Coach Nielsen's Ice Hockey Drills

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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.

Responsibilities:
D1
– 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

D2
– 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).

F1
– 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)

F2
– 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

F3
– 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.

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

Building Puck Support Concepts

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 of your teammates 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.

Figure 1 & 2

Notice in Figure 1 that all offensive support players (circled) are covered,
while in Figure 2, LD and RF have moved enough to become passing options for
LF 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 an opportunity to quickly get past a
defender.

Figure 3

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 LF 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.

Figure 4

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.

Filed under: coaching, Offense, Systems, , , ,

Small Area Games Part IV

CONDITIONS AND RULES OF SMALL-AREA GAMES

Every small-area game is governed by a number of conditions and rules that dictate how the game will be played and which skills and concepts will be highlighted. Conditions and rules must be closely followed; otherwise the game may not help players accomplish the predetermined goals.

Conditions and rules are what separate and distinguish one small-area game from another. Coaches must feel free to use their imagination and understand the needs of their team when designing a game. The only limit on the number or type of games is the coach’s creativity. Here are just a few of the important considerations to make when applying conditions and rules to small-area games:

The placement and number of nets. Where the nets are placed and how many nets are used may the most important consideration a coach can make when implementing a small-area game in a practice. The most common mistake made by coaches when placing nets in small-area game is to simply place the nets against the boards when playing cross-ice. Small-area games are used as a means of replicating real game situations and the nets are not placed against the boards during a real game. Unless there is a purpose for placing the nets against the boards, move them out and give players space to operate behind the net.

Another consideration revolves around the number of goaltenders that will be involved in the practice session. Many youth teams may only have one goaltender available at any given practice session. In these situations, implementing drills that only require one goaltender and/or having a quality net cover available for the second net would be advisable. Many high school or college programs, as well as youth teams sharing practice ice, may have three or more goaltenders on the ice at any given time. Again, the coach must plan ahead to ensure that each goaltender receives and adequate amount of work.

Increase or decrease the area of play. Expanding or reducing the area of play will have a tremendous impact on any small-area game. Reducing the area of play will require players to focus on puck protection, lateral movement, stops and starts and puck support in addition to many other skills. Increasing the area of play will free up the ice, allowing players to carry the puck more, make and receive more passes and reach higher skating speeds while still having to function in a limited space.

Add support players. Many of the games illustrated in this manual allow for the addition of support players. Support players are typically added to create odd-man situations and opportunities in an even strength game. Support players can play for one or both teams and are typically confined to specific spots on the rink. Coaches can choose to have support players perform certain functions and may also choose to limit what support players may do, such as not allowing them to shoot the puck.

Increase or decrease the number of participants. A simple way to change the look and feel of a small-area game is to increase or decrease the number of participants. Adding players to a game will immediately decrease the amount of available space on the ice. Conversely, decreasing the number of players will open up the ice and allow for more free-flowing movement.

Confine players to specific areas. Restricting players to a certain area on the ice is an easy way to create mandatory odd-man situations for the offensive team. Players can be confined to one end of the ice, be forced to stay above the face-off circles or below the goal line, behind the net, in a corner or placed in a stationary position at any given location. Different rules and conditions may be applied to these players than are placed on other players in order to affect the flow of the game and target specific skills.

Require a certain number of passes or puck touches. Requiring each team or player to make a certain number of passes or touch the puck a number of times before attempting a shot on net is an easy way to work a number of skills including passing, receiving a pass, puck support, creating time and space and a better ability to read the ice. Placing these types of conditions into a small-area games force offensive players to work harder than usual to find open ice as defensive players are aware that a shot cannot be taken until the requisite numbers of passes or puck touches are made. Defensive players are more likely to play the man aggressively in these situations.

CONCLUSION

In the opening section of this guide to small-area games, we took at look at the current paradigm of American hockey practices. Hopefully, as you’ve begun to study small-area games and what they can do for your players and teams, you’ve experienced the beginnings of a paradigm shift.

As you introduce small-area games into your practices, I ask that you stick with them for a while. In the initial few practices in which you use small-area games, the games are sure to look like organized chaos. Most players, due to their lack of overall hockey sense and decision-making skills, will not know how to react to the play taking place around them. However, when given a chance to develop, these same players will begin to make plays, get themselves into position and display skills that were not visible only days or weeks earlier.

I encourage you to create your own games and implement them into your practices. Know your team, know your players, be responsive to their needs and have fun!

One area that I have not addressed in this guide is the amount of practice time that should be devoted to small-area games. I intentionally ignored this subject because I believe that it is unique to each coach and his or her team. Some coaches use one game per practice while others practice almost exclusively with small-area games.

I truly believe that small-area games should be the cornerstone of your practice plans. At this point, if you still haven’t experienced a true “paradigm shift”, begin slowly by implementing one small-area game per practice in place of your traditional conditioning drills. Experience tells me that you’ll soon be using this wonderful teaching tool as a much larger part of your daily practice regimen.

Beyond that, I wish the best of luck to all hockey coaches. Have fun teaching this great game and enjoy the young men and women you have the privilege to work with. You are a part of their lives and they will remember you. Make those memories special.

Filed under: General, Small Area Games, Systems, , , , ,

Small Area Games Part III

WHAT SKILLS CAN BE TAUGHT USING SMALL-AREA GAMES?

As coaches, we all have our tried-and-true methods of teaching specific individual skills. In no way am I advocating that we dismiss traditional individual skill training and the drills that are used to teach those skills. Rather, I would make the argument that it’s what we do in addition to our traditional drills and teachings that will have the most profound impact on our players. That’s where small-area games come into play.

