A defenceman’s solution for retrieving pucks quickly and efficiently

The puck has been dumped in and the forecheckers are coming quick.

I’m sorry to say this, young defencemen, but we have a problem.

A puck chipped in behind the defensive pairing into the offensive zone is a pressure offensive tactic designed to recover the puck and advance the puck on net after recovery. Teams that execute this tactic effectively include a strategic forecheck that supports puck recovery and structure to advance the puck on net.

Forechecking teams often use a basic pattern when they send a forechecker:

  • Down the weak side wall into the corner and area below the goal line to prevent the strong side defenceman from a hard rim exit pass
  • On the puck to win the race to the loose puck
  • Down the wall strong side to prevent the defenceman from an exit pass up the wall and also to support puck recovery in the corner

Teams will make minor variations to the forechecking pattern during the game as necessary, but the purpose of the forecheck remains. So as defencemen, how do we retrieve pucks safely and move them out of the defensive zone quickly?

Dealing with forechecking pressure

Every defenceman who has experienced a forechecker pressuring them in the race for a loose puck into the strong side corner knows they need help to recover the puck and make a quality play. Often the support of teammates isn’t in place in a structure that supports puck recovery and clear passing lanes to exit the zone strong side. 

A puck chipped in behind the D-pair is a loose puck which is a pressure trigger, so why is the only team pressuring up as a group the offensive team?

When the defending team fails to pressure up as a group strong side to support the puck recovery and exit play, they end up working twice as hard chasing and defending, which is often more work.

A loose puck is a pressure trigger for both teams, not just the offensive team. Too often the response from the defending team is not a pressure response and the result is a lost opportunity to regain puck possession and control and exit the zone efficiently.


Defending players must understand that a pressure response is required to achieve key objectives. The most important objectives:

  1. Puck recovery to obtain puck possession and control.
  2. Exit the zone strong side off the puck recovery.
  3. Create a structure as a defensive group (five in the box) that supports 1 and 2.
  4. Outnumber on the puck to win the puck recovery battle and exit the zone.
  5. Spend as little time as possible chasing and defending the opponent and winning the puck possession to control the game in the defensive zone.

Execution Keys

  1. Win the race to the loose puck.
  2. Outnumber on the loose puck recovery even if it means putting both defencemen on the puck. The first forward back into the zone can cover the net zone as well as a defencemen.
  3. Outnumber on the puck recovery battle to ensure recovery, retain puck possession and control and exit ability.
  4. Effective body, stick, puck play (speed and physicality); no fishing or reaching.
  5. All players must be in control of their stick and body to be in a strong hockey position in perfect balance.
  6. Set clean, short passing lanes.
  7. Players skate full speed to their specific spots in the box and stop. Stops and starts in the tight space.
  8. Quality touch passing and short passing skills in tight space.
  9. Every player in the box knows their role and how to execute.
  10. Set the edges and contain the puck recovery battle.

Structure is absolutely essential to win the puck possession and control game in all three zones. Players need to know their roles with and without the puck individually, and as a group.

Every team should have a strong side exit play off pucks chipped behind the D pair or off an offensive strategic dump-in recovery play by the opponent. A pressure offensive tactic must be defended with a pressure defensive tactic and response.

You win the puck possession game and you win the hockey game. Teams with the best goals against records spend less time in their own end of the rink defending. Support your D pairing with a group tactic that takes the pressure off them and provides your team with the ability to recover these pucks and exit the zone strong side. 

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Mike Coldham

Mike has over 25 years of coaching experience as a Technical Mentor Coach of people in Business and Sports. Now retired after 35 years of public service, Mike created the TLPF website to support the development of competitive minor hockey players. Mike works with competitive hockey players to help them learn how to play faster which requires tactical knowledge and skills.

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