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:

Monday, January 18, 2010

Backchecking by Paul O'Donnell

This is the first of a series of articles from Guest writer; Paul O'Donnell
"Backchecking is Not a City in China"
My hockey buddies and I had heard this statement uttered more than once by coaches back in the early 70s while playing our youth hockey on Boston’s South Shore. Over time, this mildly humorous, if not somewhat ridiculous saying evolved into an ongoing joke between us when someone was caught dogging-it on the backcheck. While the phrase always seemed to result in a chuckle or two during those magical times, we were all acutely aware of the meaning that it inferred – Backchecking is not an option!

There are three major factors which prevent many players from being consistently successful on the backcheck: lack of anticipation, poor positional play and fatigue. Anyone of these issues can derail your team’s ability to generate and maintain an adequate defensive posture, in time, to prevent your opposition from successfully entering your zone at will, throughout the course of each and every game played.

In some ways, believe it or not, the game of hockey is a lot like chess. Both games relying on the ability of their players to tactically outman and outmaneuver their opponents during as many individual battles as possible to be successful. While significant parts of each game rely on the skills and experience of the players involved, very often, winning is decided by a player’s ability to anticipate the play farther ahead during every battle, than their opponents can.

In chess, it’s not uncommon for Masters of the game to anticipate their opponent’s tactics 15, 20 or even 25 moves ahead. In the game of hockey anticipation is measured in seconds. Even if the amount of time is only 2 to 3 seconds into the future, players who can consistently and correctly anticipate the play during individual battles as they unfold, more often than not, will be successful over their competition.

When players and coaches talk about anticipating the play, they are actually referring to reading and reacting. Play anticipation takes up a huge chunk of the overall read and reaction process. To reach any level of proficiency with respect to anticipating the play the player must first understand how they are related to one another.

To properly anticipate any play during the read and reaction process the individual player must decide how to combine his knowledge of hockey with the game situation that’s evolving at the time, and have the ability to turn it into positive, appropriate action. Unfortunately, every player’s ability to accomplish this effectively is affected by their proximity to the puck.

The ability to successfully anticipate the play is directly proportional to the reading and reacting process. In other words, the closer a player positions him/herself to the action, the more time he/she must spend reacting to the play, than anticipating the play.

To illustrate this better, think of a person taking a stroll down an unfamiliar sidewalk. While the sidewalk appears to be level and flat, the stroller should realize that there are probably cracks and frost heaves that could result in a fall, if ignored. If the walker is paying attention to their surroundings, they’ll have the time to plan a path along the way that will avoid an obstacle, should one appear. But if they’re oblivious to their surroundings and collide with the obstacle, they’ve lost the ability to anticipate and plan a different route. Their only option is to react to their loss of balance if they don’t want to take a hard tumble on the pavement.

Many young players are under the misconception that if they’re away from the play, that there’s nothing to do. While some become anxious and desert their current position because of their overwhelming need to get into the action, others turn into spectators, being mesmerized by the puck and oblivious to their surroundings.

Players need to understand, that in many cases, being on the weak side of the play is actually a plus, not a negative. It allows that player to see the big picture of the overall battle currently taking place, and anticipate multiple options, on both the offensive and defensive side of the puck.

Positioning on the Back Check
One of the major reasons for ineffective backchecking is that many players tend to place themselves in poor strategic areas of the ice when the puck changes hands. Many players away from puck, place themselves in positions in the offensive zone ahead of the puckcarrier whether puckcarrier is in solid control of the puck or not.

Some of the time, failure begins before the backcheck occurs, especially with regards to the weak side winger or F3 forward. All too often, aggressive forwards, travel father into the zone than they should, recognizing too late, that the transition is about to go bad for their team. These types of compromising positions place these forwards too far away from play to do any good in helping support their defensemen when the opposition is pressing the attack.

In hockey you always want to try to outman your opponent whenever possible, trying to keep your odd- man-down situations to a minimum. Just because you don’t have a man in the box, doesn’t mean that your team is even-up. Every time your weak side winger fails to pick up the opposition’s wide wing on their breakout, he places your team in a man-down situation.

At the very least a team on the backcheck needs to even the odds against their attackers. The most effective way to do this is to always make sure that your widest forward (F3) from the puck is always in a position to take away any passing option from their widest attacking player. But this might be difficult if F3 is standing in the low slot while the battle is being waged high along the boards, just inside the blue line. This might be a good position to be in if the battle is successful, but if the play starts ago the other way, within one or two seconds this player could easily be 40, 50 or even 60 feet behind the play, before he even has time to take a stride.

