Defensemens duties and positioning in the defensive zone
As a defenseman, these are the zones you need to know about. In this situation we will assume the puck is in the right corner left corner in the picture, but right corner of the rink for the defensive team The check zone is the area within 5 feet of the puck carrier, usually the defense plays in this zone.
The support zone is about 5 — 15 feet from the puck carrier, usually the center stays in the support position. When the puck goes into the corner, the defenseman responsible for that side should be the first on the puck.
You need to get your feet moving fast and win puck races. If you can beat the other team to the puck and win possession you can start a breakout.
The hit zone suggests you are going to hit the player, but a check is not a hit. A check refers to angling, lifting a stick, poking the puck, pushing and contacting the player without throwing a full on body check. Keep your stance low and wide, get in the corner, lift sticks and tie up the puck carrier. Below is a rule you should memorize. Good containment can lead to pressure. Some coaches may prefer to always pressure, but this usually only works when everyone on your team can skate and check, and they all understand and play a system.
Pressure — This is when you leap into action in an attempt to get the puck. You have to think and act fast to decide when the right time to pressure is. You can apply light pressure to players even when they are in possession, this is when you should be angling them and blocking passing lanes.
There are two good ways to angle a player, you can angle them into a low percentage scoring zone or to their backhand. Most players are weaker on their backhand, so if you force them along the boards to only be able to make a pass out on their backhand, you increase the chance of them losing the puck or making a bad pass. The last scenario when you can pressure hard is if the puck carrier loses the puck. Act quickly, tie up their stick, get good body position, and then grab the puck.
The defense will sometimes find themselves in this zone. When in support you have two jobs, help out if needed in the corner AND have your head on a swivel to cover a player if needed. This means their team has the puck and is looking to make a play, so you need to know where the open player is the one your centermen normally covers so you can stop a pass out to them.
You can rotate from the support zone into the hit zone — Your position is not set in stone. A good team knows when to swap spots. This is probably the most important zone for the defense. Just outside of this zone is the high percentage scoring area.
In the high percentage scoring area we want to always outnumber the opponent. I have two simple rules for defensemen in front of the net. I see defensemen get pulled into the corner and unaware of an opponent that is now wide open in front of the net. With your head on a swivel you will recognize this threat, and stay assigned to your 1 role, protect the front of the net.
My second rule is to keep the other teams sticks off the ice. This rule is in place because many times a loose puck is bouncing around and both players go for it.
If the forward on the other team gets to the puck first it could be in the back of the net, however if the defense plays the body and lifts the stick, he takes away the scoring opportunity. Breaking out of the defensive zone happens when your team regains possession of the puck and exits the defensive zone. Typically puck recovery happens deep in the defensive zone which leaves the defense in charge of initiating the breakout.
The biggest things to remember on the breakout are to make a hard and accurate first pass, support your defensive partner, and stay in good defensive position if the breakout fails. The main types of breakouts are the rim, reverse, up, wheel, and over. For more details on the breakout and these formations you can read my article the 5 breakouts every hockey player should know. The offensive zone is pretty simple.
Keep the puck in, keep the other team from breaking out, and put the puck on the net. It is very important to play in tandem with your defensive partner in the offensive zone. If you are not moving together it opens up kinks in the armour, and can allow for some odd numbered rushes for the other team 2 on 1, 3 on 1, or GASP a breakaway.
In addition to better defense, moving in tandem with your defenesive partner allows for more scoring opportunities and better D to D passes. You can see that in the first three diagrams the defense moves together, and fairly evenly spaced. Anywhere above this green line the defense generally has free roam. The positioning of the letters are not exact this is a general position and it can vary depending on the situation.
You need to move to the center of the ice and retreat a little so you will be in a good position if the pinch does not work. Depending on the situation you may need to retreat out past the blue line in order to prevent a breakaway and keep it a 2 on 1. You can use anything to keep the puck in. The best way to stop a puck that is coming up the boards is to form a complete seal with your skate, legs, and backside, stop the puck, then play it with your stick.