Virtually any individual or team skill can be taught through the use of small-area games. Of course, just as in a real game, virtually every skill imaginable is needed and will be practiced in a small-area game. This is accomplished in a learning-friendly environment in which the players are having fun. As a coach, have the courage to allow players to figure things out for themselves and let the game teach the game. Here’s a very brief look at some of the skills commonly taught through the use of small-area games:

Skating. Every skating maneuver is needed in small-area games. Lateral movement, stops and starts, tight turns, transitions, crossovers and the forward and backward stride will all be practiced in virtually every game.

Passing. Nearly every game incorporates passing as an integral part of the game. Rules can be applied to games requiring a number of passes prior to a shot on net or require players to give and receive passes from support players.

Shooting. No traditional drill will allow players to attempt as many shots under competitive playing conditions as a typical small-area game. Players are encouraged and required to use a variety of different shots, including the nearly-ignored backhand, and attack the net to capitalize on rebounds.

Stickhandling. Every player has the opportunity to handle the puck a great deal in small-area games. More than simply handling the puck, they’re required to do it in tight areas and under pressure. In my experience, this is the optimal way to become a better puckhandler.

Cycling. Many small-area games can be designed to give players the opportunity to work the puck low in the offensive zone. Competitive games allow players to develop the ability to work together to control the puck deep in the offensive zone while under the same type of defensive pressure they would typically face in a real game.

Transitioning. One of the trademarks of small-area games are the continual transitions players must make from offense to defense. Forwards and defensemen alike are put into situations that they would rarely, if ever, see in a traditional drill; yet routinely have to face during actual competition.

Angling. Because defenders are placed into a variety of real-game situations in small areas, they learn to close gaps and cut angles with a great deal of skill.

Breakouts. Games can be designed to incorporate breakouts and forechecks. This creates an excellent opportunity for teams to practice specific plays during a live, competitive situation.

Power plays. Many small-area games provide odd-man situations that closely replicate typical power play alignments such as the overload and the umbrella. Conditions and rules regarding the number of players on each team and their positioning can be implemented to meet specific needs.

Puck support. To achieve success in most any small-area game, players must learn to properly support the puck carrier and position themselves to receive passes, anticipate turnovers and run interference for teammates.

Hockey sense. Hockey sense is a skill that a coach cannot teach. Players only gain hockey sense through experience and repetition. Over the course of a season, small-area games can give players hundreds of quality repetitions in various situations that are commonly seen in real games. Traditional drills are all too often scripted, eliminating the thought process and decision making skills. Outcomes of small-area games, while containing specific guidelines and rules, are never predetermined.

Remember, these are just a few of the numerous individual and team skills that may be learned and practiced through the use of small-area games in your practices.

ORGANIZATION OF SMALL-AREA GAMES

Simply using small-area games in practice is not enough. The coach must take steps to make sure that games are properly organized to ensure maximum player development and learning through maximum effort. Some of the important considerations in organizing small-area games include:

Be creative. Creativity is a key to keep small-area games and practices fresh and exciting. The types of games that can be played and the rules they are played by are limited only to the imagination of the coach.

Length of games and shifts. Coaches need to take the length of games and shifts into consideration when drawing up their daily practice plans. How long should a game be played? While two minutes is probably too short a time period, twenty minutes is probably way too long. Typically, durations of between eight and twelve minutes will provide satisfactory time for several quality repetitions while holding the interest and attention of the players.

The length of each shift is equally, if not more, important than the length of the game. Since we are trying to duplicate game conditions during practice, a good rule of thumb is to keep shifts relatively short – no longer than a typical game shift. In fact, given that most small-area games require even more effort and involvement than a typical game shift, small-area game shifts should be kept shorter to prevent a breakdown of technique. Thirty to forty second shifts are usually sufficient.

Teaching points. Every small-area game has a focus and points of emphasis relative to skill training and development. While many different skills and techniques can be taught within any small-area game, the coach must choose a small number of teaching points for each game and stick to those points. While it is natural for a coach to want to critique any and all areas where he or she sees a deficiency, it is important to keep players focused and the lessons each small-area game is designed to teach and not burden players with extra thoughts that will restrict creativity.

Enforcing rules, technique and discipline. The key to enforcing small-area game rules, as well as monitoring technique and discipline, is having a minimum of one coach assigned to each game. It is the responsibility of the head coach to make sure that each member of his or her staff completely understands each game and is on the same page.

Know your players. In creating any practice plan and considering which drills are appropriate for a team, the most important factor for any coach is an absolute knowledge of his or her players. Small-area games that are too easy for players will get boring and games that are too hard and require players to perform tasks that are too advanced will lead to frustration and decreased effort.

Know yourself and your coaching style. To be an effective leader, a coach must have a true understanding of himself or herself. You can’t improve on something you don’t understand. As coaches, we are (hopefully) always seeking to improve. Many times improvement comes through mistakes that are made and recognized. Hockey players are no different. Players make mistakes and learn from those mistakes.

Small-area games are designed to allow players to make – and learn from – mistakes. Coaches can certainly coach and point things out during small-area games, but should be careful not to overdo it. This is why coaches need to know themselves and have an understanding of their coaching styles. A coach that tends to over-coach or has a tendency to be very vocal will need to scale back on that behavior. Constantly barking orders during the games will only serve to distract players and reduce creativity and the learning process. Let the game teach the game!

Read Part IV of Small Area Games

Filed under: General, Small Area Games, Systems, , , , ,

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, , , ,

History

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