Coach Nielsen's Ice Hockey Drills

@DerekSchooley Shares With Us a Defensive Zone Coverage Drill

Robert Morris University head ice hockey coach Derek Schooley sent over a defensive zone coverage drill that works on 1×1, 2×2 and 5×5 skills. This drill is excellent for use on half ice practices as well as full ice practice slots. Every coach needs to work on his teams defensive zone coverage throughout the year and this drill gives us a way to accomplish that goal while working on other defensive skills and keeping the tempo high.

Defensive Zone Coverage Drill


Click to Download the Drills

Click to Download the Drill

Filed under: coaching, Defense, Defense, Drills, Practice, Systems, , , ,

D Under Pressure Half Ice Drill

We all know how important it is to have defensemen who can play under pressure. Many times we run drills that don’t really put the D under any real pressure to make passes and come game time that causes bad decisions and bad passes that can cost games. Here is a drill I use to help my defensemen learn how to compete under pressure. We use this drill to teach them how to communicate with each other and the goaltender and how to handle a hard forecheck. Make sure the D are doing proper shoulder checks while skating hard to retrieve the puck. Also listen to make sure the players are communicating with each other. You can also use this drill to let your forwards practice proper positioning for the forecheck system you use for the forwards. Personally I use this drill just as a way to help the defensemen learn how to play under hard pressure and the goaltender is used just to work on his communication skills with the defensemen, but you can have the offensive players cycle back into the zone after the successful breakout and play 3v2 against the D while the original three forechecking forwards vacate the zone. Either way it’s a great drill to help your defensemen build confidence when playing under pressure.

D-Under Pressure Breakout


Click to Download the Drill

Click to Download the Drill


Filed under: Breakout, coaching, Defense, Forecheck

“The Beast” Penalty Kill System DVD

I purchased “The Beast” Peanlty Kill System DVD from Championship Productions two weeks ago and have watched it a few times since. My thought was that I would like to see what type of concepts Coach Arena was teaching that would be beneficial to my team. I have to say that if you are looking for some guidance on how to run a PK with your team this DVD will be a major help. Coach Arena goes through the entire system starting with the forecheck and continues through the neutral zone and into the defensive zone. His concept of keeping the 2 on 1 as far from the puck is spot on and if played properly can give your team an excellent chance to be a powerful penalty killing team.

Even though I’ve been coaching for almost thirty years I’m always trying to learn and improve, and I sure this DVD will help anyone who wants to teach his team how to be successful on the penalty kill. Championship Productions does a nice job with their video learning and if you haven’t checked them out yet you should give them a try. I recommend picking up a copy of “The Beast” Penalty Kill System, it’s well worth the small price tag.

On a personal note, after watching the video a few times I had some questions so I searched out Coach Arena and he answered my questions in detail and offered continuing help if I needed it.

Here is a link to the DVD.

The Beast Penalty Kill System

Filed under: coaching, Defense, Defense, Penalty Kill, Systems

Defensive Zone Concepts, Face-Offs and Drills Video

I recently watched a video by Rick Bennett head coach of Union College that describes his approach to defensive zone play. I found the DVD to be a well designed approach to the concepts needed to teach your team the proper approach to playing as a team as well as individual tactics needed to be successful. The video is about 40 minutes long and has a number of drills that you can use to work on your teams approach to playing defense.

Coach Bennett also utilizes his goalie coach to talk about what the goaltender should be doing during the play to stay involved and to communicate with his teammates. I think this is a very well spent $29.99. I suggest if you have questions about defensive zone play you should buy this DVD and learn what Coach Bennett is teaching.

On a personal note, after watching the DVD I had a few questions and I emailed Coach Bennett with those questions and within a few hours he replied with answers and an offer to speak with him directly. How often do you get the chance to interact with a DI head coach? I suggest you buy this video and give it a good look.

Here is a link to the website where you can purchase the DVD.

Defensive Zone Concepts DVD


Filed under: coaching, Defense, Defense, Systems

Defenseman Hinge Drills

While in Pittsburgh for the America’s Showcase tournament I had the chance to speak with a number of coaches about drills and specifically how to teach the hinge play successfully to defensemen. I came away with three drills that really seem to work well. The Shot and Hinge is from Derek Schooley of Robert Morris University and the other two came from Jerry Domish a junior “A” coach and a coach I respect a lot. Hope you like these and can incorporate them into future practice plans.

I have added these to the Defensemen section of the site as well.

Hinge Drill

Hinge With Regroup Pass

Shot and Hinge


Filed under: coaching, Defense, Defensemen

Important Tips for Defensemen

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.

Filed under: Defense, Defensemen

Teaching Defensive Zone Play

About seven years back I got this document from Casey Jones, then Associate Head Coach (Defense) for Ohio State University. It went through in some detail how OSU played defense and how the coaches went about teaching the system to the players. This document goes through some of the steps on how to teach the OSU defensive zone system to your team. The handwriting in the document is a little hard to read so I am also including a link to a version I created in DrillDraw that is easier to read but contains the same information. I hope you find this document helpful in teaching defense to your team.

Both documents are in PDF format and pretty large so be patient while they download.

Casey Jones Handwritten OSU System Notes

DrillDraw Version of the OSU System


Filed under: coaching, Defense, Defense, Systems

Interview with Copper and Blue (Edmonton Oilers Site)

Derek Zona from contacted me to discuss the Diamond Penalty Kill and the Edmonton Oilers problems with it. If you’re interested here is the link to the article.

Read the Article

Filed under: coaching, Defense, Penalty Kill,

Defensive Zone Coverage

Players need to accept defensive responsibilities as a crucial part of the game and understand the importance of keeping things simple and basic in your own zone. If you make a mistake in your own end, the opposition will get a direct scoring chance. Some key elements of Defensive Zone Coverage (DZC) is proper positioning on the ice, hard work, communication with your teammates, and keeping things basic.

