10 tips for Playing Elite Defense As we are in the start of new season in the LG community I wanted to take the time to educate and acknowledge the few amount of defensemen we have in these leagues. All too often, defensemen are arguably the most valuable but under appreciate players on a hockey team. While everyone sees the highlight goals, most don’t pay attention to the initial play from the defenseman that created that scoring opportunity. Whether it be a turnover and quick breakout pass or a well-positioned low shot on net that created the scoring chance. Oh, and let’s not forget about the net battles. While everyone is watching the puck, you the defenseman are battling hard to protect your slot and goalie. With all that aside, I’d like to share a few key tips to take your defensive performance to an elite level, whether it be in LG or in real life. Now I could go on forever on this subject, but I tried to narrow it down to just 10 tips. All these tips will apply to both hockey platforms. Always support your D-partner!!! What this means is to give your D-partner an outlet pass if he gets in trouble or if they don’t have a breakout pass open. In addition, stagger your d-partner in the neutral zone to avoid breakaway chances by the opposing team. For example, if your D-partner is battling along the boards around the offensive blue, then you should be positioned in the middle of the ice more towards the red line if possession isn’t solid, guarding the breakaway. You are the LAST line of defense. Utilize D-to-D passes in the defensive zone for cleaner breakouts: While the “quick up” breakout pass to a strong side winger is popular, the opposing fore-check will try and take that away quickly. By passing the puck to your usually wide open D-partner you have now created a different angle on the breakout and thus the opposing team will have to shift their coverage on the forwards in order to defend it. It’s during this transition that your forwards can break for open ice in the neutral zone for an explosive breakout. Move the puck quickly and decisively: Never hold the puck too long!!!!! That goes for breakouts, penalty kill dumps, and offensive zone passes. I always try and move the puck to “open ice” which is where one of my players will have the most time and space when they receive my pass. Forcing passes creates turnovers in the neutral zone which can lead to pucks in your net. Pass to the player with most open ice around them. Play within the dots. Essentially this means that you should never get caught on the outside edges of the rink in the neutral zone or defensive zone without the proper support from the Center man. As a defenseman, you are more effective by containing the puck carrier to outside. Think PUCK-YOU-NET. A good rule of thumb is to keep yourself between the net and the puck carrier. However, it’s alright to pressure the puck if the attacking player’s back is turned and they are trying to corral a loose puck. Shoot low from the point: Generally speaking in most situations, your job as a defenseman in the O-Zone is to setup scoring chances even when you are shooting the puck. Low shots from the point are more likely to get redirected, and create juicy rebounds that goalies cannot stand. Lots of the time even if the opposing team is keeping your team outside and well positioned low shot can penetrate their defense and create a grade-A scoring chance off a rebound or re-direction. Use your own net for separation to create time and space: The “Quiet Zone” as I call it behind your net puts a barrier between you and an opposing fore checker and it may buy you an extra split second to clear the puck or make a clean breakout pass. Always clear the puck out past your blue line should be your first priority: Whether it be a safe breakout pass that crosses your blue line, a soft dump into the neutral zone while your team is under siege, or even a full blown icing. The blue line is defensive checkpoint for your team to cross because the opposing team has to tag up and re-enter the zone. Once you clear the defensive blue line then you should move up to it and defend it. Don’t puck watch when playing 1-on-1: Focus on the opposing forwards body mass and that direction of movement because if you puck watch instead, you will get dangled. Keep the forward to the outside and NEVER GIVE THEM THE MIDDLE! Close the gap and take away the opposing player’s ice. Defensive Gap Control: When the opposing team is breaking out, stay as close as you can to your forward without risking the chance of getting beat for a breakaway. By doing this, you already are taking away their ice before they even receive the puck. Thus allowing you to shut plays down in the neutral zone before they can even reach your end. Clear loose pucks from your slot: Anytime the puck is loose in front of your goalie just clear it out of the zone or even into the corner. Never try and make a fancy play when the puck is in such a vulnerable scoring area. It’s ok to take an icing to clear a loose puck in front of your goalie because that defensive zone faceoff is less of a scoring threat then that loose puck was. I am not the end all be all for hockey defensive strategy as I still have much to learn. I have learned these tactics through lots of on ice experiences both in real life and in LG. Feel free to share your effective tips and thoughts in the comments below! We can all get better together and make this league even more competitive.