When to contain:
    • There's no immediate goal-scoring threat
    • The puck carrier is approaching
    • The puck carrier has good puck control
    • You have no support
    • You need to buy time in outnumbered situations
  4. When you play 1-on-1 defense against a forward, you keep a two stick length gap and watch their chest (not the puck). You want to angle them towards the boards by putting your outside shoulder on their inside shoulder and directing their movement with your stick. Generally you place your stick in the middle of the ice to force the attacker towards the boards.
    • If you get beat, you can try to "turn and burn". Turn from backward to forward, sprint after the forward, and force them into the boards, taking the body and the stick.
    • If you're close to the boards, take their body into the boards and put your leg inside their legs to tie them up. You can "step out" 90 degrees (sort of a backward to forward transition) and cut them off.
  5. At some point, you want to close the gap and challenge the forward. When to do this is subjective. The guideline is that you make a move between the blue line and the top of the faceoff circle. If you make a move at the blue line, try to force them offside. Don't let them go beneath the top of the faceoff circle without challenging them. At that point, they have a good scoring opportunity, so you must challenge them. You might want to "step up" and take their body/stick. Or try a poke check.
  6. If you're under pressure when going back to pick up the puck, you can execute an escape. Or if you're close to the net, use the net as a shield, skating around it with the puck close to the net.
  7. When in doubt, dump the puck along the boards, or if you're skilled enough, hold on to the puck, do some escapes/dekes, and skate it up until you can pass to the forward.
  8. If you're forced to ice the puck, you want to lift the puck, bouncing it high off the boards or alley-oop it.
  9. Playing the forward near the net. You can lift his/her stick or push them away (but not too aggressively). There are other techniques but I'm not sure which ones are legal. You always want to keep your chest facing the forward and swivel your head to keep an eye on the puck. Never turn your back on the net-attacking forward.
For points 1-3, the information is quoted from USA Hockey Magazine, February 2007.

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