Essay and Suggestions for Defensemen


      Every position in hockey offers unique challenges and difficulties. A defenseman’s duties certainly often involve beginning and further participating in the offense, but he is expected most especially to master all one-on-one (1 on1) situations against himself, as well as to anticipate the mistakes of all his teammates so that he may act as an eraser for these errors. If a forward makes a defensive miscue, in many cases he has defensemen behind him who can neutralize the mistake. However, if a defenseman falters, the result is that most often the opponent has gained a high-quality scoring opportunity.

      Excellence among defensemen will protect a weaker goaltender and require fewer goals from their team for a victory. Also, understanding that their defensemen are reliable in performing defensive obligations will embolden forwards to press fully in their offensive opportunities - similar to a quarterback in football who will concentrate better on connecting with his receivers if he trusts that he will be protected by his blockers. The results can only be positive. Every defenseman must realize the critical importance of fulfilling firstly his defensive responsibilities and that eliminating a good goal-scoring opportunity for the opposition is equal to a teammate creating a marvelous chance to tally. Both situations could have the same effect on the scoreboard. One should not be misled by the priority value most people attach to the offensive skills of a forward over the defensive skills of a defenseman.


Defensemen in the Offensive Zone

 When at the point:

  1. a) Do not risk stickhandling or shooting as a defender is approaching you. Dump the puck or pass it to an open teammate. Also, dump the puck if it escapes the zone and you are alone while being pursued, because it would be very dangerous to do otherwise.
  2. b) Do not dive to keep the puck in the zone unless you are desperate.
  3. c) Do not attempt a cross-ice pass to your fellow defenseman with an opponent anywhere near the passing lane. If such a pass must be made, do it sharply.
  4. d) Fall back from the blueline if an opponent has full control of the puck and is skating out of the zone.
  5. e) Shoot on net when the goaltender is screened.
  6. f) Be conscious of your partner’s actions at the opposite point. If he violates a,b, or c ( or is guilty of any other mistake) and the result is a breakaway, you are to blame for not recognizing the dangerous situation and falling back into the middle of the ice.
  7. g) Be aware of any opponents near you while the puck is low because such a player could sprint and receive a breakaway pass when you are flatfooted.

      Other decisions must be made according to the score and the time remaining in the game.  How and when to take chances should be discussed with the coach. As your team is advancing toward and attacking in the offensive zone, there is a much greater chance for success by employing a five-man unit instead of utilizing only the forwards in a three-man effort. Without risking breakaways or odd-man rushes against you, the defensemen should advance to the points and hold this position so that they may be used as an option in attempts to score.  


Defending Against One-on-One (1 on 1) Rushes

      This situation is apt to occur frequently during every game and, since many contests are decided by two goals or less, a defenseman who is beaten only once to allow a high-quality shot against his goaltender could be guilty of causing his team to lose or to confront a much more difficult route to victory. A defenseman must consider the angle at which the opponent is skating, as well as the speed, moves, and overall ability of the attacker before determining his actions.


Suggestions for Defensemen against 1 on 1's

1) Keep your stick on the ice in front of you; play the attacker’s body by watching his chest (do not look at the puck, except with peripheral vision) because the chest is the one part of the body that cannot be manipulated. The player must go where the chest goes, and no attacker can swivel or employ fake chest movements to confuse the defender nearly as much as a talented attacker could do with head feints and quick stickhandling of the puck - if those two tactics are the prime concentration of the defender; keep your back and knees slightly bent and your feet moving directly below your shoulders.

2) Remain at least one stick-length from the opponent (for recovery against any mistake or unforseen circumstance) while maintaining the abovementioned position, and probe with your stick only if there is a good opportunity to deflect the puck.

3) You must judge the attacker’s skating to be certain that you are maintaining enough backward speed to match his progress or any acceleration that he might begin. You must certainly not stop skating and lock your legs in an attempt to sweep away the puck while the opponent is advancing because this creates a “do or die” scenario with the odds against you.

4) There is no need to charge or attack the player because this produces instability and greatly increases his chances to defeat you. If he tries to penetrate and skate by you with the puck, simply control the angle, maintain your stick-length of protection, semi-pivot to skate with him, and remember not to skate at him, but rather to the spot he must eventually come. Your objective should firstly be to play the body and contain the attacker. Do not lose inside position by lunging or by violating any of the previously listed fundamentals.

