Photo Credit: Tim Bates/OJHL Images
Players are faster and more skilled than ever before – so what’s the answer to creating more offence? Well, there simply isn’t just one answer. We have compiled a list of 15 Ways to Create More Offence for your team. To possess good offensive habits players must master skills such as facing the puck, stick on the ice, giving a target, protecting the puck, facing the play, carrying the puck in the triple threat position, and getting open. Beyond that here is a list of key concepts, tactics and skills to add a few more goals to your total this season.
Is ‘hockey sense’ a teachable skill? Absolutely! Decision-making is what determines success in any sport and it is the cornerstone of ‘hockey sense’. This means that players today must have good physical abilities, good skills and mental abilities including the ability to think in cooperation with other players on the team. They must analyze (read) and find a solution (react) to any given situation quickly and accurately.
This is where the coach is crucial – before moving into systems - coaches need to design practices that incorporate ‘game-situations’ practices where they are empowered to think, make quick decisions and problem-solve in an highly motivated and competitive environment. If we don’t expose players to situations they will face in a game, then we are simply not maximizing the development potential of our players.
When developing seasonal plans and individual practice sessions, coaches must be sure to incorporate skill development into every practice. Technical skills provide the foundation for a player’s ability to play the game and will fuel their continued enjoyment of the game. It’s upon this foundation that individual tactics and team tactics can be added to and built upon.
The player can also take an active role in their own development outside of team practices. The OMHA Players Club was created to provide the opportunity for players to develop skills at home including puck control (10,000 Touches), and shooting & scoring (5000 Puck Challenge).
There more teams now that have players who can all skate, and stickhandle but they play robotic hockey - they aren’t using their skill in creative ways. Too often, coaches focus solely on strategy and systems and their skill does not link with what the coach has put in place.
The challenge facing coaches is to provide players with the opportunity to use their skillset within the team concept. Players should be encouraged to continually develop their skills and work on the edge of their ability to push themselves to grow and improve, both individually and as a group. Creativity allows the player with a full ’toolbox’ of skills with the understanding “where & when’ to use each skill.
The concept of quick and close support ensures players always have support and options. It also provides the opportunity for quick, short passes and offensive tactics such as give and go’s, crossing attacks, cycling the puck, chipping the puck to space and overlapping. A player with the puck who is isolated from his teammates will have limited options and is easier to defend against.
Quick and close support also provides the ability for a team to retrieve the puck quickly when possession is lost.
Possession – it’s always been a buzzword in hockey. NHL teams want the puck and when they get it, they want to keep it. The NHL’s emphasis on puck possession could just be the catalyst to change habits at the minor hockey level.
Puck possession is not a particular system. It is more a combination of skill, support, and decision making based on the following notion: You have to work very hard to get the puck, so don’t just give it away. Puck possession is also not about hanging on to the puck until you have to throw it away or lose it - puck possession is about sharing the puck at the right time so your pass/chip/dump leads to another strong possession situation for your teammate. Adopting this new standard could create a mindset that promotes skill and teaches players that offence starts as soon as your team touches the puck regardless of where you are on the ice.
Hockey is a game of constant transition. The ability to regain possession of the puck, positively move the puck, and create an offensive rush can be a key point of difference between two teams.
Defencemen play a key role in transition and to transition effectively, they require the ability to play with poise, vision, and awareness. How do teach these skills? Repetition is key for developing these skills and to be able “to do” without thinking – good skills practices build confidence.
Drills should also try to simulate game-like scenarios and teach how to read and decide the best option in all zones. Once individual and partner skills are introduced, need to involve the whole team Drills with forwards.
Mike Babcock calls the Neutral Zone, the ‘Speed Zone’ because it’s here where teams initiate the attack. Speed through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone is crucial, especially without the ability to obstruct or hold players up. Speed forces defencemen to retreat so they protect the ice behind them, providing access to the blueline and entry into the offensive zone. Defencemen looking to step-up may be on their heels and left behind against a team that comes through the neutral zone fast.
