The Best Way for a Forechecker to Start the Forecheck

Today’s post is going to be short because it is a very simple concept. Yet it can make a big difference on the forecheck. If an opposing defenseman has control of the puck behind his/her net, which side of the net should the forechecker force him to go? Before I give the answer, let’s consider the goals of the forechecking team, which are:

1. Prevent access to the defensive zone
2. Recover the puck to transition to offense

To accomplish these goals, the forechecking team need to work together to take away outlet passes, or at least make them as difficult as possible. With this in mind, the best way to start the forecheck is for the first forechecker (F1) to force the defenceman to come out from behind the net on his/her backhand side and for the second forechecker (F2) to take away the boards outlet pass. The easiest breakout pass is to the boards, so things get a lot more difficult for the defenseman if that option is eliminated. That means the defenseman will have to make a cross-ice backhand pass which is very difficult. So how do you force a defenseman to their backhand? The best way is to stand in front of the net, but on the side of the defenseman’s forehand. If positioned correctly, the defenseman will feel pressure from that side and skate away from it, to their backhand side. As the defenseman comes out from behind the net, the first forechecker (F1) should be able to angle him/her off, forcing a very difficult pass or the defenseman to shoot the puck away. In the figure below, the left defenseman comes out the right side (backhand side) while forechecker F1 angles them off and forechecker F2 takes away the outlet pass.

force the defenseman to their backhand on the forecheck

Never Give Free Access To The Defensive Zone Again

One common mistake I see is allowing the opposition free access to your own end. The specific situation I am referring to is a forward carrying the puck out of their end with no support and all the way through the neutral zone into the offensive zone (one example is a 1 on 2). I watch the defenseman continue to skate backwards and maintain their gap, just watching the puck carrier. The defensemen only pressure the puck carrier once they have crossed the blue line. By this time, the rest of the opposing team has caught up to the play and can support the puck carrier to establish possession. I’ve seen this countless times and it drives me crazy since it is so easy to deal with. Teams cannot afford to allow free access into their own end, goals against happen that way! This situation needs to be stopped in the neutral zone by the defensemen. With one simple play, two defensemen can prevent access into the defensive end, steal the puck, and transition to offense.

This specific situation occurs when the team breaking out has fewer players in the neutral zone than the defending team. The most common occurrences of this are a 1 on 2, or a 2 on 3.

If it is a 1 on 2, the weak side defenseman needs to identify the situation and then skate in towards the puck carrier to angle him/her off while the strong side defenseman maintains his/her gap. This will close off space from the puck carrier and force a dump or enable the weak side defenseman to get a hit or strip the puck. If the situation is a two on three, it works exactly the same way but the weak side defenseman needs to be confident that the backchecking forward can cover the non-puck carrier before starting to angle off the puck carrier. The reason this play works so well is because the strong side defenseman is able to maintain strong defensive positioning while the weak side defenseman pressures the puck carrier. The weak side defenseman isn’t covering anyone in these scenarios so they are essentially a spare body which can be activated as a checker.

1 on 2 Angle Off

The primary benefit of this play is that you don’t allow free passage into the defensive end and time for the opposition’s forwards to catch up and establish possession. The secondary benefit is that it can generate offense since this situation often occurs when the other team is changing. If done quickly, this can lead to a quick transition and offensive chance with the other team out of position due to their line change.

Keep an eye out for this situation next time you are watching your children’s game or even coaching. You will undoubtedly see it, and now you will know what to teach your children or players to deal with it in the best way.

How To Counter A Defenseman’s Reverse

One of the most effective means for a defenseman to get away from a forechecker is the reverse. The reverse is similar to a cycle, where a defenseman that is carrying the puck while being forechecked, chips the puck off the boards in the opposite direction he is skating. The puck bounces past the forechecker and is picked up by the other defenseman.

defenseman's reverse

Defenseman’s Reverse

This works because it instantly reverses the flow of play in the opposite direction of the forechecker who can’t change direction fast enough. Despite not being able to change direction, there is a very easy trick which the forechecker can use to counter this play.

A former teammate of mine was telling me about one of the first things he was taught when he started playing for a Division 1, NCAA team was how to counter the reverse. In fact, the first time he used this play in a game, he stole the puck, walked out in front of the net and scored.

It works like this, as a forechecking forward is following behind the puck carrying defenseman, the forward places their stick towards the boards where the defenseman will bounce the puck for the reverse. A stick in that location will block the reverse pass. In the figure above, the forward would have their stick on the right side, towards the boards. This simple play can result in a quick scoring chance since the turnover will happen around the net. What’s even better is that both defensemen will be out of position, likely behind the goal line.

