Spatial Awareness – Defensive and Offensive Zone Concepts

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Spatial Awareness – Defensive and Offensive Zone Concepts

Spatial awareness and system play should not be the primary focus for players at the Atom level but they should be introduced to the basic concepts of the offensive and defensive team play in all three (3) zones (defending, neutral and attacking).



Offensive Tactics (Defending Zone)

A team goes on offense when they take possession of the puck. When this occurs in the defensive zone it is often referred to as a “breakout” which simply refers to maintaining possession from their end to the neutral zone. Once the puck is in the possession of the defending team players should organize themselves in a breakout formation.

Breakout – Basic



In the diagram above:
• The left defender (Ld) has possession of the puck.
• The right defender (Rd) protects the front of the net.
• The left winger (strong side) is posted on the half-wall and in hockey-ready position to accept a pass from the left defender.
• The centre is reading and reacting to the placement of the pass and offers support for the left winger or becomes a middle-lane passing option.
• Right winger (weak side) should be protecting the mid-lane and be able to read the play and adjust positioning.
• Roles are switched should the puck be in the corner with the right winger.

Breakout – Over



In the diagram above:
• The right defender (D1) has the puck and is under pressure and/or no options exist on the strong side.
• The left defender (D2) reads the play and opens up for a pass behind the net from the right defender.
• Forwards must adjust their positioning with this happens are create passing options for the left defender.
• Passing option could be the left winger on the boards or the centre who would occupy the mid-lane.

Other first-pass and breakout options include:
Rim Pass, Direct Pass, Relay, Direct Pass Punchback, Direct Pass Slash, Chip Pass


Offensive Tactics (Neutral Zone) 

After a successful breakout, the offensive team will try and maintain possession and control while moving through the neutral zone. The idea here is to push the defending team deeper into their zone and creating more time and space for attack. The options outlined below are designed to take place in the neutral zone:



Option 1 (Cross and Carry)

The puck carrier in this scenario retains possession of the puck and attempts to skate into the zone in a direct line or arc. This forces the defenders to react or fall back into their own zone. If there are no skating or passing options, the player can look to cross the red-line and shoot the puck into the defending zone.

Option 2 (Cross and Drop)
A cross and drop can be initiated by either the puck carrier or a non puck carrier. In the cross and drop technique, the player with the puck crosses in a flat arc in front of the player without the puck. The player without the puck supports behind the puck carrier and upon receiving the drop pass should attack with speed. Effective execution of the cross and drop will force the defender to move laterally to defend the play.

Option 3 (Pass and Follow)
In the pass and follow technique, the puck carrier attempts to force the defender to adjust position by threatening with the puck, allowing the puck carrier to then pass to a teammate in an open passing lane. The original puck carrier now skates in the same direction as the new puck carrier in a position of support, ready for a return pass.

Other Neutral Zone Offensive Tactics include:
Cross and Lateral Pass, Give and Go, Headman, Pass Redirection, Spot Pass, Ladder, Chip Pass, Jackhammer, Stretch Skate and Pass



Offensive Tactics (Offensive Zone)
Ideally, the attacking team should always be a threat to take the puck to the net. At the Atom level, zone entry and an efficient forecheck will only be as effective as the individual’s ability to skate and move the puck. Below are some basic techniques of team based attacks in the offensive zone. Offensive team tactics are broken down into two (2) categories:
• Off the Rush: Occurs when the offensive team has forward pressure and possession of the puck coming into the attacking zone.
• Possession Down Low: Occurs when the puck is in the zone and the attacking team has possession.

Off the Rush

Option 1: Net Drive
Net drive involves a fake by the puck carrier followed by a lateral move and quick acceleration. Upon gaining the outside, the puck carrier should keep their feet moving and cut in after gaining a stride on the defender to improve shooting angle and prevent the defender from recovering. The first supporting forward should accelerate towards the net to become a passing option or available for any rebounds. The second supporting forward should read and react to the play and generally stay above the two (2) other forwards.

Option 2: Middle Drive
An effective tactic to drive defensemen towards the front of the net, the middle drive creates opportunities to score on a possible cross crease pass or rebound. Players executing a middle drive should be taught to always stop at the net.

Option 3: High Delay
When the puck carrier drives the net (option 1) and reads that the defender has taken away the lane, the puck carrier can turn away from the defender to gain time and space. This high delay provides the attacker with the options of walking to the net, passing to a trailing teammate or cycling the puck low into the corner to maintain possession.

