Archive for July, 2010

PostHeaderIcon Moving Effectively In the Slot


By Paul O’Donnell

It’s natural for most developing players to want to emulate their professional hockey heroes. One of the biggest mistakes which young players make during their development is trying to emulate their hockey idols. We’ve all done it. We see our favorite stars move, with and without the puck, to a certain area of the ice at particular times during a game and believe that is the way it should be done.

Unfortunately, amateur hockey players are not pros, no matter how gifted. And try as we might, to copy what these extraordinary athletes do so well on a daily basis, is just not realistic for the developing player to emulate. Young players just don’t have enough strength, skill or the wherewithal to perform the vast majority of these skills at a high enough level of proficiency to be successful.

For you young players reading this, being successful on the offensive side of the game, while supporting the play away from the puck, requires you as well as your coaches to develop skills, beyond the ability to take a beating in the low slot. It also requires the intelligence, quickness and guile to move effectively and with purpose into and out of the primary scoring areas to support the puckcarrier and help continue the offensive attack as well.

Moving with Purpose

One of my top pet peeves that I’ve developed over the years is watching offensive players, while on the attack, campout in the low slot area while the battle is raging around them. Even though, there are times when you need to position yourself in front for screens and rebounds, this should never give you carte blanche to pitch a tent in front of the net every time you’re supporting the play away from the puck.

If you truly want to be successful in the primary scoring areas you should treat the low slot area, the way they do in basketball, like a three second lane. By planting yourself in front of the net on a regular basis, with little or no movement, you create a huge advantage for your opposition. Not only are you easily covered but the likelihood of receiving a clean pass reception with interference from the defensemen covering that area is highly unlikely.

The most effective way, to maneuver in the slot area is to consistently move in and out, placing yourself in the best possible puck support position with the ability to move quickly into the slot areas as the play progresses and the possibility for a high percentage pass reception or scoring chance presents itself.

While some players prefer to muck it up in front of the net I’ve discovered through trial and error that maintaining a posture just outside the slot area and quickly moving into the areas below the hash marks as the play progresses is a much more effective strategy than standing around in front of the net while taking a beating from the disagreeable defenseman.

Moving below the Goal Line

Most of the time when the puckcarrier is battling in the corner or below the goal line, quit often, the only viable passing outlet is behind the net or along the boards.  In this circumstance you may want to move to the far post positioning yourself behind the goaltender. Quite often the defenseman will forget about you or misplay their angle on you preferring to concern themselves with the play and the other side of the ice.

One of the problems with maneuvering to the far post is that it’s difficult for the puckcarrier to notice you. You can solve this problem by waving your stick over your head a few times.  Don’t worry about any of the opposition picking you up while waving your stick, the defenders will be more interested with what the puckcarrier is doing on the other side of the ice surface; just don’t call out or tap your stick on the ice to draw attention to yourself. Just wave it a few times over your head quickly back and forth and most teammates should notice your presence.

You have two options when you position yourself on the far post. If you’re playing your natural side (i.e. right handed shooter playing the right side) after receiving the tape to tape or ring pass behind the net or along the boards, you could move behind the net back towards area from where the pass came from. You’re in a perfect strategic position, as you clear the back of the net, to give a forehand pass back to your teammate, as long as he is anticipating a return pass. You can also try to catch the goaltender napping by doubling back the way you came and jamming the puck on a wraparound.

If you’re playing your off wing, your other option is to look for a one timer pass to the far side of the net close to the goal crease. This type of play takes a lot of practice and timing to be effective. Luckily if you’re close to the goal crease, your shooting options are usually limited to redirecting the puck or jamming it home.

In this situation you need to remember when presenting your stick to the puckcarrier the blade needs to be on the ice before shooting the puck. But don’t move too quickly towards your intended passing lane. Doing so will only allow your opposition to know where you plan to receive the puck or take your shot from. During these scenarios, you are much better off repositioning yourself somewhere slightly away from where you want to receive the pass. Remember, successfully maneuvering in traffic, around the high-value scoring areas, is all about the element of surprise!

You will need to time your approach to where you want to receive the puck by establishing solid two way nonverbal communication with the puckcarrier before making your move. When it’s time to move, break quickly to open ice with your stick down so the puckcarrier has a good idea of where you want the puck. It may also be helpful to move or shake your stick slightly, a few inches above the ice surface, towards the direction you intend to move.