Cycling is a tactic that supports the concept of puck possession by using quiet zones of the ice. In order to maintain possession of the puck in the offensive zone, the puck can be moved to specific areas of the zone where there is no direct scoring opportunity. These areas exist in the comers and behind the net. Rather than throwing the puck blindly to the slot, the puck carrier chips or reverses the puck into one of these quiet zones.
The emphasis of offensive cycling is keeping players in motion. When used properly, the constant motion of the exchanging players creates confusion, constant pressure and buys time. This movement continues until opening to attack the net it presents itself.
With a wide entry into the offensive zone, the player in the middle lane drives to the net with speed. This simple play creates pressure on the defencemen to back up and protect the house. The goaltender may feel the pressure of the incoming player, which will force them to stay deeper in their net and add pressure to make a save and control the rebound.
The net drive player can also pick up any loose pucks off the rush and initiate the cycle since he is already down low, skating with speed and driving to the corner from inside to outside.
With the overall speed of the game and the defending forwards providing constant back-pressure, the days of the third forward slowing down on the rush to slide in behind the puck carrier are gone. Now we ask our players to “Attack as 5 and Defend as 5”.
After a successful breakout or regroup, with the puck in possession of the forwards, the fouth player, usually one of the defencemen, must continue to move their feet and stay in the rush from the breakout, through the neutral zone, and then read the quality of puck possession at the offensive blue line and be ready to engage in the attack as a late-wave option. This provides another option for the puck carrier and creates confusion for defenders as they try to figure out their coverage on the backcheck. Think Drew Doughty or Erik Karlsson!
Offensive hockey is all about creating mismatches and the most basic is the 2v1. 2v1’s can happen all over the ice – off the rush, out of the corner, off the low or high cycle. Practices should provide opportunities to re-create these game situations and not simply run 2v1’s in full ice situations. Run 2v1 out of the corner, below the tops of the circles, and from transition regroups in the neutral zone.
Additionally, offensive players must actively seek out and create 2v1’s or multiple 2v1’s situations in 2v2, 3v2 and 3v3 situations. The concepts of quick and close support, manipulating defenders feet and use of small area games can help players execute and master this offensive tactic.
This could easily be called ‘Create Confusion’ – essentially, defenders are more comfortable when they are able to keep players in front of them and to the outside. Therefore, offensive players must make defenders move and turn to defend – by getting the defender to turn, cross their feet or creating switches between defenders, the offensive players have the opportunity to create confusion and put defenders under pressure.
Defencemen are crucial to initiating the attack and jumping into the rush. Defensively, many teams now collapse down below the top of the circles to limit time and space for the attacking team. Getting defencemen engaged by moving the puck from low to high in the zone will draw the defending team’s forwards back towards the blue line, stretching the zone and giving more time and space for the forwards to operate down low in the zone.
If the defending forwards do not cover the point, this provides the opportunity for the offensive D-men to engage in the attack and be available to generate shots from the point.
This is a simple concept that comes from the old Soviet style of play and has been adopted across the world – it simply means that the four players without the puck must work to provide various options for the puck carrier.
When we think of great passing plays, our focus is almost always on the passer – but the player without the puck needs to be more than simply a willing target. The ability of the pass receiver to get to open space, provide a target and create options for the passer is crucial.
The responsibility of the puck carrier is to read the play and deliver the puck and then quickly provide an option for their teammate, who is the new puck carrier. This keeps all players engaged in the play, provides the opportunity keep possession of the puck and again calls on all five players to be actively involved in the play.
Bring competition to your practices! Coaches can use cross-ice, small area or small-sided games to re-enforce skills and tactics taught in practice through game-like situations – they reduce time and space for players to make quicker decisions, increases the intensity of your practices, and players love them.
Cross-Ice? Only for young players? Think again…while Cross-Ice games are the best way to introduce the game to beginner players, they can be used by teams from Novice to Midget – in fact more and more junior, college and pro teams use 3v3 cross-ice games and small area competitive drills in their practices. Reduce the space & increase the pace!
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