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02/05/2014, 1:15pm EST
By James Boyd - GM Mississauga Steelheads

A Game Within A Game

As any coach will testify, face-offs are a critical part of any hockey game.  They set the tone for the play and can change the momentum in an instant.  Whether you are in a defensive situation or in the offensive zone with less than a minute to play down by one goal, there are a multitude of situations that will change by the face-off.  Face-offs are about taking possession in an instant and putting your team in the driver’s seat.

Many teams look for that special player whom has perfected the art of face-offs.  Current NHLers such as Mike Richards, Patrice Bergeron were selected to the Canadian Men’s Olympic hockey team not only for their well-rounded play but for their ability to win face-offs.

Here are some tips from my presentation at the OMHA Game Day Coaches Clinic to help you and your team with face-offs.

Emphasize the following three points when teaching face-offs:

  1. Possession of the puck
  2. They are an opportunity to implement set plays on offense and defence
  3. Face-offs can change a team strategy to make it difficult on the other team

Have a Plan

Before each game, implement your face-off strategies with the team.  Break it down and focus on plans in these areas of the ice:

  1. Offensive Zone
  2. Offensive Blue Line
  3. Centre Ice
  4. Defensive Blue Line
  5. Defensive Zone

Know Your Responsibilities

Every player on the team should know their responsibilities during a face-off.  Practice this and ensure your players understanding prior to taking to the ice.  Situations change during game such as if a Centre is ejected from the circle or if a player is injured.  Perhaps it is most important for your players to continually ask themselves “What is my job when we win?” and “What is my job if we lose?”

Defence wins games more often than not.  Face-offs play a vital role in setting up your defensive strategy.  The keys to a Defence-First Mentality are:

  1. Do not give up body position
  2. Forwards can help the Defence by continually moving their feet while screening
  3. Win 40/60 battles

Identify Your Players’ Talents

Do you have a player with exceptional talents in specific areas that can help you on face-offs?  Certain players have a shot like a cannon, while others have great vision or outstanding acceleration.  Identify these players and prepare them to be in certain places during specific face-off situations.  Utilize your talent to maximize chances.

Special Situations

There are a multitude of situations during the course of game.  Each situation should be approached differently.  Here are some situations where face-offs play an extremely important role:



Penalty Kill

5 on 4
5 on 3
Empty Net

Power Play

5 on 4 
5 on 3
Empty Net

Practise! Practise! Practise!

Face-offs require constant attention so be prepared to set aside time at each practice to work on your face-offs.  Remember, possession statistics prove wins.  Use video wherever possible or have your assistant coach track your players’ face-off statistics.  Recognize your players’ good plays in each zone and emphasize the importance of face-offs.


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