3 simple ways to up your D game and play great hockey defense
By Nathan Leslie, MA
1) A defenseman should stay between their man and their own net
This is commonly referred to as goal-side or defensive-side positioning. It is such a simple concept, yet the temptation to cheat on plays or get caught flat footed often leaves a defenseman beat.
Great hockey defense requires that you anticipate the direction and speed of the player you are covering. Take away the middle of the ice, momentarily give him/her the outside, and then use timing and angling skills to keep your body between them and your net. As long as they still have to get through you, they haven’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 they beat you to net-front position, you may need to step in front of them and try to control (lift/press/pin/obstruct) their stick as the puck approaches.
2) For good hockey defense, a defenseman should support their partner
If your defensive partner has the puck, support them in a ‘hinged’ or ‘staggered’ position by dropping back closer to your own end. In this position, a D-to-D pass from your partner to you is much more difficult to intercept by the opposing forecheckers. Further, if he/she loses the puck or gets beat, you become an extra line of defense the ensuing attack still has to beat. If this is the case, refer to point 1 above and stay between the new attackers and your goalie.
3) A defenseman should make good passes
Again, this is a simple yet often overlooked concept. A defenseman that can advance the puck 10 out of 10 times to a D partner or supporting forward is extremely valuable to his/her team. You will be trusted to perform in tight games, the last minute of a period, and against the opposition’s best players. Fifteen- to 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—i.e., time and space—skate with the puck but move it before you get in trouble, not once trouble has arrived.
While playing Junior hockey, Gary Davidson, my former coach and 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 these hockey defense words of wisdom on to players now, as it is so true:
- D to D
- D to Winger
- Winger to Center through the neutral zone
- Center to anyone upon offensive zone entry and—bingo!—shot on goal. (Notice it started with a defenseman making one pass.)
Author’s note: This post was inspired by watching two of my 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 during that game and found himself rewarded with about 20 minutes of ice time for it.
Nate Leslie played 7 years of professional hockey in Europe, including the Swiss National A League. He is the owner of Leslie Global Sports and director of the West Coast Hockey Prep Camp. Leslie has helped develop countless young hockey players, and this year alone he will oversee the training of some 1,500 players. He lives in Vancouver with his wife and 2 children. For more information visit his website at www.howtoplayhockey.ca.