Backchecking (and a new hockey book)
I have spent the better part of the week between Christmas and New Year writing a new book. As a follow up to Torpedo Hockey, I truly felt the need to put together the same type of “blueprint” with a regular three forwards and two defencemen formation (instead of four and one in the Torpedo). Like most books of this ilk, it talks through all the strategies and team tactics that are hallmarks of the modern game: forechecking, defensive zone coverage, power play and penalty kill. But to write a book of this nature needs to be different in some way from the last one you read. So here are the things that differentiate my new book from others.
First, I believe in simple systems that allow players to be creative and foster a “let them play” mentality. Second, I believe in scoring goals and teaching “offence first”. Third, systems and team tactics MUST support player development. Fourth, and maybe most importantly, I believe there are simple individual and team tactics that must be mastered by players in order to play in any system that a coach throws at them.
Let me elaborate on the fourth point. In any forecheck system, players must learn how to angle the puck carrier and force bad passes and turnovers with speed and pressure. If your forecheck system does not develop these skills then you are cheating your players out of developing and learning the game. My forecheck system teaches pressure, read and react, understanding space and time, and defensive responsibility. These are all crucial concepts for players to understand and master to move to the next level.
I have divided each system or team tactic into three sections:
The Thinking – why we are doing what we are doing.
Teaching Points – What are the most important takeaways from this system or tactic? What principles do players absolutely have to understand in order to master this system or tactic?
The Chalkboard – The nuts and bolts of the system or tactic and diagrams to support it.
I have included the section on backchecking – a little bit of a teaser in advance of releasing the eBook in the coming weeks.
As a team, we never want to give up an odd man rush, whether it be a breakaway, 2v1 or a 3v2. I would also argue that in today’s game, the odd man rush could also be a 4v3 or even a 5v4 with opposing defencemen joining the play.
In fact, we want to create a man on man situation on the backcheck as well – making sure that everyone has a man and makes sure that they don’t score. Much of the backchecker’s job is to “find a man” and allow the defencemen to “read the rush” and take an attacker one on one.
One of the most common mistakes that backcheckers make is being “in the neighbourhood”. It does not take much separation to create time and space for an offensive rusher to get the puck and get a scoring opportunity. Although it is teaching point #4 below, it may be the most important teaching point.
There are a few key teaching points with respect to good backchecking habits.
Come back full speed.
Find a man to pick up by the center red line.
Stay with your man all the way into the zone.
Don’t be “in the neighbourhood”. Play the rush man on man once the play is even up.
4th and 5th backcheckers must pick up the defencemen and stay with them. They may jump quickly into the play.
The backcheck should follow nicely into man on man play in the defensive zone.
Diagram 1 shows F1 catching one of the offensive rushers before the red line. Backcheckers must have tunnel vision and find someone immediately. This helps out the defencemen immensely with reading the rush and picking up their men in order to become an even man situation. F1 need to skate at top speed to catch someone on the backcheck, get to the defensive side and be able to stay with them all the way into the zone and to the net if necessary.
Diagram 2 shows F1 having caught the weak side forward which has allowed the defencemen to close the gap on the two remaining rushers. The middle defencemen should be encouraged to step up into the high slot and close the gap on a trailing forward that goes to the high slot. That “jumping up” needs to be done early so that there is no chance for a quick shot off a drop pass.
Diagram 3 has F1 going all the way to the net and the far post with his man that he picked up at the center red line. The two defencemen have closed the gap and picked up the other two rushers. F2 and F3 must come back hard and pick up their respective opposing defencemen in case they are offensive options on the rush and become secondary and even tertiary trailers into the play.
Again, at the end of the rush, defensively we are in a perfect situation to move into a man on man defensive coverage.