Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Art of Timing and Spacing By Paul O’Donnell

Have you ever noticed how great hockey players always seem to be around the puck?

Whether it’s anticipating an opponent’s errant pass, or positioning themselves perfectly while receiving a pass, the best players always manage to position themselves perfectly and be an integral part of every play while they’re on the ice. This is because the top players realize that while their superior physical hockey skills will always be an important factor during every contest, it will not put them in a position for an outlet pass or set up them up for the one-timer scoring attempt.

For the top players in the NHL, the ability to move without the puck can often become more important than the ability to move with the puck. Their deep understanding of, not only, how best to support the play and utilize “time and space”, but particularly their savant like cognitive skills of “timing and spacing” is what separates them from the crowd.

Not to be confused with the concept of time and space, timing and spacing basically -is the ability of a player to be, exactly in the right place on the ice, at precisely the right moment in time to support or defend against an offense of attack. For any player with aspirations of moving beyond the high school and midget levels it would be wise to bring yourself up to speed on this very important, but barely spoken of concept.

Anticipating the Play
Never assume that just because your teammate has control of the puck, that they’re necessarily in control of the puck. If your teammate is having trouble controlling the puck and has limited passing options or lacks the time and space to make a play, it would not be a good time for you to move to an area of the ice surface that reduces your defensive posture if there’s a turnover.
If your teammate is in a high-level of puck control and he’s moving to an area of the ice where you could be a viable passing option, then anticipate a position on the ice where he would most likely need to pass the puck.

While you’re following the play try to anticipate all the possible scenarios in your head and attempt to whittle those down to a few probable outcomes. Overtime you’ll become more proficient at guessing the outcome of any particular battle and the direction it’s headed. This will help you to know when and where the best past receiving opportunities will be.

Giving Yourself Some Elbow Room
While you’re selecting your spot on the ice, try to give yourself some elbow room to make your job easier. If you can help it, never choose a spot that will limit your ability to move after you’ve caught the pass. Choose a position that will give you enough time and space, not only receive the pass and gain control the puck, but will also allow you to accelerate and ultimately generate some offense.

Timing Your Approach
After you have anticipated the play and chosen a location on the ice that will give you some breathing room to work, you’re going to want to get there. But don’t be too anxious to want to get their too quickly. This is what the “timing” in “timing and spacing” is all about.

A major key to understanding when and where to enter the passing lane is to anticipate exactly where and when the puck carrier will have an opportunity to dish off the puck. It won’t matter if you’re in the perfect position to accept the pass if the puck carriers’ not ready or able to give it up. Your best opportunity of receiving a pass is to be in the best possible passing position, when the puck carrier needs you. Puck carriers want a passing option that presents a good target, one that they can easily see to improve their chances of moving the puck to a stronger offensive position.

If at all possible, you always want to maintain some kind of momentum through the pass reception. Even if you’re crawling as you accept the pass you’ll be in a better position to accelerate, than if you were standing still. You’re much better off stopping before you start your approach than moving into position too fast and find yourself running out of time and space.

Establishing Eye Contact
One of the most important parts in any pass play is the ability of both players to establish eye contact with each other, well before the pass is made. As I said before, it won’t matter how great you’re positioning is, if the puck carrier doesn’t know that you’re open. Don’t wrongly assume that just because you see your teammate carrying the puck, that he is able to notice you as a viable passing option. Always make sure that he is actually looking at you before making your move toward the passing lane.

Creating a Passing Lane
While your teams’ offense attack unfolds, you’re going to want to move into a passing lane which will give you the best possible chance of receiving a pass and continue the attack. If at all possible you will want to move to an area where you can receive a direct tape to tape pass. Unlike area or bounce passes, a direct pass is usually the easiest and quickest pass to control. Whether you’re moving to a passing area that you can drive a truck through or one that requires the passer to thread the needle, you must have a direct line of sight, with no obstructions to block the pass.

Another important thing to remember is that it’s not as important where your eyes are viewing the puck at the time of the pass, but rather where your stick blade will be located on the ice at the time of the pass. Let use as an example, a forward moving diagonally out of his own zone anticipating an outlet pass between two defenders who are relatively close together. The pass receiver must be able to time his approach so that his blade (and not his body) will be in the sweet spot of the passing lane in time to receive the pass. In a tight passing situation such as this, by the time pass receiver’s body enters the sweet spot, it’s already too late. You should always be acutely aware of where your hockey blade position is while you make your approach.

While speed maybe the name of the game in hockey sometimes you have to slow down to get ahead! There are many situations in hockey that require you to take a controlled approach to your offense. Whether it’s an offensive attack at your opponent’s blueline, attempting to get out of your own zone or transitioning in the neutral zone, your team’s ability to time their entry into their passing lanes will be an important factor in your team’s success.

Finally, let me make my position on the importance of skating without the puck very clear:
It’s not the responsibility of the puck carrier to get you open for a pass! It’s your responsibility to move to an area of open ice and establish yourself as a viable passing option.
As always, I look forward to your comments, good, bad or ugly at:
Paul O'Donnell writes his syndicated column, Understanding Hockey from the Neck up for Chicago's Hockey Stop Magazine. Paul grew up playing hockey in the Greater Boston Area and played his college hockey at Salem State College in Salem, Massachusetts. He has been coaching in the Chicagoland area for the past 25 years. Send your comments,good, bad or ugly to:

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