Sometimes as hockey players and coaches we ‘think too much.’ We over complicate the game in our heads, and doubt our decision making abilities. Here are 3 simple ways to become a great hockey defenseman. I wrote this original post in late 2013. It has been one of our most read posts. Worth dusting it off again today. Updated February 8, 2017. For the record, writing these posts without gender specificity requires a skill that can be tough to master. By ‘he’ I mean any defender:)
1) A defenseman should: stay between your man and your own net.
This is commonly referred to as goal side, or defensive side positioning. This is such a simple concept, yet the temptation to cheat on plays, or getting caught flat footed often leaves a defenseman beat. Anticipate the direction and speed of the player you are covering, take away the middle of the ice, momentarily give him the outside, then use timing and angling skills to keep your body between him and your net. As long as he still has to get through you, he hasn’t beaten you. The exception to this rule is the modern way of ‘fronting’ your man in front of your own goalie. With recent rule changes, it can be a penalty to push and battle too hard against your opponent, so if he beats you to netfront position, you may need to step in front of him and try to control (lift/press/pin/obstrcut) his stick as the puck approaches.
2) A defenseman should: support your partner.
If your defensive partner has the puck, support him in a ‘hinged’ or ‘staggered’ position by sagging back closer to your own end. In this position a D to D pass by your partner to you is much more difficult to intercept by the opposing forecheckers. Furthermore, if he loses the puck or gets beat, you are an extra line of defense the ensuing attack still has to beat. If this is the case, now refer to point 1 above, and stay between the new attackers and your goalie.
3) A defenseman should: make good passes.
Again this seems like a simple, and overlooked concept. A defenseman that can advance the puck 10/10 times to a D partner or a supporting forward is extremely valuable to his team. Your coach will trust you in tight games, the last minute of a period, and against the opposition’s best players. 15-20 foot passes 100 times a game will put your teammates in offensive opportunities time and time again. If you have ‘white ice’ ahead of you, ie ‘time and space,’ skate the puck, but move it ‘before you get in trouble,’ not ‘once trouble has arrived.’
In Junior, my former coach Gary Davidson, now GM of the Everett Silvertips, used to tell us, “Make 4 tape to tape passes in a row and we will be in a scoring position.” I pass this motto on to players now, and it is true. 1. D to D, 2. D to Winger, 3. Winger to Center through the neutral zone, 4. Center to anyone upon offensive zone entry, and bingo, shot on goal. Notice it started with a defenseman making one pass.
This post was inspired by a trip to watch 2 former players compete against one another in a Western League matchup between the Seattle Thunderbirds and Vancouver Giants. Jerret Smith, our former academy student, executed steps 1, 2, and 3 time and again last night, and found himself being rewarded with about 20 minutes of ice time for it. (Post Update 2017: Jarret now plays at the University of British Columbia. How time flies).
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