Defensive Positioning – Playing at the right spot at the right time
Hockey is a fast-paced game that rarely slows.
Because of this, it can be challenging for young players to learn where to position themselves on the ice.
Fortunately, there is a limited amount of space on the ice, so there are only so many places to get positioned. And, there are plenty of ways to improve your position on defense which will let you help your goalie and the rest of the team.
Use the markings to help you
The first thing to consider is how the ice can actually help you with your positioning.
There are lines and dots on the ice, not just to help the referees keep track of icing and other calls. Good defensive players know where the dots and lines are at all times. Good defensive players know where the dots are and they use them to decide where to play.
Defensive players should try to keep the opposing team from getting onto the ice that is in between the dots. The opposing team should be kept to the perimeter.
Once they get into the middle of the ice, they have an easier time making their shots on goal. While you are playing defense, if you lose your positioning, find the dots and get yourself reestablished.
Know where the goalie is
It is also important to consider where the goalie is, as the goalie needs to continually see the puck. If you get in the goalie’s way, then the opponent will have a better chance of actually scoring.
When you are playing defense in your zone, you want to be between the net and your opponent, but not in the goalie’s field of view.
Good positioning will put the defensive player in a spot that can take away the opponent’s stick. As a defensive player, it is also important to position yourself in a spot where you and your opponent are not screening the goalie. Keep that field of view open at all times.
Keep your stick on the ice
Another way to know where you are all the time is to keep your stick on the ice. This might not seem like it would help, but is actually does.
When your stick is on the ice, it can stop a pass and it can help send a shot on goal into a different angle.
It is best to keep your stick on the ice and work the opponent away from the goal. With the stick on the ice, you can herd the opponent away and keep the angle of the stick away from the goal, too. This helps with deflections. See our list of the top sticks for defensemen.
Talk, talk, talk
Talking can help a defensemen stay in the proper position. Unfortunately, hockey players only have eyes on their faces and not on the back of their heads, so they cannot see the puck all of the time.
Therefore, it is helpful for all hockey players to talk all of the time so their teammates know where the puck is and how close they are to getting it. Good teammates, especially defensive players, will talk while playing.
It can be distracting for opponents, too, which makes it even more helpful. It can be helpful to have a few key words to share with teammates, so you don’t have to say much to communicate puck positions.
Stagger with your partner
Stagger yourself with your defensive partner. The two defensive players should not play next to each other or even with each other.
So, if you find that you are too close or level with the other defensive player, then you need to adjust to a staggered spot. You are either ahead of or behind your defensive player, not right next to him so you can defend in the right way.
In order to be in the right position with your partner, it is helpful to have a few keywords so you can talk about where you should both be at any given time on the ice. You and your partner need to be able to protect the shot from getting to the goalie, but you do not both need to do it at the same time at the same place on the ice.
Keep moving to stay in position
Positioning is important, but even more important is movement while on the ice. Good defense players are always moving into their respective zones as a way to keep the puck away from their goals.
Defensive players need to be extremely agile as they are always working to keep their opponents out of the zone.
When a hockey defensive player is flat footed, he is asking to be juked by an opponent. By being constantly ready, the defensive player will be an asset for the team. And, the best positioning for a defensive player is actually about one or two stick lengths away from the offensive player.
This will keep the offensive player from being able to take a solid shot as it closes the gap.
Read the play
Finally, the another good way to improve your defensive positioning is to read plays as best as you can.
Your eyes should always be on the puck and you should always know who is trying to get it. Defensive players should watch the rush, read situations, and quickly decide how to react. They should watch for back checkers and know how many players are on the puck.
You should also know how your speed compares with other players on the ice, so you know if you have a better chance to get to a puck before another player can.
Practice the way you want to play
Honestly, most games are not truly won on the ice as teams face each other. Games are won in practice.
The way that players practice shows up on the ice. If a player is lazy on the ice during practice, that will show up in the games.
No player can expect to do his best in a game when the best isn’t give in a practice.
So, if you want to be in the right spot in a game, you have to be in the right spot when you practice.