5) If the opponent is attacking on a line near or outside the face-off dots, keep your outside shoulder inside his inside shoulder and allow him to continue skating straight because he is worsening his shooting angle with every stride.

6) If the opponent is speedy with deceptive moves and a quick, hard shot, you may need to allow a greater distance between you and him as he attacks, and you may feel the need to retreat more to avoid being fooled. However, the player should certainly not be allowed to penetrate below and inside the face-off dots for an offensive opportunity before he is aggressively confronted because at this point he will attain a wonderful goal-scoring position. The defenseman cannot back into the goaltender simply to prevent the attacker from ever getting by him.

      If the defender retreats very low and the attacker signals that he will shoot, the defenseman may employ shotblocking. The better at shotblocking a defenseman is, the more he may retreat - to a point. If the defenseman goes down and the opponent attempts to move around him, the defender should dive toward the puck, thus forcing the attacker as wide as possible.


Defending Against Two-on-One (2 on 1) Rushes


      This is a very difficult development with which a defenseman must contend. The goaltender must focus primarily on the puckcarrier because that player controls the situation, and  this necessitates that the goaltender, in partnership with his defensemen, must have a coordinated plan to minimize the threat of this dangerous circumstance so that, if any shot is taken on net, it is not one of the highest quality.


Suggestions for Defensemen against 2 on 1's

1) As long as the puckcarrier is on a line near or outside the face-off dots, you should slightly favor the other player to deny him a pass by always staying in the middle with your stick

on the ice.

2) Never attack the puckcarrier while he is in this position unless there is a high certainty of disrupting the attack. The closer the puckcarrier is to the boards the more content the defenseman should be to disregard him as the priority threat.

3) Never leave your feet in an attempt to block a pass unless the puckcarrier penetrates so low that your prone body will eliminate any passing lane across the ice or unless the puckcarrier leaves his line near or outside the face-off dots and greatly improves his angle for shooting. If this occurs, the puckcarrier must be engaged, perhaps with a pokecheck or a sliding block.                         I believe that it is better for a defenseman to confront a high-quality shot rather than always trying to deny the pass in a 2 on 1 because, if a great opportunity is allowed, it will, of course, definitely be a wonderful chance to score. However, if the puckcarrier, after being challenged, attempts to move the puck to his teammate, the pass might be blocked, poorly executed, or mishandled.


Defending Against Three-on-One (3 on 1) Rushes

      There are several methods of attack that a defenseman could confront in a 3 on 1. However, it will most likely be two forwards, one with the puck, each approximately on a line near the separate face-off dots, and both almost directly across from each other, while the third attacker trails in the middle. Logically, the tactics listed below are all that you can employ in this situation where you are severely outnumbered and can be strategically outmanuevered.


Suggestions for Defensemen against 3 on 1's

1) Keep your stick on the ice and move it back and forth under control so that the puckcarrier cannot be certain where it will be if he makes a pass.

2) Stay in the middle between the two lower players and prevent any cross-ice pass.

3) Do not oppose the puckcarrier as long as he remains near the imaginary vertical line connecting the face-off dots from both zones because his shooting angle worsens the more he approaches the goal. A shot from this player at this angle is the one you would hope is taken because the goaltender should be in position to confront it.

4) This player must be challenged with a stick thrust if he attempts to improve his shooting angle. If he then attempts a cross-ice pass, you might possibly stop it because you are still in the middle. If you slide toward him to smother the puck, you must realize that this is a “do or die” play.

5) If the puckcarrier passes to the trailer, your choices are to lay back and concede the shot as long as this attacker is approximately 20-30 feet from the goal or to attempt to block it if he moves closer.


      Other 3 on 1's could be: a) the puckcarrier stops in the center of the ice while the other two attackers break for the goal. If this occurs, the best advice is to follow the fifth suggestion written directly above b) a wide-side attacker has the puck, while the middle attacker sprints for the goal and the other far-side attacker moves to trail in the center. If this occurs, it should be defended according to all five suggestions written directly above.


Defending Against Three-on-Two (3 on 2) Rushes

      The overwhelming majority of 3 on 2's operate in the same fashion as do most 3 on 1 rushes: an attacker has the puck on a line near one face-off dot, while the other far-side attacker skates toward the goal and the third attacker trails the play in the middle to await a drop pass for a high-quality shot or to pass to a wing so that he can tuck the puck past the goaltender. However, confronting a 3 on 2, as opposed to a 3 on 1, is easier because there is an extra defender, and each defenseman needs to patrol only approximately half the space that he would cover if he were alone. Essentially, the defenseman nearest the puck is confronting a 2 on 1 against himself that he can play tighter because he has assistance from his partner.