While there are an unlimited variety of ways to transition in or out of any zone, very often it comes down to a well-timed “D” to wing to center breakout or a scrum of players battling somewhere along the wall. There are instances, when time may limit an off-winger‘s ability to perfectly positioned themselves while their opponents are on a fast break. But when two teams are slugging it out along the wall, somewhere in between the hash marks and the blueline, this is the perfect time for these forwards (F3) to establish a position on the ice that will allow them to have a positive effect on the play (either offense or defense) when the puck finally comes off the boards. I call this perfect location -Neutral Positioning. I’d be very surprised if you’ve ever heard of this concept before, because it’s my concept and I’ve never written about it, until now.

Neutral Positioning
The best definition I can give for this new concept is: A location on the ice surface where support players can position themselves during any battle that will allow them to successfully support the play, whether on offense or defense, following the transition. There are locations on the ice surface, during any battle that allows supporting players to have an impact on the play, no matter what the outcome is of the battle.

For the”F3” forward, watching the battle unfold along the wall, somewhere between the hash marks and the blue line, this perfect neutral position is 30 to 40 feet directly behind the combatants, in the middle of the ice surface, somewhere between the goalposts. This position, not only gives the weak side supporting forward a bigger picture of the overall battle in progress, but it also allows him to move effectively, either north or south, with little regard to the outcome of the battle.

If F3’s teammates are successful retaining the puck, then our weak side wing has the ability to be an integral part of the attack by moving deeper into the zone with the puckcarrier. If the battle goes badly, our third forward can easily establish an effective backchecking position, either by skating with the wide winger who is looking for an easy breakout into the neutral zone or by skating into the passing lane, effectively, shutting down any chance of a tape to tape rink-wide pass.

But that’s not all; not only does he shut down that particular passing lane, but he also performs two very important services on this particular backcheck: if it’s a three player attack, by taking away that wide wing he creates and even men of situation so his defensemen can play the other two forwards man to man on their opponents attack. But more importantly, just by taking that one man out of the other team’s breakout, he has dramatically shrunken the other team’s ability to rally an attack by literally shrinking the available passing surface for the attackers.

The reason that this is so important is that the full size (or the width) of the rink is only useful if there is an available passing outlet to the other side of the rink. By taking away the wide winger on the weak side of the ice, the ice surface shrinks to the width of the next widest available passing option. Usually, the next supporting player is another wing or center (F2) who is the closest player to the puck carrier (F1). If this player is only 15 or 20 feet away from the puck carrier and the puck carrier is moving up the boards, the only available ice surface on the breakout is also, only 15 or 20 feet wide, instead of 80 or 85 feet. Within 2 to 3 seconds our fictitious player has performed 3 crucial tasks - in one felled-swoop.

Another very important added benefit to neutral positioning, in this case, is that while our hypothetical F3 player is waiting for the play to unfold, he should be doing absolutely nothing, except keeping his head on a swivel for any opposing players who are trying to gain a positional advantage. This would be the perfect time for a player to rest and catch his breath, if only for a few seconds, while trying to anticipate possible outcomes of the scrum along the wall.

Of the three pieces to the backchecking puzzle that I describe in this article, probably the most important is the fatigue factor. Fatigue is the X factor that is the fuel, or should I say, lack of fuel that saps the body’s energy and a players’ will to win.

Coaches who consistently shift their lines for more than one minute at a time, during an average game, are not doing their players any favors; and unknowingly, may actually, be assisting their competition. The average shift for an NHL player is 40 to 45 seconds. If the greatest hockey athletes in the world are unable to consistently skate for more than a minute, how can any coach justify long shifts for the average youth hockey player.

Ice time is the carrot as well as the stick for any and every hockey coach. For those players who are affected by selective hearing, there are 3 very easy solutions: tell’em, bench’em, suspend’em.
While I would like to say more about the fatigue factor, there are far too many issues to consider on this very important subject. In a later column I plan to devote an entire article to this crucial and very often misunderstood aspect of the game.

Due to an abundance of requests for copies of my articles, I will be entering the blogging world soon. I hope to have it up and running by the end of January so please be patient. 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:

Thursday, January 7, 2010

How to Prevent Back Injuries

A lot of guys I play hockey complain about their sore back. I'm not sure if its the hockey that's doing it, or they're just getting old. It's important to know your body's limitations, and it's important to be aware of your body position at all times. Learn to recognize those situations where your back is most a risk: bending, lifting, reaching, twisting, etc.

