Observations From the Rink: It All Starts In Your Own Zone

With the game evolving and the emphasis on individual skill and offensive powerless, young players these days feel pressure to score goals and pad their stats rather than playing the game the right way, a full 200ft game. The game has drastically changed for the best, but within that change the focus on offence has over shadowed a defensive mindset that had existed for decades.    

Old school meets new school, but has it gone too far? 

Let me tell you the “old school” approach still works in the game of hockey especially when you are focused on playing the game the right way. 

Fortunately the shift from the clutch and grab game is over and good riddance, but what has this “new school” approach done to the game?  

Obviously, you don’t need to clutch and grab to play good defence.

 With the game opening up coaches at every level started to shift their mindset to trapping and some people even created a 1-3-1 set to eliminate speed through the neutral zone, so this created offensive players on one side of the fence and defensive robots on the other.

Systematic Hockey vs. Individual and Team Creativity, what’s more effective, where do you want to see the game going? You can be the judge, but let me tell you from my vantage point the offensive side of the game has gone way too far.  

Players at the earliest levels forget how to angle, use their stick and body to eliminate the puck carrier. We have seen an increase in stick infractions from players that are still reluctant to play defence and the game the right way.  Is the defensive side of the game even being taught? Is there an emphasis on defensive skill development? 

Skills, skills, skills. We have to teach them puck skills, we have to teach them how to score. That’s all I hear is skills!

Have coaches totally forgotten about the defensive side of the game? Don’t get me wrong I love teaching the 1-2-2 when I coached to secure leads and take away the oppositions half boards in their zone.  Nevertheless, to trap a team all game long is just plain wrong and bad for the game.   

The art of checking and hard nose defence has translated into covering space on the ice. Are coaches these days too reliant on team defensive systems to bail the team out?  Is that what they call good defence nowadays? 

Where has the quality defensive player or team gone? I believe we have lost that aspect of the game? 

Skill, skill, skill that’s all you hear today.

What ever happened to defend. If you defend well it will lead to more offence, especially if done the right way. That’s why everything starts in your own zone. 

If you don’t know how to defend, it doesn’t matter how many traps you set, the opposition will be able to break you down and eventually have scoring chances.   It will come down to 1 on 1 battles, and if players don’t know how to defend you will have breakdowns and give up a crazy amount of goals.

The game has opened up, but coaches just can’t accept it. Trapping and clogging up the neutral zone, have become the only way we teach defence nowadays. Where have the sound defensive principles like “stick on puck” or stick on stick,” angling and the importance of body position gone?

Those principles are maybe too old school for the game today!

In my opinion, coaches have to teach the importance of the “defensive side” of the puck in all areas of the ice and how important “shooting lanes and passing lanes” are and eliminate those as well. 

Old school principles or just plain hockey fundamentals.

If a team constantly works on their “defensive zone coverage” it will cause the opposition to turn the puck over and you will generate more offence off the rush.

 If you have a strong fore check you don’t need to trap and you can eliminate their odd man rush opportunities by always keeping a player high in the oppositions zone.    

Oh, wow you can’t do that the game is so much faster, you will get beat in transition. Coaches these days are all aware of these simple, but effective defensive guidelines, but yet the time spent on defence is nominal at practices, check that it’s downright non-existent.  

How many battle drills does your child’s team work on per practise?  How many DZC (defensive zone coverage) drills do your child’s team work on per practice? How many small area games like 1v1, 2v2, 3v3 drills do your child’s team work on per practice? How many drills have resistance, pressure or game like situations in your child’s practices per week? 

I’m not criticizing coaching here, I’m just trying to bring awareness to the paradigm shift where the “new school” of thought has taken in the game today. 

What type of players is the “new school” mentality creating by allowing them only to focus on one side of the game, one side of the puck? 

From a scouting perspective, it’s evident. For the most part young talented players are too one-dimensional. Too fixated on offensive numbers to apparently care about the defensive side of things. I don’t give a rats ass about numbers or stats. Can you defend? If you are a goal scorer, you will probably score goals, but can you defend? 

Of course play to your identity, but how is that going to translate to the next level?  Can you defend? Sure, I evaluate skill and project, that’s my job, but where are you going to be at the next level if you can’t defend. Some young players in the game today couldn’t check my coat and you think they are going to have success at the next level?

Sure some teams will say, oh yeah Craig, that’s just coaching, but let’s face it, if the kid has been given free reign to play offence all of their lives do you really think they are going to be receptive to change when they get to the next level? 

I think not. They should, but they probably won’t. 

The only way that they will change is if they have tons of “buy in” and want to get better at both ends. 

“Buy in” a phrase that every coach and organization wants to hear, but are they really ready to put in the time on the player to ensure they have success at both ends of the ice?

I guess there is a demand now for players that just play a defensive role within the game and you rely on your ” Top 6″ to score. That’s the biggest misconception in hockey today and don’t get me going on role identity in Pee Wee and Bantam levels. 

“Oh we need you on the PK, you’re a bottom six guy for us.” 

Are you kidding me? 

Has the game all gone to hell? Do young talented players truly believe they don’t need to play on defensive side of the puck? I’ll be honest, I’m starting to believe they do. You only have to look at the way they backcheck or play in their own end. 

You see it all starts in own zone.

Don’t get me started on shift length either, because that plays into all of this as well. Imagine this, what a concept this might be. Just imagine having your top offensive players, seeing the ice in key defensive situations! If that is happening that’s when you know a coach has created a “team defence first” mentality.

You see every player should be exposed to those situations. To be brutally honest, I haven’t seen that at the Midget level ever since I started scouting. Let’s start teaching the defensive fundamentals to every player not just your “bottom six.” 

Bottom six in Pee Wee or Bantam, cripes, play everyone, give them a chance to develop. If that’s the case today’s coaches are doing these kids an injustice. It all starts in your own zone, everything starts in your own zone. 

Near the end of my coaching career is when the game started to open up. I inherited players that had no idea how to play defensive hockey let a lone how to play in their own zone. 

They were lost. 

They were the equivalent to offensive minded hockey playing zombies, a serious discussion and sometime on the bench would snap them out of their offensively selfish zombie like trance. I would imagine the toughest job a coach has these days is to convince a team that to score a lot of goals to defend. Maybe, I’m just to “Old School”, but seriously where’s the game going? 

I’m not convinced a one-dimensional player at the Midget level is going to embrace a defensive role at the next level. I guess they will if they want to play and not watch from the press box. Don’t believe me, ask a first year kid playing in the QMJHL, they will tell you. It’s not all offensive sunshine and rainbows.

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