Defensive Hockey Plays
While offense and goal-scoring get most of the press and take up most of the highlight reel, any hockey coach will be quick to stress the importance of defense. At the core of most defenses are several defensive hockey plays that form the bedrock of most strategies for shutting down opposing offenses. From these basic principles spring many more complex variations, but these basic plays are in most coaches’ playbooks.
One of the more popular defensive hockey plays, forechecking is when the defensive team use players to check in their own offensive zone. While one or two players forecheck, the remaining players sink back to the defensive zone and spread out to cover the ice. The idea in forechecking is to slow the opponents’ charge before they can get up the ice and into an offensive flow.
A one-player forecheck is a conservative approach in which the center takes away the center of the ice while the other four skaters spread out along the blue line to blanket the area. This is a conservative approach usually used to protect a lead. A two-player forecheck allows more early pressure and might be used if the opponent has weak puck-handlers and is susceptible to turning the puck over.
The most basic defensive play in hockey is the zone defense. It basically entails the defensive team’s individual players each being responsible for covering a certain area of the ice in the opponents’ scoring area. The individual players must be ready to intercept passes and help out a teammate in case the offense overloads a certain area.
Most zones ask the center to cover the center of the ice right in front of the blue-line. The wings take care of the left and right side of the ice above the face-off circles, and the defensemen watch the left and right sides of the ice below the face-off circles and in front of the goal. The defenders have to be aware at all times of offensive players slipping into seams in the zone, especially near the goal.
Box Penalty-Killing Defense
When a team loses a player for a short time due to a penalty and is forced to go into penalty-killing mode, the box defense is the most common approach. The box is similar to a zone defense in concept, with two players in front near the blue line and two near the goal forming a box to blanket the ice. The box moves accordingly as the offense moves the puck.
How wide the box is depends on how aggressive the defensive team wants to be. If the box widens out, the players have a better chance to aggressively check the offense and possible come up with a steal and breakaway opportunity. A box that is kept tighter allows more protection around the goal, but it also allows the offense much more freedom to pass and control the puck for the majority of their power play.
Learning these simple defensive hockey plays will allow teams to go with more advanced concepts like traps or defenses skewed to take away a specific offensive player. Offensive output can come and go from night to night. The most consistently successful teams rely on their defense to carry them.
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