But the most important thing you need to know about receiving a pass has nothing to do with physical skills or ability. The most important part about receiving a pass is: Just because you see the puckcarrier does not mean that he sees you. Don’t look down at the puck. Look your teammate – right in the eye. As soon as he looks back at you, shake your stick and make your break. If you’re quick enough and move to the open before the defender has time to react to your play – hopefully you’ll light the lamp.

Puck Low-Player High

As I said before, players who set up shop in front of the net as the play moves around them are putting themselves and their team at a huge disadvantage. Besides the obvious disadvantage of being easily taken out of play by the opposing defenseman, playing in the low slot area while the puck is below the hash marks just makes it harder for your teammate to get you the puck.

As the puck moves tight around the boards in the lower slot area or in the corners, time and space usually limits puckcarriers to relatively low percentage passing options.  In many of these situations puckhandlers are usually in low-levels of puck possession, usually battling against the boards and/or facing glass. Even if they had time to notice you out in front, more often than not, their passing options are limited to either sliding the puck back to the point man tight against the wall or ringing the puck low against the boards towards the back of the net.

When the battle happens to move below the goal line towards the net, the net itself becomes an obstruction to a successful passing connection. As opposing players begin to collapse their defensive zone coverage, to defend against an offensive attack from behind the net, an inevitable traffic jam is created which will hinder your time and space as well as your ability to receive or even redirect any kind of quality pass. A better offensive strategy, when the puck is below the face off dots, is to move to the high slot area above the hash marks and then break into the low slot as your teammate is ready to pass in your direction.

By positioning yourself in an area of open ice that will allow you the time and space to make a play, somewhere just above the hash marks, you have the ability to maximize your effectiveness as a pass receiver. In this position you can quickly move from the high slot and brake swiftly into the low slot area, with the element of surprise on your side as you break into the low slot area. Hopefully you will have already received a pass before the opposition has a chance to react to your move.

Sometimes you can lure the defender outside his coverage area. To accomplish this you will need to initially establish a position in the lower slot. As the battle rages around you begin to inch your way out of the low slot area into the high slot area. The defenseman will naturally want to follow you, to a certain point before stopping. How far you will be able to suck the defenseman away from their primary responsibility, will depend upon the skills and knowledgeable of that individual defenseman -as well as your guile.

If you can draw that defenseman close to the hash marks, when your teammate is ready to move the puck in your direction, you can anticipate the play and move quickly towards the net. This little bit of misdirection may provide you with enough time and space to make a play and get the puck on net before the defenseman has a chance to react. The key to success, especially when the puck is below the hash marks or in the corner, is to have the ability to move to open ice instantaneously and in every direction available without being hindered by the traffic that usually clogs up the low slot area.

Hockey Puck -High Player Low

The only time you should be planting yourself in front of the net is when the puck moves above the hash marks and especially back to the points. But even in these circumstances, you can become much more effective in the low slot if you time your moves to the net to coincide with the shots by your teammates.

While it’s true that you need to establish position in front of the net for screening and rebound purposes, sometimes establishing your position between the puckcarrier and the goaltender too early, can be counterproductive. My philosophy is: Why should an offensive player take a beating or wear themselves down during the course of the game at the hands of a defenseman who seems to take just a little bit too much pleasure from your pain as he practices his wood chopping skills on your back or attempts to knock you off your feet?

Why not cut down the physical abuse by strategically moving into the low slot and setting up just before the shot is taken.  Besides the obvious benefit of not allowing the defenders the time to establish a solid defensive position on you, it also disrupts the goaltender’s concentration as well.

Goaltenders are used to being screened. Goaltenders have strategies for maintaining eye contact with the puck most of the time; but many times they become so hyper focused on the puck before and during the oppositions shooting attempt that they can become a little discombobulated by a player who simply crosses their path for even a fraction of a second while the puck is in flight. A player establishing good position at the netminders doorstop can redirect the puck before it reaches the net or drive the puck home as it drops to the ice.

Conclusion

Always remember, while the sport of hockey may be a game of quickness, agility and physical skills, without the ability to properly read and react to every play as well as every battle that you are confronted with you will never aspire to your highest possible potential. 

As always, I look forward to your comments good, bad or ugly at: paul@neckuphockey.com