If the other team gains clear possession of the puck, and is moving out of the zone with multiple passing options — retreat. As a defenseman your bread and butter is the slapshot, one-timer and wristshot.
Typically you want the puck hard and low to make it through traffic. Your best scoring chances will come closer to the center, and closer to the net.
Take a few strides in if you can for a better scoring chance. Some defensemen get the puck off the boards and then instantly shoot it.
When you get the puck at least take a stride off the boards before getting your shot off. It allows you to evaluate a pass, get some momentum, and get into a better shooting position. They show a heat map of shots and goals.
I made one for regular strength, and one for the power play. You may be surprised to see shots from a defensemen all over the ice, but we do see some trends here. This gives you a general idea as to where defensemen spend most of their time, but what about all the other spots? I have four comments about that. The enemy is advancing, what should you do? A regroup happens when your team recovers the puck in the neutral zone, regroups, and then initiates the attack.
This can happen after intercepting a pass, taking the puck off the opposing team, or winning a foot race to the puck after a clearing attempt.
For a good regroup a defenseman should have good heads up awareness and be aware of his team mates on the ice. Using a D to D pass to initiate a regroup helps open up some ice, rather than trying to make a pass from the strong side where the other team has established their checks. Being able to skate backwards with your head up while handing the puck is a crucial skill to have for a successful regroup.
The difference between a regroup and a counter is the time it takes to move the puck up ice again. A counter attack happens very quickly and can result in more scoring chances. A regroup takes more time and requires the team to set up. The faster you can move the puck up ice, the better chance you have to catch the other team by surprise and get a good scoring chance. The defense play a very important role on the faceoff. In closing, as a defenseman you will be watching plays unfold, and controlling the flow of the game.
You will direct and influence the other team when they have possession, and help your team initiate offense. You will battle hard, skate well, and communicate well with your team mates and defensive partner. Many defensemen enjoy stopping a player on the other team from scoring, just as much as a forward enjoys putting one in the net. If I missed anything or you have questions please let me know in the comments below.
This is a live article so I will come back and tweak it from time to time based on suggestions and comments. Thanks for reading and sharing. Excellent article, saved as a bookmark on my pc. I read this weekly before my game as I am only starting out.
Great simple break down. I love everything except the very first sentence. Can you expand on defensive positioning. Things like blade on blade, and stopping the pass? Chances are that the strong side defenseman was pressuring hard when the puck was in the corner and in an aggressive frenzy, continues to chase the puck up the wall. The ability to think in terms of quadrants and understand pressure, versus support responsibilities is the key to all defensive zone success.
Watching the opposing forward walk toward the hash marks and then deciding to get back to the defensive side of the puck is too late. The minute the forward has control of the puck and any carrying momentum, the strong side D needs to get a jump toward the faceoff dot. The second largest defensive breakdown happens when the weak side defenseman is late getting to the new strong side corner as the puck is carried or rimmed around. If the weak side keeps things simple to staying on the D side of the forward in front with stick under stick to lift at the right time, there will be more awareness of what the puck is actually doing, allowing the D to get a jump when the puck switches corners.
Most D become too preoccupied with physically tangling up with the forward in front that all their attention is wasted on a player who is not yet a threat. Communication and reassurance from the strong side D partner that it is ok to leave the front of the net and pounce on the far corner helps the weak side D feel more confident on any proactive decision making.
The best proactive decision a D can learn to make in the D zone is to anticipate when their team is about to lose possession and turn over the puck. Doing a great job to regain possession of the puck and move it north is important, but meaningless if the D is overzealous to join what appears to be the start of a successful rush.
Both defensemen need to be sensitive to the forecheck pressure and probability of an accidental turnover. When outnumbered in front, a defenseman needs to be vocal and call for backup.
Get the winger to collapse low and help out to even out the playing field around the crease.