Most defense pairs who use the reverse play will call “reverse”, and so any forechecker should be able to predict when it is about to happen. Some will use the reverse without calling for the puck so it is advisable to put your stick there anyways.

So there you have it, a play as simple as placing your stick in the correct location. Any player can execute this play, it’s just a matter of being taught to do it.

Simple Trick That Absolutely Anyone Can Use To Force A Turnover

Here is a trick that any player, regardless of skill level can do to trick the other team into giving up the puck. You will be amazed at how simple it is.

I was once battling another player in the corner and one of my teammates yelled at me to let me know where he was. All he said was “Younger” (my nickname). My opponent promptly passed the puck directly to my teammate. After the turnover as we were skating up ice, the other player said to me “how did he know my name?” As it turns out, the other player also had the last name Young and so his nickname was “Younger” too.

So that’s the secret, when the other team has the puck, call for it as if you were on their team. Using the opponent’s nickname will be more effective, but a simple “Ya” or “Here” will do. I should know, I’ve fallen victim to this myself. Even high level players will fall for this, I’ve done it to others and had it done to me. On one occasion I can remember falling for this trick and passing the puck directly to the opposition with none of my teammates even in the vicinity. When I got back to the bench, my defense partner knew what happened. His exact words were “he called for the puck didn’t he? It’s so embarrassing when that happens.”

Calling For Pass

There are a few small things players can do to improve the chances of this working:

  1. Use the opponents name or nickname if known
  2. Call for the puck when the opponents back is to you
  3. Call for the puck when the opponent has their head down or isn’t looking
  4. Be in a location where the opposing team is likely to be in support of the puck carrier, that way it is more natural
  5. Call for the puck, don’t tap your stick on the ice

So that is it. A quick play, absolutely anyone can use that can quickly and effortlessly lead to a turnover.

The Right Way To Play A 2 On 1

2 on 1

2 on 1’s are naturally a tough situation for defensemen, and they are a likely source for a goal against. In minor hockey, I was always taught to take away the pass and give the goalie the shot. After playing thousands of 2 on 1’s over the years (in practices and games), I’ve come to realise this is bad advice. If you think about it, why would you sit back and allow the other team to have a quality scoring chance? Since the defenseman is outmanned, it’s not realistic to expect him/her to be able to take away the scoring chance completely. That is why the goal of a 2 on 1 for a defenseman should be to minimize the quality of the scoring chance. And believe me, the way to do that is not to take away the pass every time. So how should defensemen limit the quality of the scoring chance on a 2 on 1? There are a number of things to consider but some are more difficult to apply than others so I will break this up into basic and advanced sections. The basic section can be applied by almost all skill levels but the advanced should only be applied by higher level players.

Basic

First, we need to consider two principles:

  1. It is easier for a shooter to score from the inside than  the outside
  2. Backhand passes are difficult, often resulting in poor quality passes, and moving from backhand to forehand to make a pass takes time and is slow

The reason it is easier for a shooter to score from the inside rather than the outside is that the opening of the net actually gets smaller at an angle. If you take this concept to the extreme and look at how much net is open from the goal line, there will be none. Please refer to the figure below for an illustration of this concept.

Puck's Eye View

So if we keep this in mind, defensemen need to evaluate whether the puck carrier is on their forehand or backhand. If the puck carrier is on their forehand, defensemen should take away the pass and allow the shot because a pass from the forehand is quick and accurate and has a high probability of success. Additionally, the outside position of the shot reduces the net opening and makes it easier for the goalie to make a save.

In the other case, when the puck carrier is on their backhand, defensemen should take away the shot and force the pass. Defensemen should take away the shot because the inside shot of the puck carrier is more threatening and more difficult for the goalie to save due to the larger net opening. Defensemen can take advantage of the fact that the puck carrier must make a backhand pass by forcing a pass with a lower probability of success. If the puck carrier tries to move the puck to their forehand to make the pass, it’s a great opportunity for a poke check since this is a slow, predictable play.

Advanced

Now, as is usually the case, there are exceptions to every rule. It gets more difficult when you consider the relative skill of the attacking players. This is a difficult concept to grasp since it means the player must get to know each of the players of the opposing team and understand their strengths and weaknesses. That is why this is an advanced method and should only be put into practice by higher level players.

