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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Forechecking and Backchecking: Techniques and Strategies

Forechecking and backchecking serve the same purpose, which is to create turnovers and gain possession of the puck. They should be viewed as parts of the same strategic system, rather than as completely separate parts of the game. Transitions from forechecking to backchecking and from backchecking to forechecking are fairly seamless, and the labels are more or less a reference to the directional flow of the play, as well as the part of the ice and manner in which pressure is being applied. As you forecheck, the other team will attempt to move the puck out of their zone and up the ice. As they advance up-ice toward your zone, the transition from forechecking to backchecking occurs with backside pressure being applied to your opponents as you chase them back toward your end.


Forechecking


Forechecking is defined as defensive pressure applied in the offensive zone with the intent of creating a turnover. Typically, forwards do most of the forechecking by pressuring the opposing team’s defensemen and forwards as they attempt to break out of their own zone. Forechecking is performed with the use of several different techniques and strategies.


Forechecking Techniques


Some of the techniques used when forechecking include body checking, stick checking, sweep checking, poke checking, and just about every other form of checking that you can think of. Depending on the abilities of the individuals who are forechecking, different checking techniques are employed with varying degrees of effectiveness. Bigger players are more likely to body check their opponents in order to create turnovers, while smaller players may find that stick-checking techniques work more effectively for them than body checking.


Forechecking Strategies


Different strategies are also employed, such as a 2-1-2 forecheck, 1-2-2 forecheck, 2-2-1 forecheck, etc. The order of the numbers in each system refer to the number of players applying pressure, the number of players supporting the forechecker(s), and the number of players taking a defensive position at the rear of the formation. As an example, the 1-2-2 forecheck has 1 player applying direct pressure, 2 players supporting the forechecker, and 2 players in the defensive position closer to their end of the ice.


Backchecking


Backchecking is defined as defensive pressure applied in the defensive and neutral zones with the intent of creating a turnover. When you give chase to your opponents as you rush back to defend your own zone, you’re backchecking. Like forechecking, backchecking is performed with the use of several different techniques and strategies.


Backchecking Techniques


Whether you’re forechecking or backchecking, the same techniques are often used in order to create turnovers. Since you’re usually behind your opponents as you chase them toward your end of the ice, it’s important to keep control of your stick and avoid using it in ways that will cause you to be penalized. Stick-checking is usually the most effective technique when you’re on the backcheck, attempting to take the puck away from your opponent. But if you get careless with your stick and hook, trip, slash, or high-stick your opponent, you’ll end up in the box pretty quickly. The best way to avoid penalties is to keep your stick down and keep your feet moving. Try to catch up to your opponent and then get yourself into a strong defensive position, and don’t get lazy or you’ll end up in the box for foolish penalties.


Backchecking Strategies


There are several backchecking systems that are commonly used. The left wing lock and neutral zone trap are probably the two that you’ve heard mentioned most often, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are the most commonly employed strategies. There are many ways to backcheck effectively, and the method used by your team will depend on the skill level of the players and the overall strategy of the coaching staff.








The quick definition of the left wing lock is as follows: when the puck is turned over, your left winger jumps back alongside the defensemen near the red line and each one covers a third of the ice while the center and right wing apply pressure to the opposing team’s players from the blue line in.
The quick definition of the neutral zone trap is as follows: when the puck is turned over, both defensemen drop back near your blue line and two of your team’s forwards drop back near the neutral zone faceoff dots to clog the neutral zone, while the last forward applies forechecking pressure in the offensive and neutral zones to force a turnover.


The backchecking sytem used by your team is dependent upon the forechecking system being used. If your team is running a 1-2-2 forecheck, you could say that they’re also running what could be called a 1-2-2 backcheck. As the puck is brought out of your opponent’s zone through the neutral zone into your zone, your players, still in the 1-2-2 formation, must quickly prepare themselves to defend against the oncoming attackers.


It’s important to man up on the backcheck and keep your head on a swivel so that none of the opposing team’s players are left unguarded as they enter your zone. Communication and awareness are the keys to playing great defense. If one of your opponents is open and uncovered, make sure you communicate with your line-mates and figure out who is responsible for covering him.


Hard Work Pays Off


Now that you’re familiar with the basics of backchecking and forechecking strategies and techniques, you should be well equipped to contribute to your team in a very important way. Backchecking and forechecking aren’t the most glorious parts of the game, but they’re essential to the success of every team. When your team works hard at both ends of the ice, you’ll be sure to win more games – and your goalie will most certainly appreciate the help.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Fisticuffs – A Closer Look At Hockey Fights

"Are hockey fights really necessary?"... "What's the point?"... "How can you condone the same type of behavior on the ice that you would be arrested for off the ice?"... If you’re a hockey player, fan, or both, I’m sure that you’ve heard these questions before. Maybe you’ve asked yourself the very same questions. So, how do you respond when you’re confronted by someone who sees hockey fights, or perhaps, even the very sport of hockey as nothing more than barbarians with clubs and blades?



The Roots of Fighting in Hockey

Fisticuffs have been a part of North American hockey since the first leagues were formed in the late 1800’s / early 1900’s. In those days, there weren’t any half-skilled, one dimensional “enforcers” or “goons” taking up roster spots; that trend arose in the 1970’s and thrived in the 1980’s. When the sport of ice hockey was still young, in the pre-expansion era, securing a roster spot on a professional team was no simple task; it was a cut-throat competition that kept every player on his toes, ready to fight for his right to play.

