by Ben Levesque
Defensemen don’t have it easy. Many teams that rely on their speed and size focus their game plan on putting the puck deep into their opponent’s zone in order to use their speed to put pressure on defensemen. In other words, if you’re that defenseman that has to go get that loose puck in the corner, you have 1 and sometimes 2 big, strong, and fast forcheckers coming full steam ahead at you.
Not everyone is good under this kind of pressure, and only the best will move on to higher levels of play. Making the right play within the split second that you’re given is an art in itself. Let’s take a look at a few tips that can help you defensemen out there improve your game.
1. Get There Quick
We can’t stress this enough. The quicker you get to the loose puck, the more time you have to make a play. This means that the minute the puck leaves your opponent’s stick, you have to pivot quickly, get on your horse and get to that puck as soon as possible. This should give you an extra second on your opponent which is all you need to take the information and make a play. This leads us to our next point.
2. Take The Information
Once you arrive first on the puck (hopefully!), you need to make a play as quickly as possible. This is what separates a good defenseman from a bad one. On your way to the puck, you need to be looking over your shoulder to see who’s open and who’s ready to receive your pass. You need to make a decision before you get there so that when you do, you can get rid of it right away. This gives the opposing team less time to set up their forcheck and makes it easier for your team to get out of your own zone.
In the hockey world, we like to call this “keeping your head on a swivel”. In other words, you have to be actively looking around in order to find the right teammate to pass to. Once you do, get it to him quickly, and then avoid the oncoming pressure by side-stepping the check or using the net as a block.
3. The glass is your friend
You might know this already, but the glass surrounding a rink can be used as a mirror. When you’re being chased back for the puck, take a look at the glass in front of you to see where your forchecker is. Is he on your left? On your right? Is he coming straight at you? This can tell you whether you’ll be turning left or right to avoid him and make a play. During a practice, take a look and see if you can see anything through the glass. If you can, you should definitely be using this trick during a game.
You know when you see a blind pass in the NHL end up right on someone’s stick? Sometimes, more often than not, it’s the result of a player seeing his teammate through the glass. Try it!
4. Talk, Talk, Talk!
Last, but most definitely not least, is communication with your D partner. A season can be long, and knowing how your partner plays can make quite the difference between being a good defensive pairing and an average pairing. This means asking him to call out to you when you’re being pressured. Simple words such as ‘over’ meaning he’s open over on the other side, or ‘man on’ meaning you don’t have much time to make a play can make a significant difference in your success as a defensemen.
Ask your D partner to talk more out on the ice and tell him you’ll do the same. Come up with little keywords that will help you guys through any situation that arises.
With looking over your shoulder, using the glass, and taking the information your D partner is giving you, you should have everything you need to make the right play 90% of the time, given you arrive quick on the puck. These are just a few tips the pros use to become better and more complete defensemen.