3 backchecking systems used by NHL teams (VIDEOS)

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David St-Louis

David St-Louis is a hockey analyst. He writes about NHL prospects, tactics, and systems.
Email: [email protected]

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The position of F3 in the offensive zone is crucial.
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Players are taught to backcheck fast and hard. The work rate of a team, its competitive desire, is often measured by the first few strides of players after losing possession; a group that immediately gets on the heels of opponents, that hounds the puck, usually controls the flow of games and ends up winning more of them. 

It is not enough, however, to work hard on the backcheck. Players have to do it smartly, in a coordinated and calculated manner, in order to maximize the effectiveness of the tracking in the short term, to limit the dangerousness of the opposition’s attack, and in the long term, to conserve energy. 

Devising clear backchecking systems fulfills those goals and brings consistency to a team. 

Here we will present three systems that are used at the NHL level and focus on the movement of F3 — the key to most successful backchecks. The first one is the most popular, but the other two pair well with certain forechecks and have their own advantages. 

Crucial to all three of those backchecks is the position of F3 in the offensive zone. When possession is changing hands, that player has to move above the puck to prepare the hunt. 

1. Chasing the carrier

This system is by far the most aggressive. F3 chases the puck carrier through the neutral-zone in order to limit space, passing options, and angle the attack to the outside. 

If the carrier rushes along the boards, the defencemen have two choices.

They can shift towards the attacked side of the ice, squeezing the puck carrier by doubling the pressure. As a result, the opposing carrier has to deal with  F3 on his heels and, in front of him, a backward skating defenceman, walling access to the zone. 

Or, those same defencemen can shift away from the carrier and cover the other lanes, the middle and the weak-side corridor, letting F3 catch up solo and force the carrier to dump the puck. 

Both movements have their advantages and disadvantages. 

If the defencemen slide towards the puck carrier, the pressure intensifies; it maximizes the chance of a turnover. But the movement opens up the weak-side corridor; a deft cross-ice pass to a teammate, the neutral-zone defence crumbles, and it leads to odd-man rushes. 

If the defencemen move away from the puck carrier to cover the weak side, the responsibility of stopping the rush falls in the hands of F3. The backcheck becomes a race to the defensive blue line. If F3 falls behind, the carrying attacker gets in. 

The position of F3 in the offensive zone is crucial . . .

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