There are several systems that teams use for their DZC, but the end result is the same; to get back possession of the puck and go from defense to offense. There is not one system that is better than the other; it is just based on what the coaching staff is comfortable with and the strength of the players.

At an early age, all players must work with some form of Zone Defense, so they get familiar with their basic positioning on the ice. As players get older, they will probably get familiar with more advanced systems, such as man to man, or Box plus One.

I will be discussing a system which is called “The Combination”. The name originates from the fact that this system is a combination of zone defense and man to man coverage.

Combination DZC
The “Combination DZC” is a system that many PRO and Junior teams use. Although some teams might call it different names, this system is basically a combination of Man to Man coverage with a Zone Defense.

This system includes both conservative and aggressive elements, which make it very useful for teams to be successful. The conservative aspect is that each of the 5 players is responsible for one of the five areas in the defensive zone (Zone Defense), whereas the aggressive aspect comes from the fact that players are given the freedom to leave their area and help out a teammate in another area (when you are out numbered in a certain area of the zone). Players are encouraged to pressure the puck and be pro-active in the defensive zone, not re-active.

– move in and challenge the puck carrier
– pressure/contain/stall your man
– keep your eyes up on his chest
– stay between your man and the net (defensive side positioning)
– keep a tight gap if possible

– protect the front of the net area
– control opponents stick, play tough, keep defensive side positioning (referees allow more physical play when battling in front of the net, be aggressive)
– if your man moves away from net area (high slot), you need to stay in his shooting lane, and take a few strides in his direction
– if puck changes corner, or area, you have to read your defensive partner, you can either wait for your partner to come protect the net area and then you go and pressure the puck carrier (release), or you can stay in front of the net and let your partner go and pressure the puck carrier in the opposite corner. Either way there always needs to be a defenseman in front of the net (Communication with your partner is very important).

– the first forward into the defensive zone (not necessarily the center) plays down low supporting D1 battling for the puck
– always stay in between your man and the net
– do not over commit where one pass can beat two players (yourself and D1)
– if defenseman gets beat, play the 2 on 1 and stall play as much as possible
– if puck changes corner, you need to follow the puck to opposite corner and continue supporting defenseman (stay down low)

– the second forward back into the zone should cover the weak side slot area, secure middle of the rink
– keep your head on a swivel, know where puck and your point man is at all times
– your main responsibility is to protect the front of the net (slot area), and your second responsibility is the weak side point man (although this can vary depending on coaches philosophy)
– make sure weak side point man does not sneak around you and rush to the net
– Be ready to block shots

– the third forward back into the zone should cover the strong side point.
– keep your head on a swivel; you are responsible for strong side point man, make sure he does not beat you to the net by going around you
– stay in between your man and the net, staying away from the boards to take away the lane to the net
– be ready to sag down low if necessary if a teammate gets beat and your team is outnumbered in the slot area
– you are responsible for defending the high cycle, staying with your point man
– Be ready to block shots

Overall Key Points to DZC:
– ALWAYS protect the net area
– Always stay in between your opponent and the net (defensive side positioning)
– Never give up a second scoring opportunity
– Team work is key
– If back checking forwards are not sure where to go  ALWAYS go down to the slot area and figure it out from there.
– When blocking a shot you must get directly in front of the shooter.
– When the puck is along the boards the first defender takes the body and the second get the puck
– For F2 & F3, always be ready to SAG to the net/slot area if a teammate down low gets beat
– Some teams (coaches) switch F2 & F3 responsibilities (example they have F2 cover the strong side point). Either way, forwards need to understand the importance of having all 5 players back in the defensive zone as quickly as possible
– Some coaches want their weak side defenseman (in front of the net) to play man on man with the player in the slot area and follow him wherever he goes (man on man)

-Defense at the Posts  when opposing player is behind your net with the puck
-Defense at the Posts (DAP) is making sure to cut off the opposition at the goal line, by preventing the offensive player from attacking the net from below the goal line.
-If opposition is set up in back of the net, have both defenseman protecting one post each, facing the puck carrier behind the net.
-F1 should be in the low slot area, ready to protect one of the posts that are left vacant by a defenseman that has attacked the puck carrier.
-F2 & F3 should sag down in the high slot, with a head on a swivel making sure they are aware of their point men.
-Always try to make attacking player come out behind the net on his backhand.

Filed under: coaching, Defense, Defense, Systems, , ,


The D must create good gap control as soon as the play is identified as 2 vs 1 to limit the attacker’s options and slow down the attack. The fewer passes the attackers are allowed to make the easier it is for the goalie as it cuts down on the need for re-positioning.
The D’s initial positioning is between the attackers initially with one hand on the
stick and stick extended from the body.
The D must keep their head on a swivel to check the positioning of the player off the puck.
The stick can be used to push the puck carrier wider or lure him into
making a pass before he’s ready.
As play progresses below the tops of the circles, the stick should be pointed a bit more toward the puck carrier than directly in front of the body to cut down on
the space between stick and skates that attacker could use to pass the puck.
The defender should shade slightly toward the player without the puck. The D cannot allow a pass to get through once the puck is below the tops of the circles
If play continues below the dots, the D uses two hands on the stick to react on attempted passes. The D’s body positioning should be at a 45 degree angle to help in denying a pass.
At this point, the player with the puck will be forced to shoot. The D maintains two hands on the stick and is prepared to react to any rebound
Vodpod videos no longer available.

Courtesy of Drills etc.

Filed under: Defense, Defense, Defensemen



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