Use these 3 small area games to teach transition skills

In Coaching Hockey, Drills by Kyle MacLennanLeave a Comment

Hockey is a game of constant transition.

When you lose possession of the puck, the mindset has to immediately switch to defence. Similarly, when you regain puck possession the mindset must quickly switch to offence. No matter where your team is on the ice, you must have the skills and a plan for transition when you gain or lose control of the puck.

With transitional play occurring or at least having the potential to occur at any point in the game, there needs to be high practice repetition to best prepare for this. After all, when pressure mounts and chaos inevitably surfaces, players will always fall back on the habits they’ve practiced the most.

Individual skills are needed to train the fundamental components of transition, such as passing, receiving, angling, and puck control. These foundational skills should be revisited throughout the season as they will always contribute to effective transition.

Full ice transition drills contribute to the development of team pace, timing, identity, and systems. Small Area Games are also an effective way to practice both offensive and defensive transition with your team. These games include the skills necessary for effective transition as well as the pace, timing and identity components found in full ice drills. Perhaps the most valuable aspect of small area games is the fluidity and unpredictability that occurs forcing players to work together and solve problems.

As we know, hockey is not a set of linear steps, it is fluid and the play is ever changing. Players need to be able to read, react and make decisions in real time in order for their teams to have success. Transition is fluid in small area games, players are always transitioning to offence or defence. This makes the use of small area games ideal when teaching your team transition skills and tactics.

Below are three transition based games that I have picked up from various coaches over the years and have provided a great way to teach transition to my players. 

1. Neutral zone D activation game

Purpose: Develop team transition skills while encouraging defencemen to join and support the rush. Players will also be forced to execute and defend line rushes off of transition.

Set up: Two nets on opposite blue lines, two defencemen behind the “goal line” for each team, as well as two “inside” players.


  • First two players in each line sprint to puck to gain possession. 
  • Two defencemen from each line skate behind nets and become defensive players, ready to receive a pass from “inside” players. 
  • Once possession is gained the offensive players must move puck to either of the defencemen
  • When D receives the puck, he or she immediately attacks (skates and moves the puck). 
  • Both defencemen must activate and the four offensive players (X’s) then attack 4v2 vs. the two O’s.
  • Once the defending O’s intercept the puck and move to OD’s, then the two XD’s return back behind their defending net and the OD’s activate and attack.

2. Backcheck game

Purpose: Encourage quick transition, both offensively and defensively. Importance of tracking the puck and backchecking hard on turnovers. Players must transition pucks clean to give offensive team best opportunity to score.

Set Up: Game is played in an end zone with nets across from each other. The game begins with a 2v0 (O’s), with two opposing players (X’s) backchecking them. There are also two more players (X’s) who are on the backchecking team, positioned on the other half of the ice.


  • Game is played 2v2 after initial set up
  • When the backcheckers gain possession of the puck, they break out the two players on their team waiting on the other side of the ice
  • After the offensive players lose possession and the puck is transitioned, they become the backcheckers. 
  • The shift is as follows: Offence -> Defence -> Change
  • If there is a goal a new puck is given to the offence and the game continues
  • New offensive players should slide into position every time the play transitions the opposite way

3. Angle 3v3

Purpose: Encourage quick transition, both offensively and defensively. Quick breakout transition on offence and quick sorting and pressure from the defensive players

Set Up: Game is played in an end zone with nets across from each other. Middle line is drawn or established by coach. Game is played 3v3 with line changes on the whistle.


  • Offensive team tries to score, while defensive team pressures and tries to gain possession
  • Once defending team gains possession, they must breakout from behind the net
  • Attacking team now must tag up at the centre line and pressure/forecheck accordingly 
  • 30 to 40 second shifts 

All of these games can be modified to meet your team’s goals, identity, and needs. Build in game conditions and rules to help develop specific aspects of transition important to you and your team.

Using small area games can have a real positive impact on the development of your team’s transition game. Set some rules and conditions and let the kids play! Better problem solvers will lead to better players. 

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About the Author
Kyle MacLennan

Kyle MacLennan

Kyle MacLennan is the Head Coach and General Manager of the Weeks Major Midgets in the Nova Scotia Eastlink Major Midget Hockey League. Kyle holds a High Performance Level 1 Coaching Certification through Hockey Canada, and is an active member of Hockey Nova Scotia's High Performance Program.


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