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COACH ENIO: 7 Rules For Defencemen Playing Offensive Hockey

By Enio Sacilotto on May 09, 2014

The main goal of the defenceman is to stop goals first, which was discussed in a previous blog. Here, we will be looking at 7 rules for defencemen playing on offence.

Ask any coach, general manager or scout—they want a defenceman (whether he is offensive- or defensive-oriented) that is able to initiate the attack. This is done by making a tape-to-tape breakout pass to the forwards. A bad breakout pass can lead to defensive zone turnovers and increased time playing in your end.

One of the situations where a defenceman starts the breakout is going into his own end to retrieve a puck that is dumped in. The first step is for the defenceman to a) pivot from backward to forward skating as quickly as possible, b) keep his head on a swivel (shoulder check), and know what he is  going to do with the puck before he gets it, c) if he has a forechecker on his back, do a shoulder or head fake, to slightly throw him off, d) pick up the puck and turn or pivot so he is skating forward, and, e) move his feet, have his head up and be read to make a play (“LOOK-MOVE-LOOK-PASS”).

Be calm, cool and poised with the puck, you have more time than you think. Do not pass to a covered forward, partners must support and communicate with each other. Help each other be aware of where the forecheckers are and the various passing options. Goaltenders must be good communicators and can help with identifying situations as well. If you cannot make a play, or you are at the end of a shift and are tired, you can “eat the puck” and get a whistle or you can use the glass and flip or deflect a puck out of the zone. DO NOT FORCE A PASS THAT IS NOT THERE!

Always be ready to make subtle interference on the forechecker, this can give your partner a few extra seconds. Make sure you do not overdo it and get a penalty for interference. When you retrieve a puck off defensive zone coverage, get your feet moving up ice and make a play to an open forward as quickly as possible (LOOK-MOVE-LOOK-PASS).

The blueline is key. Getting the puck over the line is the first priority—the more time you spend time with the puck and in the other team’s zone, the better chance you have of winning!

When receiving the puck for a regroup, the puck-receiving defenceman must pull the puck backwards towards the boards. In order to spread the zone out and attract a forechecker, the defenceman’s partner must “fold underneath” and “stagger” away from his partner. This a good support area for a defenceman-to-defenceman pass.

A good team will have a regroup system where the forwards will fill all three lanes and make themselves available as options for the defencemen. As a defenceman, if any of the three forwards are immediately available, pass them a tape-to-tape pass as quickly as possible. If no one is available then pass to your “supporting” or “staggering” defence partner. When receiving the pass from a partner, you must “LOOK-MOVE-LOOK-PASS”, IF NO PASS IS AVAILABLE, KEEP THE FEET MOVING up the ice and pass back to your partner who is “supporting from under” or staggering. We call this, “THE HINGE”. Usually the weak side forward is open for a pass.

Keeping possession of the puck as a defenceman is key as turned over pucks in the neutral zone can cause odd man rushes and scoring chances against. If no play is available, then work hard to get the red line and put the puck “deep” into the offensive zone, this will allow your forecheckers to put some pressure on the opponents. Be prepared to use an indirect pass off the boards to the forwards as well, they can then advance the puck “deep”.

Once the pass is made and the puck exits your zone, be ready to move quickly up the ice (move your feet) following your forwards. Many defencemen stop moving their feet as this point.

Most teams encourage a four-man attack, so one of the defencemen should jump into the rush and help in creating scoring chances. If your coach’s system is the triple drive, then the “pocket” in the slot (in between the top of the circles) is a good area to go. A couple of things to keep in mind: a) only one defenceman jumps up into the offensive zone and partner stays back and supports the rush, b) forwards must have 100% possession before one of the defencemen activates, and, c) once the rush is over and the scoring opportunity is gone, get back to your blueline position.

You can stay wide apart with puck possession on the offensive zone which spreads the zone and makes it hard for the defence to cover your team. When the puck does come to the point, one of the partners staggers off the blueline into the neutral zone for a safety in case of a turnover. The defenceman with the puck must move his feet laterally to the middle and can a) look for a shooting lane, or b) look for the rolling forward in the slot. A simple rule for any team is that the forward that passed to the defenceman at the point goes into the slot, looking for a return pass and a shot on net. Other possible passing plays are: a) high cycle: if the forward is coming up the boards, the defenceman can slide down the boards and get a drop pass from the forward. The defenceman can then take the puck down the wall and look to the slot for an open forward or take the puck behind the net looking for more options. The forward who “handed” the puck to the defenceman stays at the point position on the blueline. b) D slide: when the D sees the opportunity, he can slide into the slot or to the back door for a pass from a forward.

As mentioned in Rule 4, once you receive the puck at the point, start moving laterally across the blueline—this way you will open up a shooting lane. If this does not create a shooting lane, try faking a shot, which will freeze the defender and open a shooting lane. A slap or wrist shot 13 to 15 inches off the ice is the best. Make sure your head is up and the shot gets through. Remember your job is not to score but to create situations for tips, deflections and rebounds so the forwards can score goals

If you are at least 90% sure of keeping the puck in play in the zone then get the puck. Communicate to make sure that you have a supporting forward (F3). You can pinch 100% of the time when the puck is wide-rimmed to your side, again make sure there is an F3. 

Keep working on the fundamentals, skating (forward, backwards, pivots, escapes, quick feet, etc.), puckhandling, shooting and passing. Too many players think they are above fundamentals but they are the key to being an effective elite defenceman! 

It takes years of hard work to be a great defenceman. Following the 7 rules of defence and the 7 rules of offence will get you there more quickly. Be a student of the game and watch for these 14 rules when you are watching NHL or WHL action on TV!

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By Enio Sacilotto| May 09, 2014
Categories:  Performance
Keywords:  Enio Sacilotto

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