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COACH ENIO: 9 key ways to be an effective forward when playing defence

By Enio Sacilotto on March 11, 2015

When we think of forwards in hockey, we think of great passing plays, shots and scoring goals. Seldom do we think of forwards playing defence. Whether you are considered a defensive or offensive forward, in order to contribute to your team you must be able to play defence (when the other team has possession of the puck). Below are 9 keys that will help you be a more effective forward when your opponents have the puck. 

1. Angling
When checking the puckcarrier you should never approach the puckcarrier straight on or in a straight line, if you do he will skate right past you! If you approach from an angle (or move diagonally to the area where he is going), you will force him to go where you want him to go. A good rule is to keep your skates parallel to the boards when angling. This is an important skill for forwards in all zones, but key when forechecking in the offensive zone. 


2. Stick Positioning
How many times has your coach told you to keep your stick on the ice? Most times, coaches want you to keep your stick on the ice for offensive reasons such as receiving a pass. But there is also a need to keep your stick on the ice when you are playing defensive hockey. As a forward, when you have an angle on the puckcarrier, your objective is to your strip him of the puck. In order to do this you must keep your stick on the ice and get the blade of your stick on the puck, we call this “stick on puck.” You cannot get your stick on the puck if your stick is in the air! 

3. Body on Body
You have the puckcarrier angled, you are attempting to have “stick on puck,” but what if you miss the puck? This is the reason you must have a body focus, I like to refer to this as “body on body,” in other words you “finish your check.” By playing the body, you will separate the man from the puck, and one of your supporting teammates can come in and pick up the loose puck. 

4. Defensive Positioning
The objective when playing defence is to: 1) get the puck back and 2) protect your net. It is important for you as a forward to keep the defensive side, staying between your net and the opponent. I like to use two sets of cue words: 1) net/you/man, and 2) keep the D side

Another important concept for you to grasp as a forward is to stay even or above the puck in the offensive or neutral zones. Staying even or above, and keeping the defensive side, you will be in good position to transition to offence, or be in good position to track back to the defensive zone (see diagram). 


5. Tracking back
Tracking back or backchecking is when you are coming back from the offensive or neutral zone into your own defensive zone. You are coming back FULL speed through the dots and attempting to apply back pressure on the puckcarrier (forcing him outside the dots and onto your defencemen). Keep your stick on the ice to block passing lanes (covering an area) and be aware of loose pucks so you can be first on them. Depending on your coach’s philosophy, there will be a point where you release the puckcarrier to the defencemen and you look for the open man so you can apply coverage on him and not allow him to receive a pass. With today’s hockey, most teams have a four-man attack, so the trackers must be aware and pick up the late man. This is easy to identify by counting sweaters, how many of your opponents are in front of you? If there are three, then another one is coming behind you! One last point about tracking, if you are covering a man take him back to the net (the house), and even if you don’t have a man, track to the net. You can take your defensive zone position from the front of the net. Even in defensive zone coverage when you get lost, always go the net and adjust positioning from there. 

6. Stop on pucks
Whether you are on offence, have the puck and just lost it, or you are chasing the puckcarrier and you manage to get your stick on puck and he loses it, always stop on the puck, never go in circles and give the opponent a chance to regain possession of the puck. Straight line skating and “stopping on pucks” will give you the best chance to get the puck back. 

7. Head on a Swivel
When you swivel your head, you are able to move it around in all directions. Keeping your head on a swivel allows you to look around and identify situations that are going on around you. An example is when tracking back or when covering your point in the defensive zone, you must keep a swivel head so you can follow the puck, and you can keep an eye out on the defencemen you are covering. 

8. Transition Awareness
This applies whether you are going from offence to defence, or defence to offence. The key is to keep a swivel head and recognize (read) when the puck switches possession and then think quick on what your next move will be. The second key is to keep the defensive side, stop on pucks, and play inside the dots. When you are following these guidelines you are in good position to defend or attack. 

9. Communication
On ice communication is a valuable tool when on offence and defence, and cannot be stressed enough! Be loud and be heard, be your “teammates’ eyes” and let each other know what is happening on the ice. On defence, “communication will eliminate duplication!” 

Trust that these 9 keys make sense, if they do and you follow them, you will contribute to your team defence!

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By Enio Sacilotto| March 11, 2015
Categories:  Performance

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