Pride and honor are far too lofty for the hearts of the weak. Desperation and hunger fueled the fire in every player who earned his right to step onto the ice. The game was rough and raw, and the stakes were always high. If you’re a hockey player, you know exactly what I’m talking about. When it’s game time, nothing else matters. And when every player has that mindset, there are bound to be altercations.

As I said before, in the early years goons didn’t make the cut because they didn’t have the skills to compete. So who was dropping the gloves? When someone was fed up with the cheap shots being dished out by an opposing player, they slugged it out and reestablished the terms of engagement. The ref simply can’t and won’t see every stick in the gut or chop on the laces. So if someone was bustin’ your chops, you squared up, dropped the mitts and let him know that you weren’t gonna take it.

“The Code”

It may seem primitive, but what the casual observer doesn’t recognize is that there are several, unspoken, but clearly understood rules that the players subject themselves to when it’s time to dance. “The code” is what keeps a fight from turning into an assault. A few of the fundamental rules would include the prohibition of hair-pulling, eye-gauging, fish-hooking, punching your opponent when he’s down, and many others.

In addition to these seemingly obvious lines in the sand, it’s important to understand that fights rarely break out without a verbal agreement between the players beforehand. This is the first and most important rule. To give a loose analogy, imagine that you’re asking a girl to join you for a dance. If she says no, would you grab her by the arm and drag her out onto the dance floor as she kicks and screams trying to break free? Absolutely not – you would lose the respect of the girl and everyone else who witnessed the incident.

Such is the case when you’re playing hockey and your opponent is primed for a beating. Unless he consents, you do NOT engage. There are many reasons why a player may choose to decline, and that’s his prerogative. Maybe he’s playing with an injury, or his coach has given him specific instructions not to fight in that particular game. If you ask, you might even get a legitimate answer. Or he might just be scared. Whatever the case, no one has the right to assault an unsuspecting player.

Hockey Fights in the 21st Century

Hockey has evolved quite a bit since its humble beginnings. Some changes have been for good, others have not. We all have our own opinions on the subject. With these changes to the rules, equipment, and the overall style of play, fighting has also evolved. Players are bigger, stronger and faster than ever before. In fact, the average NHL player today is about 2” taller than the average player in the 1920’s. Modern training methods have also increased the skill level and overall athleticism of the 21st century athlete.

The game has certainly evolved over the last century, but the sole purpose of hockey fights has remained the same – regulation of the players by the players. Now, we can’t be na├»ve and pretend that fighting isn’t also used as a means of intimidation, swinging the pendulum of momentum in your team’s favor, settling personal vendettas, and pure entertainment value. Those are the natural byproducts of fighting, but at the core we can clearly see that fighting is a way for the players to keep one another in check and protect the scorers, danglers and playmakers who are often the targets of the opposition.

Critics of Hockey Fights



I think we can all agree that it’s a sad sight to see a player fall to the ice unconscious, bloodied, and broken. There’s still something inside us, or at least some of us, that enjoys the raw carnage. But, once again, that’s simply a perverse byproduct of fighting in hockey, and it shouldn’t be dismissed as we consider the motives behind fighting in hockey. Unfortunately, there are goons out there who are hell-bent on breaking the bodies of their opponents. Many critics are quick to point the finger at the men with no mitts, but I would propose that in most cases, the biggest goons on the ice are the hackers, choppers, and ‘bow-throwers – not just the fighters. They’re quick to target the goaltender and they’ll bend the rules when no one is looking, just to piss off you and your ‘mates.

Anyone who spends much of their time watching or playing ice hockey knows that goons don’t target other goons – they go after the star players. They agitate, frustrate, intimidate, and do whatever else they can to get a scorer off his game. If a player is being targeted by an opposing player, it’s the responsibility of the referees to make an assessment of the methods being used and then determine whether or not to penalize the player(s) in question. If the referee fails to handle the situation, the enforcer gets a tap on the shoulder, makes his way onto the ice and confronts the offender. The goon knew all along that his time was coming, so he graciously receives his beating and serves his 5 minutes along with the player who was assigned to the task of restoring civility. Problem solved – in most cases.

Of course, there are times when a player involved in an altercation is injured. Sometimes the injuries are quite severe. Take the Colton Orr vs. Todd Fedoruk fight shown in the video above. Fedoruk is an agitator. As the announcers stated, in the previous meeting between the two teams he was running around hitting everything that moved, wreaking havoc on the ice. So, Colton Orr was sent out to deal with the situation. The result was unfortunate. Fedoruk was knocked unconscious and consequently missed several months of action. It happens, but not much. When it does, we all have the same gut reaction. Does that mean that fighting should be banned? In my opinion, and the opinion of many others, these isolated incidents do not warrant a full-scale ban on an integral part of our game. The majority of hockey fans and players agree that fighting should remain, while those of the general population seem to think they know better.

The Heart of the Fight

I suppose it begs the question, can the anti-fighting proponents see things from a less biased perspective, or are they speaking out of ignorance? And, are we truly holding on to this sacred part of our game for the right reasons? It’s worth thinking about, and I would recommend that you examine your heart and mind on the issue. Our goal ought to be to provide an entertaining game which appeals to as many people as possible. If fighting is the only reason that a fan comes to a hockey game, God bless him, but he’s missing the mark. Most of us love a good scrap, but our sport has so much more to offer.

I still believe that fighting has its place in our game, and I think it always will. But, as a community of fans and players, we need to make sure that the spotlight stays focused on the playmakers, goal scorers, danglers, and soft-handed toe-draggers, not the bare-knuckle boxers. Every player has an important role on his team, but KO’s don’t win games, goals do.

Let’s do our best to remember why we picked up our first hockey stick as a child.