According to the experts at Club Physio Plus, there are three basic things you can do to help prevent back injuries in hockey;
  • Develop a Strong Core (abdominals),
  • Proper Hitting Technique
  • No twisting.
Strengthen the Abdominals
The abdominal muscles are crucial to holding the core (back and stomach) together. People often wonder why the abdominals, when it is my back that is hurting. Usually the lower abdominals (below the waist line) will be quite weak on most people, and therefore not be able to hold the pelvis stable the way it should.

Proper Hitting Technique
Stay close to boards when getting a hit and not just a few feet away. The boards are there for impact. If you are further away your body may twist or worse, go head first. We all know the consequences of that happening. If you are the ‘hitter’, go into the player and boards at an angle. This will lessen your chance of missing the hit and going face first into the boards yourself.

NO Twisting
Whenever you twist always keep your feet moving and never let your trunk twist beyond where your feet are pointing. If you are going around a player or behind the net, try to keep your waist pointing in the same direction as you feet are pointing.

Stretch first – Although there are no studies that show stretching before an activity can prevent the injuries, I have always thought that warm muscles will work more efficiently and therefore decrease their chance of straining.

Sleep on a firm mattress. - Also, the best sleeping position for many people is either on the back with the knees slightly elevated (by a pillow), or on the side with knees slightly bent with a pillow between them.

If you are currently suffering from a back injury, it could be one of many things. It may be a minor muscle strain to a more serious disc herniation. A back left untreated can go on for years. The majority of all back injuries can be resolved.

Read the entire article here.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Best Hockey Commercials of All Time

Slap Shot - Samsung Mobile

Road Trip - NHL

Crosby Road Hockey Game - Gatorade

Curved Stick
- Molson

Bowling - Fox Sportsnet

Big Goalie - Amstel

One Big Happy Family - ESPN

Willy's Favourites:

  • Hockey Fans aren't like other fans - V Cast
  • Proud Dad - V Cast
  • Our Anniversary - Washington Capitals
  • Fantasy Night - V Cast
  • Ovechkin Candy Machine - NHL/NBC
  • Lecavalier & Richards "It's a Glitch" - My
  • Giving 110% - NHL Network
  • Thornton's Butt
  • Best Defence is the Best Offense - NHLNetwork.TV
  • Forsberg in Our Bed - NHL
  • Cat in the Hat - NHL Network
  • The Tougher You Get - Fox Sports Net
  • Wouldn't Make it in the NHL - V Cast
  • No 'I' in Team - NHL
  • Go Flyers! - V Cast
  • Swedish Twins -

Thornton "Toast" - NHL

Naslund/Kovalchuk - Nike

Iginla and Naslund - Nike

Friday, January 1, 2010

Hockey Drills: Box Drill

Hockey Drills: The Box Drill

The Box Drill is a great hockey drill to improve your passing that reinforces the important skill of skating immediately after you pass the puck. It's call the box drill because it simulates the box formed be players in each corner of the offensive zone - as in a power play.

Hockey players love to watch there own passes. There's nothing wrong with a quick look to see if your pass was complete, but you can easily check on your pass AND move to a better position at the same time.

Start the drill with:
  • One player in each point
  • One player in front of the net
  • One in the far corner
All the remaining players and all the pucks in the corner you plan to start the drill.

Start the drill by passing the puck to the player at the near point.

The player that made the initial pass then quickly skates to the point, following his own pass.

The near point player that received the first pass passes the puck to the far point.

The near point player then follows the pass he just made and takes the far point position and waits for his next pass.

The far point player passes the the puck to the far corner.

The next player in line can then start a new pass with a second puck to the player at the near point.

The player at the far corner then passes the puck to the center.

The far point player takes the position in the far corner

The near point player passes to the far point.

The player that made the the pass from the starting corning follows his pass.

The center then takes a shot on net, and gets back in the line up. The cycle continues with each player passing to the next, then quickly following their pass.

This is a great habit to get in to. Make a pass, then skate to open ice and watch for a pass coming to you.

Breakout Drills

Breakouts are necessary to create the dangerous 2-on-1 plays. Mark Carlson, the USHL's Coach of the Year in 2004-05, covers the key breakout ingredients - quick, move the puck, timing, talking, read pressure and maintain puck support - in these hockey drills.
Details include getting to the puck quickly, check shoulder, not handling the puck, forwards in position and support of the puck. The defense drill uses only the defensemen in a 2-on-2 alignment.
The next drill involves one defenseman and one forward and can be run out of both ends. The Mohawk Turn is a skill used in this drill where the player's chest is facing middle rink, ready to receive a pass.
Breakout options include adding two defensemen with two forwards at both ends. Other drills focus on support and positioning, reading pressure in the neutral zone and reading pressure in breakouts. These hockey drills are fundamental in nature and rely on many small details to assure execution.