As a hockey coach and a player I am always trying to become smarter, better, and faster. What some players don’t realize is that by knowing your position and knowing your plays you will become a “faster” player. A positionally sound hockey player could be physically slower than every player on the ice, but by being in the right spot and making the right plays he could still have an advantage over the fastest player on the ice.
Recently I have been reading the book Hockey plays and strategies (Amazon.ca link for Canadians) by Ryan Walter and Mike Johnston and I have found a lot of great plays, strategies and tactics that are important for any hockey player to know. The trick with putting these plays into practice is having your other team mates on the same page as you, so in this article I am going to go over 5 breakout plays, how to perform them, and the best time to use each one. These plays are started by the defensive partners, so as long as you and your defensive partners know the plays you should have no problem initiating a decent breakout. These plays are crucial for a good breakout!
Knowing these 5 breakouts should give you an option in every situation you face on the ice, no more giving the puck away over and over until the other team scores!
5 Easy Breakout Strategies
These strategies are explained in the book Hockey plays and Strategies by Ryan Walter and Mike Johnston, I have re-drawn the diagrams as shown in the book and explained the breakouts in a similar fashion as they were printed in the book.
Up – Hockey Breakout
In this breakout D1 is moving for the puck and D2 has an eye on the play. D2 will call “UP” to D1 letting him know that the best play is to turn up the strong side of the ice and pass the puck to the winger on the boards (LW). If the winger is tied up while D1 is moving with the puck the centermen is there for support and D1 can also make the pass to C.
The best time to use this breakout is when the other team has players near the net, or behind the net (or moving to that zone) and the best option is to move the puck right away up the strong side of the ice.
C is there for support (another option for D1) and RW will move across the ice to provide support once LW get’s the puck.
OVER – Hockey Breakout
In this situation D1 has moved to pick up the puck, while D2 is reading the other teams position. D2 recognizes that the other team has flooded one side of the ice so he calls “OVER” to D1. This tells D1 that the best play is to pass the puck behind the net to D2 (A direct pass is ideal, but a bank pass can be made as well)
Caution: In this play it is important that D1 makes the pass quickly to D2, some players may try to skate with the puck towards D2 before making the pass, however this would carry the pressure over to D2’s side and could result in a turnover.
The best time to use this breakout is when the other team has flooded D1’s side of the ice and D2 can quickly move to get a pass behind the net.
WHEEL – Hockey Breakout
In this situation D1 is moving for the puck (or has the puck) and he has a step on the forechecker. D2 yells “WHEEL” to tell D1 to skate with the puck around the net. D2 should stay in position as a “pick” so that the forechecker can not easily cut across the top of the crease and check D1 on the other side. D1 should use the net as a screen by cutting close to net while skating behind it (not giving the forechecker room to check him, or get a step). D2 holds position in front of the net until D1 makes a pass, or skates the puck up ice. RW provides an option for a pass, C supports low giving D1 another option for a pass, LW moves across the ice.
The best time to use this breakout is when D1 has some speed, and the other team does not have pressure down low.
Reverse – Hockey Breakout
The Reverse is a good “plan-b” for the WHEEL breakout. In this situation D1 has started to skate the puck behind then net, however their is a forechecker right behind him and checking hard. D2 yells “REVERSE” signalling D1 to bank the puck hard off the boards (and behind the forechecker) to D2
C gives support by moving with D1, and then back low through the slot after the reverse pass is made, LW moves inside initially (anticipating the pass to RW) but then moves back to the boards when the reverse pass is made to receive a breakout pass, RW moves to prepare for the UP pass, however when the reverse pass is made he moves across the ice to support the breakout.
D2 can pass to LW or C
The best time to use this breakout is when D1 initiates a WHEEL breakout, but cannot complete it due to a quick forechecker right on his tail.
RIM – Hockey Breakout
The RIM breakout is used when the other team is forechecking hard and the best option is to send the puck hard around the boards to the winger. D1 gets the puck and quickly rims it around the boards to RW. C supports from underneath while LW moves across the ice to support.
“Against teams who pinch down with their defense on rimmed pucks, the wingers who receive the rim must be able to protect the puck, control it, and then move it to support. In this situation, RW must be able to control the puck and make a play, skate with the puck, or chip it behind the pinching defenseman. As mentioned earlier, the ability to get pucks off the boards under pressure is a skill that also involves a component of toughness” – Ryan Walter & Mike Johnston
Caution: D1 and D2 need to be on the same page here so either D1 or D2 should call “RIM” otherwise either defencemen could confuse the breakout with the OVER play.
Jeremy’s note: As a coach I prefer to see direct passes, many newer players will ALWAYS rim the puck as it is the easiest way to send it up the ice. Usually it’s laziness so I try to encourage my players to make smart plays and direct passes, although as mentioned in the book, sometimes the RIM breakout could be the best play.
