Last month we debunked the notorious “Cover Your Point Fallacy”, providing cover for wingers who were being hounded by their teammates to stand next to the attacking team’s defensemen at the points in their defensive zone. This month, our article will again focus primarily on the wingers (and the center), only this time at the other end of the ice. Or more precisely, anywhere outside of the D zone.
As a winger, have you ever been told (while in the offensive zone) to “get to ‘your side’ of the ice” by one of your teammates? What your teammate is saying is: you’re the right wing, so get to the right side of the ice, and as the logic follows, the left winger on the left side of the ice, and the center in the middle. I don’t know where this one started. Maybe Jack Adams coached the forwards of the 1927-28 Detroit Cougars to play like this? Or maybe it has its roots from when we played rod hockey (AKA table hockey) as kids. I know, I’m giving away my age. For those of you that don’t know what I’m talking about because the only hockey game you played as a kid was on a video screen, see the photo at right. But if we used old rod hockey games as the guide for positioning, then the forwards would never come back to the defensive zone! Hey wait a minute…maybe we’re on to something. Is that why my teammates never backcheck?
Seriously, this is not how the game is played. And while we’re debunking sports myths, let me also point out that soccer players don’t spin about a chrome rod running through their hips.
F1, F2, F3 on Offense
OK, so you’re saying I don’t have to stay on my side of the ice AND I don’t have to pirouette around a steel rod? That’s great. So exactly what should I be doing? Where should I be as the left wing, the right wing, or the center? Well first off, let’s be clear that in this article we are talking about when we are on offense. When we are under attack in our defensive zone, most coaches would advocate that you do maintain your side of the ice. But here we are going to focus on when we are on offense, and more specifically after we have broken out of our zone. Once we are rushing the puck up the ice, and/or set up and attacking in the offensive zone, the forwards should no longer think of themselves as left wing, right wing and center. Rather they should be F1, F2 and F3. In other words, you are free to go wherever it makes the most sense to be.
I know you’re still asking yourself, so where should I be? The answer to that question can vary widely, and a full discussion is beyond the scope of this article. (We do offer a chalk talk at camp that explores this topic in greater depth.) But there are some concepts that are pretty universal that I would like to discuss.
1) Go to the Net – After all, that’s where the goals are scored. If we call the forward that crosses the blue line with the puck F1, then F2 would be the second forward into the offensive zone. An effective tactic is to have F2 drive hard to the net (likely forcing at least one D-man to follow), and F3 (3rd forward into the zone) to fill in somewhere in the high slot (area between the face-off circles). Of course all of this depends upon what F1 is doing. Is he taking the puck to the net? Taking it wide? Maybe he turned and delayed?
2) Support Your Teammates – This is huge, and I would argue the most important concept of all. You want to be in a position to help your teammates. While this may seem obvious, it’s not as easy as it sounds. So here are some things to consider:
a) Make yourself available for a pass! This seems like common sense, but is also not as easy as it sounds. Some guys stand in front of the net, and yell at their teammate to pass it to them. But they might be covered, sometimes by a guy they don’t see that is right behind them. If so, you’re not really available. Or maybe you’re not covered, but there are 2 or 3 defenders’ sticks between you and your teammate with the puck. In this case, you may be open, but you’re still not really available. Do you really think you’re teammate can thread the needle with a saucer pass through all those sticks? Probably not on his best day with all the time in the world. Chances are he is under pressure from one or more defenders, so the key is to be in position to be an easy passing option.
b) Keep moving to open space. Don’t stand still, as it’s highly unlikely you’re going to be open and available in one spot for very long. So keep moving, looking for “soft areas”, which are little open areas of the ice without defenders. Of course, you would love to find an open area where your teammate can feed you a pass for a scoring opportunity. But failing that, be a relief valve. Go to an area that he can pass you the puck, and then you can keep moving it around until you find an opportunity to attack the goal.
c) Talk – The pros do it constantly, and these are guys that skate with their head up. It’s even more important when you’re playing at a level when most every puck carrier skates with his head down. The vast majority of adult league players do not communicate well with their teammates. You will be amazed how much a little communication will improve your team’s ability to move the puck and generate scoring opportunities.
Notice I have not said anything about which side of the ice you need to be on. Once you break out across your own blue line, don’t think of yourself as a left wing, or a right wing or a center. You are now 3 forwards moving up the ice, and you will go wherever you need to go to create an opportunity for your team to score. Why make it easier for the defense by each player sticking to one particular area of the ice? As a defender, I would love it if I knew the left winger was always going to stay on the left side. It makes my job easier.
Speaking of defensemen, I don’t want to completely leave them out of this discussion of offense. After all, when our team has the puck, we are all on offense. And there’s nothing in the rule book that says a defenseman has to stay out at the point in the offensive zone. In fact, the concepts above can apply to them as well, such that all 5 skaters are moving around the offensive zone trying to create scoring opportunities. The one obvious caveat is that if a defenseman moves up, then one of the forwards needs to drop back and cover for him, to prevent a breakaway in the other direction. This requires good communication and awareness. But when all 5 skaters are involved in the offense, you not only have more fun, but you give yourselves an even better chance of scoring.
So be creative. And by creative, I don’t mean dreaming up and diagramming plays. This is not football where we start a new play, it lasts 5-7 seconds, and then we hold a conference to talk about our next play. Hockey is a very fast moving game, and a big part of what makes it so fun is this dynamic nature. So follow the concepts I have outlined above, and even if your individual skills have plateaued, you will find that you are having more fun playing the game. This is because your team is passing more, creating more opportunities, and scoring more goals. In short, you’re playing hockey! And what is more fun than that?
I hope this article helps you become a better offensive hockey player, and simultaneously puts to rest the notion that players must stick to one area of the ice like a 2 dimensional figure in a 1970’s rod hockey game. I also hope you’ll come to camp where we will not only explore topics like this in even greater detail, but spend an entire weekend improving your skating, your hockey skills and your overall understanding of the game in an adult atmosphere filled with fun and camaraderie.