      Suggestions for Defensemen against 3 on 2's

1) The defenseman nearest the puckcarrier, who is approximately on a line by one face-off dot, should be content to keep this man at the angle where he is and not allow him to improve it. Considering the circumstances, a shot from here is acceptable because the goaltender is also focusing on this attacker.

2) If the puckcarrier attempts to cut in toward the goal, this defenseman must challenge him with a stick thrust or perhaps a sliding block. This attacker and the puck must not both get by this defenseman! If only the player skates by without the puck, it means that the attack has been successfully halted or that the puck has been dropped for the trailer, whose shot might be blocked by the near defenseman if he recognizes and reacts to this play.

3) The first duty of the other defenseman is to prevent a cross-ice pass to the far wing streaking for the net. If the trailer receives the puck and somehow penetrates past the first defenseman, the far-side defenseman will confront a 2 on 1.

4) This defenseman’s choices will now be to lay back, cover anyone by the net, and concede the shot as long as the shooter is approximately 20-30 feet from the goal or to attempt to confront the attacker and/or block the shot if the player moves forward.

      Other 3 on 2's could be the same as for 3 on 1's: a) the puckcarrier stops in the center of the ice while the other two attackers break for the goal. If this occurs, the best advice is for one defenseman to drop back to the center of the crease and for the other defenseman to skate forward so that he can instantly play the puckcarrier as a 1 on 1 opponent. In order to avoid confusion, teams should arrange for which defenseman will do each task. b) a wide-side attacker has the puck, while the middle attacker sprints for the goal and the other far-side attacker moves to trail in the center. If this occurs, it should be defended by having the defenseman nearest the wing who trails move to confront him in a 1 on 1, but only when this trailer receives a pass, while the other defenseman drops back to the center of the crease if this happens.   


Defending Against Two-on-Two (2 on 2) Rushes

1) The defensemen can more tightly guard the opposition because the latter does not have a manpower advantage that requires the defensemen to cover more territory or players.

2) The defensemen should play close enough to each other so that no attacker, especially the puckcarrier, is able to skate between them.


3) Unless the attackers crisscross, the defenseman nearest the puckcarrier confronts him according to all the proper procedures for facing a 1 on 1, while the other defenseman covers the second attacker if such player skates for the net or becomes a trailer.

4) If the puckcarrier crisscrosses with his teammate, the defenseman originally covering the puckcarrier should skate with him to the middle of the ice, then release this attacker to his defensive partner and engage the other opponent crossing into his area. Other coverages for this method of attack could be confusing and/or cause a collision between the defenders.

5) The defenseman not primarily covering the puckcarrier should favor him the more that the other opponent is outside the slot and away from the goal.


Defending Against One-on-Two (1 on 2) Rushes

      Many defensemen display the unfortunate tendency to remain on their side of the ice while skating backward. This allows the opponent to shoot or even to contemplate “splitting the defense” if there seems to be a penetrable gap. Each team should develop a system wherein one defenseman quickly and properly challenges the puckcarrier, while the other remains back and in the middle.


Defensemen in the Defensive Zone

1) When the opponent has possession:

a) Whenever the opposition has control of the puck or possession is in doubt, all players should firstly play defensively. If one chooses to ignore this statement and gamble, the potential for dangerous consequences increases.

b) A player must continually split his vision (have a swivelhead) in order always to be aware of the man-puck-goal relationship so that he may properly assess what to do because situations and responsibilities constantly change as the puck and people move. This is especially true for a defenseman because he is certainly usually between his forwards and the goal. If a defenseman solely focuses on “his” man and there is a breakdown elsewhere, this defenseman will have no opportunity to correct a dangerous circumstance.

c) A defenseman should always be directly (several yards) in front of the crease if his partner is absent from the slot.

d) Establish body position on any opponent in front of the net by upchecking his stick and angling his body away from the goaltender’s direct line of vision to the puck so that chances are reduced that a shot is screened, and such player’s potential for a deflection or reaching any rebound is diminished.