If you learned anything from these breakouts I highly recommend picking up the book, I have links at the top and bottom of this article.
How to start implementing these breakouts
As a coach implementing these breakouts comes down to proper practice planning, and getting all the guys on your team on the right page. You can pick up a copy of the book, photocopy pages 10,11 and 12 and hand them out to your players, and then start using them during practice. Once you have the book you can review the other 200 pages for some more great plays and strategies
As a player there is nothing more frustrating than trying to play positional hockey, only to have the other guys on your team completely out of place, or moving the puck to the wrong spot. The easiest way to start using these breakouts would be for the defensemen to start talking and discussing the 5 different breakouts while on the bench. Try using 1 or 2 each game so you can eventually commit them all to memory. Once you and your partner knows the 5 different calls you can start yelling them out when the time is right during the games. Most of the work for the breakouts is done by D1 and D2 so start by getting your defensive partner on board, and then work on the forwards, most wingers should know where to be anyways.
Quick Tips For Breaking Out
Take a look before you get the puck so you know where your players are
Don’t make blind passes
Don’t pass the puck through the middle (unless you are 1000% sure, and even then be double sure)
Make plays quickly – hesitating gives the other team time to read your play and break it up
Make direct passes – get your head up, look where you are passing, and send it hard
Communicate (especially defensemen), call out the plays described above
Play your positions! – This is especially true for the wingers, if you are down near the goal line when the defence get the puck they will have no one to pass too!
If you have the puck and it doesn’t look like you have any options for passing, put the puck high off the glass to get it out of your zone
Keep your feet moving and your head up (Don’t stand still) – The play is always moving and you should be too, keep your feet moving and your head up so you can read and react to the play at any time
Give your player a target – This is a good one for wingers, when you are breaking out put the blade of your stick where the defense can see it (as shown in the picture, he doesn’t have his stick on his shooting side, or in front, he’s moved it to the right side to receive a pass). By showing them your blade you are giving them a target and letting them know you are ready for the pass.
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When dealing with a 2 on 1 a defensemen must remember several key points.
Your goalies skill and preference
As a player you should know your goalies ability. If your goalie is confident and easily stops shots coming from an angle, this will help you know how to play to 2 on 1 . You should work with your goaltender by watching and talking with them to form a good relationship with them. Remember the goalie is your best friend.
Hand of the player coming down on you
If you have a 2 on 1 then chances are you will have a few seconds to take a breath and prepare. Always watch what hand (which way they shoot) the two players are that are coming down on you- if a right handed players is coming on the left side he will be trying to cut in or make a pass 90 percent of the time. Vice versa if a right handed is coming in on his forehand then there is a lower probability for a pass. And if a pass comes it will be crisp and off the ice.
Always keep yourself between the players and never commit early
The biggest mistake a defensemen can make is to commit to a 2 on 1 at the blue line or even top of the circle. You have to draw the opposing players as close as you can before attempting any play. If the offensive players get a shot from above the hash marks they have a better chance to score. You want to try to make them play or shoot within 8 feet of the net. This creates a sense of panic and urgency in both the passing plays and the shooting, usually causing more mistakes.
Now to deal with most two on ones…
The main focus will be the most common two on one. A break out by the other team and a messy pinch by your defensive partner, this leaves you in the middle of the ice at the red line facing a breaking winger and center. At this point you must take several seconds and assess the players coming down. Check which way they shoot, an easy way is to use your peripherals. You will have a few seconds before the offensive players start to connect so do a quick glance at the player without the puck. Do this carefully and quickly as it only takes a few seconds for a good forward to notice and they will blitz by you or pass it off. Keep yourself between the two players and keep your attention on the puck carrier use quick glances and your peripherals to always have a eye on the person without the puck but make sure to focus on the puck carrier.
Now this is where we branch off. Some coaches will teach you to take the person without the puck every time and allow your goalie to take the shot this effectively gives them a breakaway if done improperly, but if executed perfectly it creates an easy away to dissolve any two on one.
When doing this it is important to remember the key points. NEVER do it to early and know which way the offensive player shoots. If a right winger is coming down on the left side he will try to get a pass or attempt to stay as far out as he can to get a better angle for a shot.. This is because his shot angles are greatly reduced if he is not hugging the boards. Use this to your advantage the farther out he goes the greater the distance for a pass. Start pressing him to stay out near the boards until you are 10 to 15ft form the net then you take the passer and if your goalie is properly positioned scoring from that angle will be difficult.
Another way and one I always will recommend is to stay between the players till the end. You will see a demonstration in the video sections and I recommend watching it before proceeding. This is extremely difficult as you must have a high hand eye coordination as well as the ability to use your feet but if you can do it properly it is a great tool.