Option 4: High Walkout
The high walkout is a great tactic to use when the puck carrier has control of the puck in the corner. To create pressure on goal, the puck carrier drives off the boards in a semi-circle pattern, keeping their feet constantly moving while walking high to the front of the net.

Option 5: Low Cycle
The purpose of cycling is to use the quiet zones of the ice to maintain puck possession. In the low cycle, the player with the puck, using good puck protection techniques, spot passes the puck off the boards (down low). The forward in front of the net reads the cycle and jumps down to pick up puck while the high forward rotates to the front of the net. Ideally the cycle confuses the defensive coverage and a lane to the net opens up.


Defensive Zone Coverage (Basic)
Coaches may find it easier to divide the defensive zone into smaller areas. Basic defensive zone coverage starts in zone 1, the hit/contact zone, with D1 (closest to the puck) playing the puck carrier. Depending on the gap and the puck carrier’s level of control, the defender (D1) should either pressure or contain. The first forward back (F1), supports D1 by taking up position in the support zone. By playing slightly off the puck and in a defensive side position, F1 is available to jump to a loose puck or play the 1-on -1 if D1 is beaten off the wall. Zone 3, or Net Zone Coverage is the responsibility of the second defenseman (D2). D2 (weak side) should have his feet facing up ice, and his head on a swivel. Zone 4, the high slot is patrolled by the second forward back (F2). The responsibility of F2 is to cover the offensive weak side defenseman or snag to net front coverage to support D2. Zone 5, the High Support Zone is the responsibility of the third forward (F3). F3 must play on the defensive side of the strong side offensive defenseman and should be ready to intercept a pass to the point.



If the puck moves from one (1) corner to the other, defensive players should switch sides by moving through the slot. Here, D2 jumps from net front position into zone 1. F1 tracks the play by moving across the slot reassuming zone 2, while D1 moves into net front coverage in zone 3. Before moving to zone 5, F2 must hold zone 4 until F3 moves into the high slot position.



Defensive Tactics (Neutral Zone)
While many variations exist, the basic defensive responsibilities in the neutral zone (without the puck) are:

F1 (first to attack) - When forechecking in the neutral zone, F1 should establish inside-out positioning to take away the opposing teams D to D pass. Skating in an inside-out pattern (covering the middle) forces the offensive team to play the puck up the wall.

F2 (first support) - Here, the second forward on the forecheck reads F1’s actions and either jumps to play the D to D pass or moves to support if the puck is played up the boards.

F3 (second support) - F3’s responsibility in the neutral zone is to stay between the puck and his/her own net. F3 should be positioned either in the middle lane for support or in the wide lane to take away the outside option.

D1 (puck/strong side defenseman) - When forechecking in the neutral zone, D1 should be on the puck side of the ice. If there is strong defensive support, D1 can choose to step up and force the attackers to make a play. Alternatively, if there’s not enough defensive support, D1 should back off and read the rush while maintaining an appropriate gap.

D2 (weak side defenseman) - As the offside defenseman, D2’s responsibility is to stay in the middle lane. Not only should D2 be aware of an offensive threat wide, he should also be prepared to step up and make a play in the middle of the ice.



Offensive and Defensive Drills


Drill Name: Basic Positioning – Defensive and Offensive Zone  

• Use the entire end zone to teach defensive responsibilities and situations.
• Puck carrier behind net.
• Defending the cycle (adjusting positions).
• Rotation.
• Active D.
• Players not immediately involved are in neutral zone watching or doing technical skill work.



Drill Name: Condensed 3-on-3

• 3-on-3 down low, below ringette line.
• Teach coverage, communication, etc.
• Roles and responsibilities of all players involved.
• Players not immediately involved are in neutral zone watching or doing technical skill work.



Drill Name: D-Zone Coverage

• Coach dumps puck in.
• Players set up in proper D-zone coverage as instructed by the coach.
• Coach moves puck to opposite corner to allow players to transfer set-up.
• Coach can get defensive players to turn sticks over and play 5-on-5, working on positioning.



Drill Name: Defense Retrieval – Attack F1

• Defense and forwards start at blue line.
• Coach dumps puck in end zone and defense has to retrieve it and skate up ice.
• Once defense touches puck, forward leaves blue line and forechecks as F1.
• D should wheel net and attach F1 straight on to force F1 into gliding and allowing F1 to “set the angle” and must guess which way D is going to skate.
• Fake, shoulder check on retrieval, attack F1 straight on.
• Skate up middle of ice.
• Force F1 to guess.



