Everyone knows the saying: “Offence wins games, Defense wins championships.” But as a coach, this is something I have struggled with for the last few months. When looking at the game of hockey at the most fundamental level, the object of the game is to score more goals than your opponent (I have yet to see a team win by not scoring any goals). So when teaching systems, why is it that everyone puts all their time and emphasis on teaching defense? And often forget about teaching offence (aside from maybe zone entries that most coaches will teach). I know the answer why. It is in my opinion the most deadly words a coach can say: “because this is how it has always been done.”
I bet when asking the majority of players where to be to properly retrieve a puck, I would get a lot of different answers. How true is this when it comes to other offensive zone tactics such as pressure releases, low to high options, and any other offensive zone systems you implement? To me, this is an issue, and is an opportunity for us as coaches to improve.
So How Do We Fix This?
For me, it’s simple. When teaching systems, I start in the offensive zone, and work backwards to the defensive zone. I work on each tactic from the second we lose the puck in the offensive zone. My teaching goes something like this:
- Lose puck in the o-zone (result of a rebound, dumped puck, etc.). How do we as an offensive unit recover the puck
- Once we recover the puck, what o-zone tactics do we use to get the puck to the net
- In order to get into the zone, how are we entering to give us the best possible chance to gain the zone
- To allow us to be able to gain the opponent’s zone, how do we transition to get to their blueline
- When in the neutral zone, how do we forecheck the opponents to get the puck to allow us to transition to offence
- When coming back into the d-zone, how are we tracking our opponents to limit odd man attacks
- From our tracking, how do we set up in our d-zone coverage to give us the greatest chance to regain possession of the puck, without giving up high-quality scoring chances
- Once we regain possession from our d-zone, how do we transition to a smooth breakout
Now I do understand that the offensive zone is considered the “fun zone”. But I like to think that applying a little bit of structure and emphasis in the offensive zone provides our players the tools they need to succeed. Playing more in the offensive zone is fun. Getting more scoring chances is fun. Scoring more goals is fun. All of these things are a byproduct of this way of teaching systems.
As the season approaches, I challenge all coaches to ask themselves “Why?”. Why are you teaching things the way you are? If the answer is because “this is how I have always done it”, I challenge you to think if this is the best way.
I thank you all for taking the time to read this article. I am always open to discussions about this topic, and anything coaching related.