PostHeaderIcon Establishing a Foothold on the Attack

.
Understanding Hockey From the Neck up article
.
By Paul O’Donnell
.
It’s easy to point fingers when a team’s offense is unable to consistently sustain an attack in the other teams end. There are some who will blame it on lack of talent while others are quick to blame coaches or a combination of both. My personal belief in these situations is that it’s not so much a lack of talent or understanding, as it is a lack of planning.
.
The planning needed to establish a proper foothold in the offense end doesn’t begin when the puckcarrier enters the opponent’s zone; it begins when they’re leaving their own. Puckhandlers and support players, who enter the neutral zone without some rudimentary plan of attack, lower their chances of successfully setting up in their opponent’s zone. This is because, how your team enters and leaves the neutral zone will ultimately affect the offensive tactics and movement once they’ve entered the zone.
.
Beginning the Attack

Setting up an effective zone offense begins in the neutral zone. Attacking with speed, making good decisions before crossing into enemy territory and strong entry points are three important considerations that need to be factored in when establishing some consistency, in setting up and maintaining a competent zone offense.
.
Attacking with Speed- Accelerating to maximum speed through the neutral zone is crucial for any successful attack. A fast player skating at maximum speed is more of a threat then one who isn’t. Puck handlers skating at maximum velocity make it much harder for opposing defensemen to match their speed or maintain proper gaps. In these situations, most defensemen will show more respect to a puckcarrier by widening their gaps and allowing them easier access into the zone if they’re traveling at full speed.
.
Making Good Decisions-One the most important decisions a puck handler needs to make before entering the offensive zone, is whether to attack or dump and chase. Of all of the bad decisions that players usually make during an average game, this one is usually the most noticeable.
.
Attacking the Blue Line-Once the decision has been made to attack, whenever possible, the puck carrier will want to choose an area somewhere along the blueline that will give them enough room to move the puck around or delay while setting up their offense. The location that the puck carrier chooses to enter will greatly affect an offense’s ability to establish a foothold once they’re over the blueline.
.
There are three basic access points when crossing the blue line that puckcarriers need to take into consideration when they’re pressing the attack:
.
Traveling up the boards- Of the three options available this one, by far, is the least desirable. Unless the puckhandler has a significant amount of open ice or readily available player support, once they’ve entered the zone, this type of entry usually has the lowest chance of mounting a sustainable offensive attack. Skating along the boards creates a huge strategic advantage for opposing defenses. Once they’ve entered the zone a puck handlers’ ability to maneuver and pass will usually be hampered by defenses who can steer, angle and squeeze them into submission.
.
Entering through the middle- Whether it’s a breakout, a shot from the point or a one-timer at the hash marks, the middle of the ice almost always seems to be prime real estate to occupy; that is, unless a puck carrier is crossing into unfriendly territory. From a tactical standpoint, even though, it appears that there may be space to move around after the initial entry into the offensive zone, appearances can be deceptive.
.
One problem is that the vast majority of offensive attacks will be defended by 2 defensemen. Stickhandling into the middle of the offensive zone, against two defensemen who have you lined up on their inside shoulders, is like walking into a bear trap. Even if you do manage to get out of it, you know it’s going to be unpleasant.
.
The other problem is the lack of tactical options after your initial entry into the zone. Even if there’s enough time and space to make a play- where are you going to go! Splitting the defense up the middle these usually futile and sometimes even suicidal; and cutting laterally to your backhand puts you in a more vulnerable strategic position than you’re already in. Your only realistic option is to move laterally on your forehand and hope that your support is in a position to create some misdirection until you’re in a good enough position to get the puck to one of them. Unfortunately, either direction is going to take you farther away from the better shooting angles.
.
Attacking the Dots-Whenever your team is attacking through the neutral zone, whenever possible, the puck carrier should always attempt to attack, somewhere close to the face-off dots; preferably, just inside towards the middle of the ice. If the puck carrier is skating at maximum velocity these two landmarks just outside the blue line usually offer the best chance establishing a foothold in the zone. There are several reasons why this is true.
.
Most of the time, defensemen backing up into their own zone will usually be passing the general area of the face-off dots. Whenever a team is on the attack approaching their opponent’s blueline, the puckcarrier should use this as a reference point to isolate the closest defenseman and attack them 1 on 1. They should never attempt to punch a hole through the defensive gaps unless there’s a huge gap into the zone. Attempting this type of strategy too soon will only expose their hand, giving away the element of surprise as well as their options once they have entered the zone.
.
Approaching head-on, allows the puckcarrier to keep the defenseman off balance and guessing, hopefully setting your opponent up for a deke to either side as they enter the zone. This is also another reason for maximizing speed through the neutral zone. When the puckhandler is beginning their approach for the fake, they need to be skating at maximum speed so when they start their glide, just before the deke, the puckhandler will still have enough momentum to accelerate around defenseman before they have a chance to recover.
.
Establishing a Foothold

As soon as the puckcarrier enters the zone and made their move on the defense, they will need to move to an area in the offensive zone that will allow them the best chance of setting up the offense to begin moving the puck. The area they choose will depend on how readily available their support is at the time, but also, what territory the defense is willing to give up, as well.
.
Attacking the Edges- The goal of every defensive unit, when being attacked, is to doggedly defend the middle of their zone. But to accomplish this, they have to be willing to give up the areas outside the faceoff dots. This strategy is commonly known as attacking the edges.Attacking the offensive zone just inside the neutral zone face-off dot, allows the puckcarrier to give up territory towards the boards, giving them a cushion to maneuver in, allowing the puckcarrier to travel deeper into the zone.
.
Moving in Deep- The biggest mistake that many puckcarriers make after their initial entry into the zone is not going deep enough, when they’re trying to set up their offense. Whenever the puckcarrier has the opportunity to move deeper into the zone they should almost always take it; especially if they’re still waiting for their support to set up in the zone.
.
Driving the puck below the hash marks makes the opposition to bring all of their manpower back into their zone, forcing them to play 200 foot hockey. It also allows the attacking teams’ defense to cross into the offensive zone and create more passing options.
.
Ragging the Puck- Commonly known as delaying, ragging the puck is an important diversionary tactic during those times when the defense isn’t giving up the middle and the puckcarrier is waiting for his support to move into position. There are 3 commonly used techniques to accomplish this task effectively.
.
Misdirection- after the puckcarrier crosses the blueline, and is unable to turn-the-corner on the defense he can try to steer him out of position by angling towards the outside hash-marks along the boards. If one of his teammates is able to create a diversion by driving to the net, quite often, a quiet area is created at the top of the face-off circle that the puckcarrier can pass to, if another support player is in position at the time of the pass.
.
Turning out- Also known as the escaping, a turnout maneuver is usually used as “plan B”. If the puckhandler fails to execute a strong move to the net when attempting to turn the corner on the defenseman’s outside shoulder, they can change direction towards the boards and sharply curl around in a 360° turn. This maneuver is very effective at the puckcarrier is moving at maximum speed and makes his turn just below the hash marks.
.
Moving behind the net-Ragging the puck behind the net is usually an effective technique for offenses that are playing weaker opponents or on the power play. Teams who have support players who have the wherewithal to break very quickly and take passes from puckcarriers who are just clearing the back of the net, can a devastatingly effective one-two punch.
.
These are only a few examples of ways that a team can enter and begin to generate an effective zone offense.  It’s important to remember that sustaining the offense, once you’re there, will require quick thinking and movement from, not only the puckcarrier, but also from their supporting players as well.
.

Leave a Reply