e) Do not screen the goaltender by being aligned with any shot on net or by hoping for a lucky block by gliding toward the shooter. Either make a full attempt to block the shot with proper shotblocking technique (do you know this and employ it?) if you cannot reach the puck with your stick, or else you should work to keep the shooting lane clear by semi-pivoting sideways when then shot is taken, while always being able to obstruct the puckcarrier’s path if he attempts to advance and follow the shot or if his motion to shoot was a fake.

f) If you are not directly engaged with a man, keep your stick on the ice because this is where the puck travels.

g) Whenever possible, be a leader by verbally reminding your teammates of their duties and informing them of any danger.

h) If you are covering the puckcarrier, always stay between him and the goal. Do not lose inside position! If you attempt to close on him, play the body. As long as he is outside the slot, probe with your stick and maintain a stick-length of protection between you and him so that you have space to recover from any move or mistake in order to continue your control.

i) Whenever many players are grouped together vying for the puck, do not join the crowd. Stay back so that you can either defend if an opponent exits with the puck or simply skate away with the puck if it alone emerges.

j) There are diverse alignments for different face-off coverages. You must be certain to understand your obligations in all situations and react immediately at the drop of the puck.

2) Transitioning to offense in the defensive zone (When a defenseman acquires or is able to direct the puck):

      It would be marvelous if a defenseman could always initiate a breakaway pass to a forward, but the reality is that great effort and/or proper decision-making are constantly necessary for a successful breakout or to accomplish the minimum objective of clearing the puck over the blueline. Indeed, a defenseman might alternate many times between coverage in his defensive zone and breakout or clearing attempts before his team successfully transitions to offense.

      Upon acquiring or being able to direct the puck, a defenseman must instantaneously mentally progress through a prioritized list of “reads,” similar to a quarterback in football seeking to pass, and decide whether: a) to begin a breakout by choosing from two options (stickhandling or passing in one of a multitude of ways to any of his teammates) b) to do whatever is necessary at least to clear the puck over the blueline c) to direct the puck from the slot toward the boards. The latter two require the defenseman to realize that the chance for a clear breakout is unlikely and that he needs to prepare for more defensive battles until a better opportunity materializes for offensive movement.


a) Do not attempt to stickhandle by a forechecker if you are the last man back because failure could produce a breakaway for the opposition.
b) Stay behind your defensive partner and favor the middle if he has the puck and there is even the slightest indication that trouble might result.
c) Without risk, move to make yourself a safe option for a pass from any teammate. Receiving a backward pass can alleviate pressure and create time for proper choices.
d) All passes should be sharp and crisp, especially long ones.
e) Although they can be a viable option, beware of cross-ice passes or passes through the center because any error can result in a superior goal-scoring opportunity for the opposition.
f) Reversing the puck speedily around the boards to the far-side wing can be a valuable play because most teams overload the side of the ice where the puck is.
g) When closely pressured and in the corners, do not blindly shoot the puck along the boards. Keep it pinned and try to make another play or accept a face-off.
h) Do not work for the opposition by doing anything dangerous that could introduce the puck into the slot. The blueline is a powerful weapon. Under any duress, it is justifiable simply to whack the puck so that an icing call will result or the puck at least clears the zone, thus forcing the adversary to withdraw.


General Comments 

1) Before any attackers even enter their offensive zone, if defensemen judge that the alignment of these players provides a good opportunity, one defenseman could challenge the puckcarrier at the blueline in order to force an offside.

2) The outnumbered situations previously described for defensemen provide at least a good chance for the attackers to organize a high-quality shot if these players execute properly. However, by following the written suggestions, the defensemen can interfere to the maximum extent with the opposition’s success.

3) A defenseman should be certain to generate enough backward speed to match any move by the attacker. The faster the attacker and/or the worse the defender is at skating, the more the latter must retreat and allow increased distance between himself and the opponent. However, some challenge must be presented by the time the puckcarrier is approximately near the face-off dots, unless he is outside them.

4) Feigning a lunge at the puckcarrier might induce a mistake, but a defenseman must be certain that he is able to recover.

5) Remember that a defenseman is operating in partnership with the goaltender. If the defensemen can work to minimize the quality of a shot on net, percentages increase for a save by the netminder.

6) In defending against any attack, a defenseman’s chances for success greatly increase if he is a proficient shotblocker because this skill can neutralize deficiencies, lessen disadvantages, and reduce goals on any individual occasion.