Defence is a challenging position to play. Like a goaltender it takes many years of repetitive training to master the specific skills required to be an effective defencemen. In this article you will find some helpful defensive tips that will help you think like a top defencemen.
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1. Keep your feet moving
Agility skating is the ability to move the body quickly in multiple directions.
Forwards are told to keep moving in the offensive zone and on the rush. In order to challenge the forwards and defend their net, defencemen must be agile skaters and keep their feet moving at all times.
Being flat-footed and stationary is a recipe for disaster. By keeping the feet moving, knees bent, shoulders back, and eyes up you are in the ready position and prepared to face any challenge that is presented.
When defending any even-man situation the defenceman must have a good gap (the distance between the puck carrier and the checker). An ideal gap is at least 1.5 to 2 stick lengths. Being in the “ready position” with the feet moving allows the defenceman to control the gap.
2. Read the play
Always keep a ‘head on a swivel’ to help with awareness of what is going on.
Defencemen have a north view of the rink, and will face all kinds of scenarios when accepting the rush, reading the situations and reacting accordingly is key. Is the situation the defenceman is facing a 1-on-1, 2-on-1, 2-on-2, 3-on-2, 3-on-3, and are there back-checkers tracking back?
In the defensive zone, is the opposing forward facing the corner, can you beat him to the puck, is he coming at you with speed, do you have a support forward behind you, is your partner in front of the net?
3. Play inside the dots
The rink inside the rink. The idea when defending in hockey is to keep body positioning between the man and your net, often referred to as keeping the ‘defensive side.’ I like to refer to it as a net/you/man relationship with the offensive player.
Coaches also make reference to ‘protecting the house,’ in other words, protect the area around your net and keep puck carriers and shots to the outside.
Defencemen can reach such objectives by receiving the rush by playing ‘inside the dots.’ When playing inside the dots, the objectives of maintaining defensive body positioning and protecting the house are achieved.
4. Stick-on-puck, body-on-body
The key objective when defending is to strip the puck carrier of the puck, get into passing lanes, shooting lanes, and take away the opponent’s time and space.
Defencemen need to keep their sticks on the ice at all times, and when defending the puck carrier, keep one hand on the stick attempting to keep their stick blade pointed towards the puck for as long as possible. By keeping ‘stick on puck,’ the defender can poke the puck off the puck carrier’s stick and discourage him/her from passing or shooting.
While keeping the concept of ‘stick on puck,’ the defender should maintain a body focus. If the defender misses the attempt to poke check the puck carrier he/she can still impede progress and strip him/her off the puck by playing the body.
The defender uses peripheral vision to watch the puck and maintain a body focus.
5. Stay staggered
Next to the goaltender, defencemen are the last line of attack.
Defencemen should never be even with each other, whether on offence or defence. If you are playing in a staggered position then if there is a turnover or your partner gets beat, you are there for “defensive support.”
For example, if in the offensive zone, the strong side defenceman is going in for the pinch or in taking a shot, his partner must play outside the blue line, inside the dots, close to the middle of ice and ready to defend. Should his partner get beat, he is there to defend.
Another example is in a regroup situation, when you pass the puck to your partner, after the pass your job is to “stagger” and drop in behind your him/her. Again, if the puck is turned over, you are in position to defend, and if your partner needs to pass the puck back to you, you are in a difficult position for the opponents to check you.
A key to the game of hockey is on-ice communication. Be the eyes for your partner, yell loud; let each other know what is happening on the ice.
Communicate with your partner at practice and off the ice. Get to know each other!
Talk to your goalies about things such as puck placement on a dumped in puck, let the forwards know who they should pick up on rush coverage. Hockey must not be played in the library. Be heard!
7. Win all your battles in games and practices
Take pride in being a defenceman, win all your 1-on-1 battles, be intense, and be strong on your feet. Keep your feet moving and be quick into the corners. Take the time to practise individual skills and be mindful of the seven rules of defensive hockey for defencemen.