Let’s discuss one of the most important skills you can perform early in the season to quickly (and consistently) help put your team on top. It’s called puck support.
Puck support is your team’s ability to maintain control of the puck while moving it into a scoring opportunity. Puck support has both individual and team components. From a team perspective, it requires a collective effort to move the puck into your offensive zone and into a scoring position. From an individual perspective, it requires each non-puck-carrying player (supporting) to provide options for the puck carrier.
To be effective in this support role, players must anticipate the puck carrier’s intentions, read the defensive pressure being applied on the puck carrier, and adjust his or her position in relation to the puck carrier. Positioning of support players with respect to the puck carrier is important because movement by all players creates an attack that is always more difficult for the opposition to cover.
Three options that each supporting player needs to work on include getting open for a pass, clearing an area to allow space for the puck carrier to skate, and supporting a shot on net. These three options require supporting players to be able to read, react, and anticipate quickly, both individually and as a team.
For a Pass
When one player has the puck, it is generally the responsibility of at least one defenseman and one forward, as supporting players, to get open for a pass. Supporting players should maneuver themselves into an open position to create options for the puck carrier, and should base their movements on the puck carrier, the defenders, and the open playing surface available. An example of poor support by a puck carrier’s teammates is shown in Figure 1 while good puck support is shown in Figure 2.
Notice in Figure 1 that all offensive support players (circled) are covered, while in Figure 2, LD and RW have moved enough to become passing options for LW and can provide the offensive team time and space to maintain puck control until a scoring opportunity is created. In tight quarters, a give-and-go play works well, providing the puck carrier has an opportunity to quickly get past a defender.
Clear the Way
The second way support players can help the puck carrier (and the team) is to maneuver so that the puck carrier has room to skate with the puck. This involves players spreading out and away from the puck carrier, creating space for that player.
If an opponent is close to the puck carrier, a supporting teammate can cross in the path of a defender (employing a legal screen or pick). This will give the puck carrier an added second or two to skate toward an open area and be able to set up a scoring opportunity. Figure 3 shows an example of a pick, set by LW on the opponent’s center (XC). This creates some open space for the offensive center (C) to skate with the puck to the outside of the defenseman and into the offensive zone.
Support the Shot
Supporting the puck carrier can turn into supporting a shot, if the puck carrier decides to shoot. When in the offensive zone, support players have to be prepared for a shot (and a rebound) at any time. Two important factors are positioning and quickness. Proper positioning for a shot means getting into a location near the slot for a screen, deflection or rebound.
If a defenseman is shooting (as shown in Figure 4), then the three forwards can position themselves to get a rebound, whether it comes out to the center or off to one of the forwards. Timing, quickness, and strength to move into position in the slot are essential factors in obtaining rebounds.
By providing the puck carrier with various levels of support (passing, skating, shooting) you can individually contribute for a successful team effort.