Screening, the act of blocking a defender in pursuit of a teammate, is crucial to the offensive game of many sports.
In basketball and lacrosse, attackers can interfere with opponents either covering the ball-carrier (on-ball screen) or other players away from the play (off-ball screen). After passing to a teammate, the carrier can also close off the path of a defender chasing that teammate.
The purpose of screening is threefold: involving off-ball attackers in the play, opening more space, and forcing switches in coverage. As screens create the extra second and the defensive breakdowns needed for scoring chances, coaches have developed a wide variety of strategies around them.
Contrary to basketball, hockey is played at a constant fast pace. Rarely can players station themselves in an area and plan the attack. But when used in the right context, a pick remains a great on-ice tool to create offence.
Skaters aren’t allowed to shift laterally to stop the movement of defenders. They also can’t outright hit them away from teammates. But an attacker with body positioning, standing in between an opponent and the puck, can slow down defenders by lengthening their path to the puck, provided there is no grabbing or hooking motion and the stick isn’t used as an extra wall. Skaters are also entitled to the ice they hold; they don’t have to move to let a defender go through.
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Those conditions are restrictive, but appear more often in a given sequence than one might think.
Faceoffs are maybe the one area where screens can be integrated systematically. In the offensive and defensive zone, on a won draw, attackers can plant their feet and force defenders to circle them to reach their assigned coverage and/or pressure the puck.
By blocking opponents, the offence buys the necessary time to organize itself.
To use picks in the middle of the action, players have to read and react. They have to watch puck movements, anticipate defensive responses, and time themselves perfectly to block the path of opponents.