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Video Coach

Breaking Down Defenders Through Creating Mismatches

By Ian Taylor, OMHA Executive Director, 10/13/20, 1:45PM EDT


Video Coach | Presented by CoachThem

When we use the term TOTAL hockey, we mean all five player working together, reading off each other and interchanging positions – to manipulate defenders and create confusion.

In previous Video Coach sessions, we have looked that the Total Hockey in the offensive zone featuring the Tampa Bay Lightning and Chicago Blackhawks but lets change gears and look at a concept that features the OZ rotation of the Colorado Avalanche using the high cycle and forced-switches to attack open ice.

Watch the video, then look at each sequence broken down frame by frame to focus in on the rotation and look at how it helps these players in creating time and space, creating passing and shooting lanes. Included in the bottom is a drill you can run at your next practice to teach this concept.

  • COL96 retrieves the puck and, with space, is able to accelerate through the NZ unimpeded
  • COL92 starts to move towards the puck carrier to provide support and push back defender
  • COL92 continues to skate across and outside the dotline
  • This does two things -
    • 1) He pulls defender DAL3 outside the dotline with;
    • 2) This opens up space for COL96 to cross behind and attack the middle lane
  • The two COL players have now created a 2v1 advantage
  • The movement of COL96 forces DAL3 to cross-over and defend the puck carrier
  • COL96 slips the puck to COL92 who enters the zone in possession, wide and in space
  • DAL13 provides back pressure  to minimize the odd-man break
  • DAL3 engages with COL96 as he drives the middle lane towards the net
  • DAL13 continues to backcheck pressuring the puck 
  • COL92 continues down the wall scanning for support
  • At this point, all five DAL players are in-screen and the puck is outside the dotline with no imminent scoring threat
  • With no immediate support and the hard backcheck from DAL13, COL92 curls up and identifies open ice behind him
  • COL96 continues to the net and occupies both DAL defenders 

Draw Drills, Plan Practices

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  • The delay from COL92 allows support to arrive and creates two passion options -
    • 1) COL8 opening up for shot one-timer from the point and;
    • 2) COL29 recognizes there is scoring opportunity off the rush and drives into space in the middle of the ice to support the puck
  • DAL continues to hold its shape defensively with all five players in-screen, under the puck with toes up ice
  • COL29 drives through the middle of the ice and provides a high or low cycle option
  • This creates the second 2v1 situation, as COL92 steps off the wall and cycles the puck with a direct pass to COL29
  • COL96’s middle lane drive, DAL4 is late closing on COL29
  • DAL4 cheats towards low cycle (toes)
  • COL8 recognizes the cycle and immediately activates to provide support
  • Receiving the pass, COL29 begins to drive up the wall
  • COL92 beats DAL4 to ice between DAL4 & COL29 and identifies the third 2v1 situation of this sequence
  • DAL16 turns back on puck & doesn’t stop
  • For the first time, DAL starts to lose its defensive shape
  • COL92 crosses in from of DAL4, taking away his lane and this allows COL29 to sprint off the wall and attack open ice
  • DAL16 turns and tries to close the gap on COL29 driving to the middle
  • DAL16 recognizes COL29 has gained the dotline in possession and is now the most dangerous threat; he now looks to contain and take away shooting lane
  • COL8 releases from the point crosses behind COL29
  • COL27 sees COL8 starting to jump and retreats back to protect the blueline and middle of the ice 
  • COL29 successfully gets to the middle of the ice and is able to shot from the high-slot in the funnel to the net
  • COL96 has maintained his net front positioning and provides a low screen with DAL3
  • COL8 continues on his overlap route to the net providing a passing option or tracking any potential rebound

This zone entry and offensive zone sequence illustrates the importance of creating mis-matches, manipulating the feet of defenders, quick and close support and the danger of attacking off the wall with speed. It also shows how quickly the defending team can go from controlled structure to breakdown.


Here as the puck carrier moves the puck along the boards, the defencemen at the point activates, skating between the puck carrier and the boards. As they meet, the puck carrying forward leaves the puck for the defenceman then attempts to take the opposing defender with him, creating space for the puck carrying defenceman to move into or pass.

  • Two lines near blue line
  • Middle line shoots on the net, then skates to the corner to retrieve puck
  • Line closest to the boards skates down to the wall to pick up cycle pass from first forward, who then goes to the net for a return pass and shot on goal

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Ian Taylor is the Executive Director of the OMHA and former Director of Hockey Development. A proud hockey dad of two, Ian has over 25 years of instructional and coaching experience.

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