Coach Nielsen's Ice Hockey Drills

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, , ,

Keeping Statistics Yes or No

Game Scoresheet Click for Scoresheet

Many coaches ask me if it’s a good idea to keep player stats. MY response in typically, at the older levels, absolutely. At the younger levels,(12 and under) maybe not. I believe that by the time a player hits the age of 13 he should understand the meaning of statistics and how useful they can be.

I keep track of as many useful stats as I can without overburdening my coaches or players. I like to track


For the goalies I like to track


I ask my backup goaltender to track statistics for the game so that he isn’t just sitting around doing nothing. I track the Plus/Minus myself to be sure we get that right. I will ask the coaches to monitor things like turnovers and hits. I also like to know where the turnovers are happening. All this information can really help during a game. For instance, wouldn’t it be nice to know which center is winning the most face-offs so if there is a big face-off to be won you have the right guy on the ice? Many times late in a game I will have two centers on the ice in case one gets tossed from the circle.

Plus/Minus is a huge help in knowing who is allowing the most goals. Now, I understand that Plus/Minus can be a misleading stat at times, but over the course of a long season it really starts to paint a picture of who the better defensive players on the team really are.

Goal Location is another that I like to track closely. Most coaches know that the major majority of goals are scored within 10 feet of the net, but if you track the location of the goals you can see if there is anywhere else that you need to cover more closely. Two seasons ago I found that a significant number of goals were being scored from the top of the left circle against one goalie and not the other. I called in a goalie coach and he found a hole in the goaltenders style above his glove that we were able to work on and improve the problem.

Nothing beats good old gut instincts when you are on the bench, but having hard facts in front of you can really help. I know between every period when I speak with the team I let them know how we are doing in the face-off battle and where the shots are coming from our opponent. It gives the players a quick insight to in-game situations that you may not speak to them about without stats.

My verdict is to keep stats and make good use of them.

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Over 8,000 views of Video on YouTube

My video on “defensive Zone Coverage” has been viewed over 8,000 times!

Here is the original video

Here is the updated video.

Filed under: Defense, Systems, , , ,

2 v 1 Drills

I like to dedicate time each practice to 2 v 1 work. We all know that from time to time a pinching defenseman gets caught up ice and his partner has to defend a 2 v 1. I think it’s really important to make sure the defenseman are comfortable with their ability to defend in those situations. Another thing that comes from these drills is as a coach you can see what defenseman are good at defending the 2v1. For instance, if you have a defenseman that just can’t defend the 2v1 very well, it might be a bad idea to pair him with a defenseman that is very offensive minded, because he is likely to be defending 2v1’s because the other D is pinching to make a play.

I have added a few 2v1 drills to the database that you can use to practice the skills needed to defend the 2v1. Make sure you coach the defenseman on proper technique and also how you want them to defend the 2v1. Some coaches prefer to let the puck carrier have a clear shot at the goaltender while the defenseman takes away the passing lane. Others like to force the shooter to make a pass once the rush has reached the top of the circles by having the defenseman attack the shooter. Whatever your philosophy is, be sure that your defenseman know how you want them to react and the goaltender knows what the defenseman is going to do or he will be caught out of position.

Filed under: 1 x 1 - 2 x 1 - 3 x 1, , , , ,

Skating Drill for Defensemen

Here is an animated look at a drill I like to run with the defensemen every second or third paractice that works on skating moves specific to the defensemen. The drill works on short passing, backward skate while carrying the puck, pivots and escape moves. I have posted other defense specific drills in the drill section as well.

6 Part Skating Drill

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Defensive Zone Coverage – The Inverted House

This video outlines the defensive zone coverage called “The House”

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

Neutral Zone Forecheck

Here is a fairly detailed explanation of one version of the NZ forecheck defensive system.

Filed under: Forecheck, Systems, , , ,

Working with Defensemen Drill

We call this drill Cornerstone because it is the cornerstone of fundamental skills for all of our defensemen to build on.

We incorporate the following skills

Forward Skating

Backward Skating

Escape move

Receiving a Pass

Making a breakout pass


This one drill works all the above fundamental aspects of a good defenseman. We use this at all of our tryouts when we want to look at the defense. Hope you find it to be a drill you can incorporate into your practice schedule.



Filed under: Defensemen, Drills, , ,


One of the most difficult things to do is get the puck out of your defensive zone when a team is forechecking aggressively. Check out this video on offensive zone attack options.

The key is for the first forward into the zone to be very aggressive against the puck carrier. In the video we discuss options that apply if we can’t get enough pressure on the defenseman before he gets to the puck. Always impress on your forwards that they have to be aggressive on the forecheck otherwise it is not going to be successful.

Filed under: Defense, Systems, , , ,



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