Defenders should not allow the other team’s top scorer to be shooting in this position, it is preferable to let less skilled players shoot. Just think about it, who would you rather give a chance to score, Sydney Crosby or Brian Boyle? I don’t think anyone would pick Sydney Crosby.

Because of this, there are a few additional rules to apply:

  1. If a top scorer has the puck and the second man is a 3rd liner, force the pass to prevent a scoring chance from the top scorer.
  2. If there is a situation where a 3rd liner has the puck and the second man is a top scorer, prevent the pass and allow the shot. Generally in these situations, the 3rd liner will be looking to pass the puck to the top scorer and will often force a pass that is not there. Defensemen can take advantage of that and position themselves to cover the top scorer and intercept the pass.

Putting all of this together, there are four situations and two possible courses of action for a defenseman:

  1. If the puck carrier is a top scorer and the second man is a 3rd liner, take away the shot and force the pass
  2. If the puck carrier is a 3rd liner and the second man is a top scorer, take away the pass and force the shot
  3. If the puck carrier and second man are of equal skill, and the puck carrier is on their forehand, take away the pass and force the shot
  4. If the puck carrier and second man are of equal skill, and the puck carrier is on their backhand, take away the shot and force the pass

Conclusion

Any defenseman who puts these simple rules into action will see an improvement in their success rate at defending 2 on 1’s simply because the scoring chance was minimized as much as possible. It will take some practice to make these reads on the fly but it will certainly be worth it. Remember that preventing a goal is just as valuable as scoring one.

One Play Defensemen Must Use To Their Advantage But Rarely Do

Have you ever heard that the goal post is a goalie’s best friend? Well if that is true, the blue line must be a defenseman’s best friend. Yes, it has tripped me countless times, but as a defenseman I still consider it my best friend. When I was young, coaches always told me to take my man at the blue line, but I wasn’t told even one time why I was supposed to do that. Since I didn’t know why it was so important, all I could think about was how that meant I couldn’t recover if I made a mistake. I pictured myself missing and the puck carrier going around me for a breakaway.

breakaway

Something like this…

My coaches were 100% right, but since I didn’t know why I should take my man at the blue line, and all I could see were the risks, I didn’t follow their instruction. I don’t think it’s their fault, my guess is that they themselves didn’t really know why, that’s just what they were taught to say. So now is the time to shed light on why it’s so important, and hopefully prevent some young players today from ignoring it just like I did. This single action can prevent goals and even generate offense if done well, it could be one of the most important skills a defenseman can develop.

There is one simple rule which is the foundation for why the blue line matters so much. In the NHL rulebook, it is Rule 83 (the Offside rule). The Offside rule is long but can be reduced down to one sentence, “Players of the attacking team must not precede the puck into the attacking zone.” In other words, the puck must cross the blue line into the offensive zone before any member of the attacking team.

To demonstrate why this is important, let’s consider a 3 on 2 rush with a late back checker trying to make it 3 on 3 (see sketch below).

3 on 2 with backchecker

Classic 3 on 2

If the strong side defenseman makes a move on the puck carrier right before the blue line, the puck carrier has to make a countermove to avoid the defenseman’s check. With that single countermove, the other 2 attackers in the 3 on 2 either:

  1. Continue skating and go offside, or
  2. Slow down or change directions in order to avoid the offside

In the first case, the threat of the 3 on 2 is over with an offside call, followed by a faceoff with a 50% chance to get the puck back. In the other case, the reduced speed or longer route of the attacker has allowed the back checker to catch up and make it a 3 on 3 which significantly improves the chances of preventing a goal.

Now, if the defenseman can strip the puck from the puck carrier at the blue line, he/she is poised to make a quick transition to offense. If the defenseman can get possession and make a quick pass up to a forward, it will result in an odd man rush the other way and a quality scoring chance.

One important thing to note is that the defenseman doesn’t need to initiate contact at the blue line, he/she just has to make a move to force the puck carrier to make a move. In fact, it is not a good idea to go for a big body check in this scenario. The three best methods to force a move by the puck carrier in this case are tightening the gap, poke check, and fake poke check. Any of these methods will work and will maintain solid defensive positioning for the defenseman.

There you have it, the real reason defensemen should take their man at the blue line. A critical skill that when applied, will make the player much more effective both defensively and offensively. Be sure to check back soon for the next post where I will debunk the myth that the defenseman should always take away the pass on a 2 on 1. Please leave me a comment and tell me if there are any other reasons you think the defenseman should take the man at the blue line.