How to Play Defense in Hockey
Playing defense in hockey is part of the game, whether you're on the roster as an offensive player or a defensive player—all positions have duties at both ends of the ice. But these specific strategies and tips will help you play defense more effectively.
Key Hockey Defensive Skills
A hockey defensive player must hone important techniques to be able to shut down the best offensive players on the opponent's team. An effective defender will be able to skate well—combining skilled footwork with speed and the ability to play the game while skating backward—to keep up with speedy forwards and face them while closing off their scoring opportunities. A hockey defenseman won't be expected to run the offense or routinely create scoring opportunities. But a strong defenseman can break the puck out of the defensive zone and carry it up the ice, shooting a pass to an open forward or skating the puck across the red line at center ice to avoid an icing call, before dumping it into the offensive zone. Possibly the top hockey defensive skill a player can bring is a hard-nosed determination to do whatever is necessary to stop the squad from scoring. That may mean delivering checks on forwards against the boards, digging the puck out of the corner, or giving up your body to block shots.
Hockey Defense Strategies
Defensemen on Offense
Some might wonder why a defenseman would be playing offense. All players on the ice play both ends to different degrees, and defensemen are no different. The most important job of a defenseman on offense is to keep the puck in the zone. That means staking out the blue line and stopping any puck the opposition tries to clear out. While keeping the puck in the offensive zone, the defenseman should be able to pass the puck to the forwards and keep it moving to create open shots. If the other team gains possession of the puck, a defenseman should be quick to fall back into the defensive zone to defend against breakaway rushes as well. Because of hockey defensive positioning, defensemen often execute hard slap shots, firing away from distances, looking either to beat a goalie with a hard blast or create a rebound a forward might wrist past the goalie before he recovers.
Defensemen on Defense
It's at the defensive end of the ice that hockey defensive skills are best showcased. Hockey defense strategy most often has the defensive players preventing the other team's skilled puck handlers, passers, and shooters from putting the puck in the net. As a defender, your first job is to stop the rush and force the offense to dump the puck into the zone, or reverse it and bring it back out front, giving your teammates time to get back on defense. In the defensive zone, the usual strategy is to play the puck when it's on your side of the ice, but that might mean actually attacking the forward with the puck and trying to take it away, or containing the player to try to take away shot opportunities and disrupt his ability to pass. The off-side defenseman should be in front of the net working to keep offensive players from setting up in front of the goalie. The defensive player should quickly clear out the puck from in front of the goal if there is a shot and rebound, to prevent a forward from having a chance to score off the rebound. As the other team begins bringing the puck up the ice, the defensemen should stay between the offensive player and the goal they are defending, using their sticks to cut down passing lanes.
Defensemen in the Neutral Zone
At center ice, hockey defensive techniques call for the defenseman t0 be part of the rush, but not out in front of the rush. The defensive player should make a good pass to a forward and then hang back toward the blue line as the play develops in the offensive zone—in case the puck is turned over he will be in a position to defend against the other team's rush.
Defensemen on Faceoffs
On faceoffs, hockey defensive positioning in the defensive zone is usually to man up on the other team's forward to tie them up when the puck drops. This allows your forwards to win possession of the puck and begin moving it up the ice.
There are two types of defensemen playing the game—those who are offensive-minded and those who play a more conservative defense in which they lock down the defensive end of the ice, but aren't very active on the offensive end. An offensive-minded defenseman is one who has the offensive skills to play both ends of the ice. This type of player is actively involved in the offense, and may play more aggressively on offensive rushes, moving further into the offensive zone near the high slot for scoring opportunities. This can be risky, as the other team can get behind the defensemen more easily for odd-man rushes. The defenseman who plays only defense and is not offensively minded is often called a “stay-at-home” defenseman. This type of player rarely scores, takes few risks, and is always in position t0 defend against the other team's scoring efforts.
Playing defense doesn't mean you'll never have scoring opportunities, but it does mean you'll have to expand your hockey defensive skills to put yourself in position to score. Just remember, a team consists of individuals doing their jobs, and if you're a defenseman who plays his position well, you'll make scoring difficult for the other team—leading to a win for your squad.