Drill Name: Defense - Offense – Puck Support 1 on 1, 2 on 2

• Defence start in corner with puck, forwards on dot outside blue line.
• D skates forwards with puck and then pivots and skates backwards, forward skates toward defence, then open pivots towards boards giving D a flat passing option. D passes to forward who skates into neutral zone, then regroups and attacks 1-on-1.

Progression Idea:
• Add second forward to make it a 2-on-1. One (1) forward to boards, second forward to the middle.



Drill Name: Defense – Retrieval Breakout Progression

• Drill starts with coach dumping in a puck. Both D’s tag up and one D retrieves puck and other supports.
• D to D pass and up to coach who dumps to opposite corner, repeat.
• Add D to D pass, or D to D reverse.
• Ensure players pivot to the inside on transitions.
• Communication is essential.



Name: Defense – Breakout Progression with Shot

• Drill starts with coach dumping in a puck. Both D’s tag up and one D retrieves puck and other supports.
• D to D and up to blue line defenseman who shoots; coach dumps to opposite corner and D to D blue line player for second shot.
• Change D.
• Add Do to D pass, or D to D reverse.



Drill Name: Defense – Retrievals with Outlet

• Defense and forward start at blue line – coach dumps the puck in.
• Defense retrieves puck, should check, head fake and carries puck behind the net.
• Stop and come out same side to make outlet pass.
• Or wheel and pass back across the ice.
• Forward adjusts positing and ensures hockey ready stance to accept pass.



Drill Name: NZ Regroup – 2 on 1

• Defense on hash marks in defensive zone. Forwards with pucks on wall at centre ice.
• On whistle, defense tag up to blue line and forward skates toward D, and passes the puck to D once he is going backwards.
• D slides towards boards or to middle of ice, forward reads and supports based on which way D turns and receives neutral zone breakout pass from D.
• Forward skates past red line then turns and regroups with a give and go with the next player on the wall and they attack D 2-on-1.
• Forward waits for D to tag blue line and start going backwards before making the pass.
• D offers good target, getting toes up ice before pass. Ensure D have good gap.



Drill Name: Forecheck Progression – F1 – F2

• Forechecker angles forward around pylon and dumps to either corner. Defenseman steps up, pivots and turns to get puck from the corner. Forechecker approaches inside-out and forces defenseman up and up. Second forward reads the dump and shuts down the wall. Either he or F1 makes contact and the other player picks up the puck.
• Players angle the offensive player to the wall by taking away the back of the net with body position and stick. As players move up wall get stick on puck and rub them out.
• Second forechecker reads the flow and reacts to the situation.
• Defensemen should use good breakout tactics such as angle and shoulder check.



Drill Name: Down the Wall Cycle

• Forwards drive seam and shoot.
• Forward picks up a second puck and skates up wall.
• D moves down the wall and receives the puck from forward.
• Add D cycle down and passes to forward in slot.
• D will move down wall and call for cycle.
• D can shoot or pass.



Name: Corner Net Drive – Delay Low

• Players start in corner with puck. Drive hard around top of circle, preform a tight turn and delay back towards the corner.
• Attack net with speed.
• Keep feet moving.
• Protect puck and keep head up



Drill Name: Crosby Bottom Circle Net Drive

• Players on dot in circle, place two (2) pylons near outside of circle.
• Coach spots puck in corner – player goes hard to puck, fakes one (1) way and takes puck up the wall.
• Player turns inside-out around cone and attacks net wide with speed. Fake outside drive and turn inside bottom pylon.



Drill Name: 2 Man Cycle

• Pucks and players in the middle of ice near the blue line.
• Coach dumps puck in corner, two (2) players follow puck, F1 picks up puck and skates up wall, cycles puck for F2.
• F1 then skates to open ice in slot for pass and shot on net.
• Communication, place the puck for easy pickup.



Drill Name: 3 Man Cycle – Change Point of Attack

• Pucks and players in the middle of the ice near blue line.
• Coach dumps puck in corner, three (3) players follow puck. F1 pucks up puck and skates up the wall, cycles puck for F2. F2 then cycles for F3.
• F3 stops and passes behind net to F1, who passes it out front to F2 for a shot.
• F1 must loop behind net for pass from F3.