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Reading Pressure and Options

Reading Pressure and Options

Excerpt From: Hockey Plays and Strategies

When a defenseman picks up the puck to initiate a breakout, he could be faced with three different situations. In the first, there is no forechecking pressure; in the second, the forechecker is 6 feet (1.8m) or more away; and in the third, the forechecker is right on the defenseman’s back.

In most situations the defenseman has mere seconds to make a play, so it is often important to “buy time.” To do this effectively you have to fake one way by looking at that option with your eyes while putting the puck in a passing position. The forechecker will often bite on this fake pass, or look-away, and turn his feet in that direction, which will give the defenseman more time to make a play. The art of deception is a skill that must be practiced; once mastered, it provides defensemen with both extra time in a critical area and less chance of being hit.

The following three examples for defensemen all deal with varying forechecking pressure that happens after a dump-in by the other team; after a rebound off of a shot; after an intercepted pass; or when a player takes the puck away from the opposition.

  1. No forechcking pressure. In this situation the defenseman is concerned about getting back quickly, collecting the puck and turning up ice. Check your shoulder as you go back for the puck to read your options. Goaltenders should communicate options to the defenseman retrieving the puck. Simply using a verbal cue such as “time” is enough to let the player know he has an opportunity to look up and turn the puck up ice without having to protect it from pressure. Specific communication calls are critical to successful breakouts because the player retrieving the puck is focused on getting the puck and has limited opportunity to read the other team. His teammates, while moving to support the breakout, have a chance to read the opponent’s forechecking pressure. When turning the puck up ice, get your feet moving right away while at the same time keeping the puck at your side in a position to pass. If there are no options, then put the puck out in front of you and jump up ice.
  2. Close forechecking pressure. When the forechecker is 6 feet (1.8m) or more away, the defenseman should go back for the puck under control while checking both shoulders to read the forecheck and also the passing options available. This is an important routine to do regardless of the checking pressure. As you get close to the puck, square your feet, glide and then fake one way and go the other. This will shake the forechecker and give you time to escape or make a quick play. The fake doesn’t have to be complicated, just a slight movement one way with your stick or shoulder while tight turning to the other side. Take three quick strides in order to separate from the forechecker, and then make a pass or continue skating.
  3. Quick, hard forechecking pressure. In this situation the forechecker is right on the defenseman, and it looks as if the defenseman will get hit. When going back for the puck, check both shoulders and then slow down as you approach the puck. Your first priority is to protect the puck while at the same time leaning back against the forechecker to gain control over that player. Absorb his momentum, and either spin away with the puck or rebound off the boards in a position to make a play. Never expose the puck; stay on the defensive side and protect it  until you can make a play.

Continue Reading: Reacting to Support the Breakout

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