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A hockey system is a set of tactics that define how a team plays. It can be set plays or a style that determines what a player’s duties are at any given point in the game. Examples of a hockey system include a team’s use of a strong forecheck—attempting to regain control of the puck from the other team—when both teams are the same strength; the power play formations the team uses; or styles of play to kill an opponent’s power play. Generally, hockey systems are used more as a player grows older and advances in the game.
As a player gets older, his or her team may use different hockey systems for each aspect of the game, with multiple systems played in a single game. For example, a team may play one type of hockey system on offense when both teams are at full strength, and another when one of the teams is on a power play. Different systems will be used on breakouts depending on whether an odd-man rush develops or how the opposing defense plays to defend the rush. A higher-level team will use different systems to take advantage of the other team’s weaknesses, or to counter challenges the team presents.
For the most part, hockey systems are not taught until a player is 12 to 14 years old. Most local recreation league coaches have limited resources and practice time to teach hockey systems that will help kids improve their skills and develop their appreciation. Instead, younger kids will learn very basic systems, like how to stay in a defensive zone, along with other positioning skills that lay the foundation for learning more advanced hockey systems down the road.
There are a variety of hockey defensive systems, primarily related to how the defense positions itself, and each player’s responsibilities within those defensive schemes. Two of the more common defensive systems are the 2-1-2 and the 1-2-2. In the 2-1-2, two defenders will be out front at the top of the circles working to push the offensive play to either side. The two players near the goal line will defend the goal and attack the puck in the corner on their side. The center of this scheme is a supportive position that fills in gaps and assists the others. In the 1-2-2, a point defender chases the puck side to side and harasses the player with the puck to try to force bad passes or steal the puck. The back four defenders play a box to keep the puck out of the center of the ice.
A hockey forecheck is an attempt to regain control of the puck after the other team possessed it. Some hockey forecheck systems put pressure on the other team in your offensive zone or the neutral zone. A 2-2-1 forecheck is an aggressive system that takes some chances if your team is behind late in the game and needs to score. Having two forwards forechecking and leaving only one defenseman back to stop a breakaway is risky. The 1-2-2 is a more conservative forecheck to use when your team is ahead—it’s designed to keep the other team from gaining an advantage with an odd-man rush by having only one forward forechecking deep in the offensive zone, with four defenders in the middle and back lines to defend, and thus avoid letting the opposing team gain an advantage.
Having a man advantage after the opposing team takes a penalty gives a team a great scoring opportunity. For that reason, coaches will prepare several power play hockey systems depending on how the other team plays and what your team’s best skills are. It’s key that your center is a great puck handler and passer and your wings are in the position to shoot when the opportunity arises.
On the other side of the ice, you’ll have a hockey system to kill a power play when the other team has a man advantage. The penalty killing systems include the diamond, where the players form a diamond pattern, or a 1-2-1. The point is a forward who defends the opponent’s puck handler and tries to disrupt the play from even getting started. The next two, a forward and a defenseman, match up with the shooters on each side, while the lower defenseman sets up in the slot. The box penalty kill system is basically a 2-2 defensive scheme. In the box, you shut down the middle to prevent scoring opportunities from good angles while forcing bad shots. Another option is the triangle and one, where one player chases the puck and harasses passers and shooters while the three remaining players form a triangle in front of the goal.
The further a player climbs in hockey, and the more advanced the league, the more hockey systems they’ll have to learn. Advanced teams will play multiple systems for each part of the game. Sometimes those systems will change from game to game depending on the opponent. And often, they’ll change within each game as well, as the coach attempts to take advantage of what the other team does on the ice.