This play only works if you believe a pass will be coming. Stay between the two players as you normally would now at the 15ft mark drop to a knee keeping you stick about an inch above the ice and cutting off almost the entire passing area. This is where it gets tricky and sounds silly. Make sure you leave your back leg that is on the ice tucked in ever so slightly; this will leave what looks like an easy passing lane. Most forwards will take the bait as they will want to make it look pretty.
Now that the trap is set you only have to close it. As your leg is dropped and you are heading to the net start angling towards the puck carrier this will increase the likely hood of him using the pass. Now all that’s left is to time your strike. When you see him about to pass stick your back leg out and use a sweeping motion. This will stop any puck up to 5 inches off the ice and if done properly will cause the puck to be completely removed from harms way. Another neat part of this is that if the passer cuts in and the puck carrier tries to drop a pass back you can attempt to stop the puck with you stick and if that doesn’t work you are in perfect position to sprawl down and go for a block shot. Now it sounds like a lot but once you get the perfect angles you will love it.
Also this play can be preformed skating forwards. If you had to pivot to keep up with the offensive rush then simply do the same play, drop the knee and leave the back bass wide open. When the forward bites sweep the leg and close the pass. Just remember this is risky and you should try perfecting it in practice before attempting it in a game.
Being a great defensemen isn’t about the hits or the shots its about being the entire package. When I was on the ice I knew what was going on in both my own players heads and my opponents. I had the tools and I used them all with great success. In this article I will try to show you a few easy skills, and a few difficult skills that can greatly increase your ability to play defense and love of the game.
Defense is typically for the grinders and fighters, guys who want the big hits and the big shots. But there will always be 2 or 3 defensemen on every team who play for the true meaning of the position. The purpose of defense is to stop anything and everything from getting remotely close to the net and to be able to set up and assist their forwards.
Big hits are part of playing defense, however I have seen the following scenario too many times. The defensemen will pinch for the big hit to make everyone cheer only to see a two, and sometimes three on one result immediately afterwards. Big hits are a part of the game and give both the fans and players something to talk about but always remember your main job as a defense. Stop the players, stop the pucks.
Hockey Defense Tips and tricks
Keep your Head on a swivel
I have always been taught and trained to keep my head on a swivel. This means that when there is a play going on the offensive end behind the net I am not transfixed I am watching where my players are, and what the defensive team is doing.
Using Your feet in Hockey
Too many players only use the stick as their tools. I consider myself to have three sticks on the ice at all times. You can hold a puck between your feet easier then any stick and they are great tools to stop even the most complex deke. This is one skill you should always master.
Keep your stick on the ice
Don cherry (and Red Green!) said it so it’s got to be true. In all honesty your stick does no good when it’s not on the ice. It’s like taking the sword away from the night or the guns away from the soldier.
Know Your goalie
A goalie is a defensemen’s best friend and to be the best at your job you need to know their weaknesses and strengths. If your goalie has an amazing glove but and atrocious blocker your going to want to try to keep shots to the glove side and if all possible block any chances for a blocker side shot.
A defensemen must also be talking to their goalies at all times. If they can’t see they’ll tell you, if the see a play being set up make sure they yell at you it will allow you to be one step ahead. Also ask a goalie about the breakouts they are always watching the game and half the time they aren’t in the action and can pick up on certain plays the other team might be trying which will give you a chance to intercept and stop them.
Your defensive partner
Just like the goalie you must know your partner and their style. I remember playing with one defensemen that, for the life of him could not keep a puck in the offensive end. I would always be 5 to six feet off the blue line whenever he got the puck in preparation for a 2 or 3 on 1 and it helped my team more times then I could count. I also remember having a partner that I could rely on completely, he would always make the plays and if I ever got caught he would back me up. This knowledge of the partner’s should always affect how you approach the puck in any situation.
Keep your eyes on the body
Never allow a forward to mesmerize you with a puck, focus on an x right between their shoulders. If you look at players eyes or at the puck your will be beaten. Remember to use your peripherals, their great tools to get a quick poke check when the forwards doesn’t expect it
The glass – Here is a neat tip, when I am retrieving a puck from a dump in or on the power play I always look into the glass to see who’s behind me. Ninety percent of the arenas I have been in have a great reflection and you can see your forwards setting up and even their forwards trying to rush you. Doing this allows you to have a advantage and will create a lot of great passing opportunities.
Always Play smart
Here is a well known fact, most forwards don’t enjoy scoring garbage goals. They want the pretty passes and magic plays so that they can talk about them with their friends. Use this to your advantage. A key tool for a defenseman is to be able to give that perfect passing lane to the forwards only to shut it down the minute they try to use it.
I hope you enjoyed this article about defense in hockey. Defensive hockey is very important to learn at any stage in a hockey players life. Practicing alone is not enough to improve your game, you must study the game and learn the proper techniques before you can utilize them on the ice.