Chimney not included.

In hockey, the amount of defensive strategy a team puts into its game dwarfs its total of offensive strategies, which is somewhere close to zero.

Offensively, you’re pretty free. There are some guidelines – always keep a forward high in the offensive zone (so you don’t get three guys trapped deep), mid-lane drive on a three-on-two, and other little things like that. But for the most part, you’re trying to create chaos, find soft spots for open looks, and generally twist the D in knots.

Unlike basketball, good defense will beat good offense in hockey every time.

Earlier today I was reminded by a Cam Charron column what every single defensive strategy coaches teach comes down to: protecting The House.

This, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, is the (poorly drawn) “House”:

Some people refer to it as home plate, some people define the exact parameters of it differently, but you get the point: inside the house is where quality scoring chances come from, and because of that, it’s precisely where you want to keep the puck away from.

When you’re wondering what coaches are yelling at their players on the bench, it’s usually either    A) a random string of curses or B) “Keep the puck on the paint,” (the yellow on the bottom of the boards), “Keep them to the outside,” (of the house), or some variation of that statement.

It used to be that the goal of offenses was to cycle the puck, which in retrospect was kind of silly. You’d have guys just cutting laps in the offensive zone, never taking the puck to the house, just keeping it on the wall. These days, that’s what coaches try to get offenses to do. (There are some exceptions like the Sedins, who cycle but are constantly looking for a play in the house.)

This is why a winger, who’s “job” is to cover his d-man on the point, is allowed to help his d-man out if an opposing player who has the puck cuts to the middle underneath the winger. If that guy passes it up to the point, you’d rather a shot from there than a shot from inside the house.

Inside those crudely drawn black lines, there shouldn’t be a spot that at least two defensive players can’t be within stick range of in the matter of a half-second. With this being a major priority for skaters, there’s one undeniable fact that pro goalies need to accept: unscreened shots from outside that house are their responsibility and there’s alone. Anything that goes in from out there without a tip is grounds to get a goalie yanked. You need to be able to trust that he’s got that stuff covered.

When scrambles happen in front of the net late in games, the house collapses smaller and smaller, and that’s alright, as long as you aren’t allowing shots from inside that (now smaller) house.

It’s likely many of you were familiar with that term, but for those of you who weren’t….

Glad we could be of assistance today.

Comments (10)

  1. it’s its!!!! my brain hurts :)

    • Always great to get reader feedback, thanks for commenting. (I opted out of the lazy line “The first word of every sentence is to be capitalized” for you.)

  2. Next up.. wheel? You mentioned it in a White Board (i think reverse breakout), but I also thought it could mean “whip it around the boards” or something like that. Note: my extent of hockey knowledge comes from the NHL series and Gary Dornhoefer during intermissions of Flyers games.

    • Ha, no problem. Wheel is pretty simple (D-man basically just grabs the puck and lugs it up the ice solo), but I could do a whole post on breakout terminology. Maybe Thursday “Terminology Lessons” could be a new thing.

      • Wheel isn’t just limited to the d on the breakout though. Wheel basically means that you should skate it, usually because you have space in front of you, although occasionally because someone is coming up behind you.

      • That would be great. I’m not sure how many people out there are in the same boat as me- love hockey, don’t know jack about strategy- but I find the Whiteboard and Systems Analyst posts extremely helpful and look forward to them every week.

        It would also be interesting to hear how you watch a game. A lot of fans sit down and follow the action. Nothing wrong with that. Recently, I’ve found myself looking at player movement away from the puck and trying to watch plays develop.

        Ok, I’ll stop hijacking your blog now.

  3. Aw, Justin, your lines aren’t crude, they’re cute. Really. :-)

  4. I also thought that “house” could mean a 1-2-2 set up from about the top of the circles and out to the neutral zone. That’s what my coach called it, or was he just a jackass?

  5. This one had me nodding grimly the whole time. I hate watching forwards let the bad guys just waltz on through to take uncontested shots from inside the hashes because “that’s the D’s job” while they float around near the blue line “covering the points.” And if it goes in, there’s always that one guy: “Were you screened Mike? Did that get tipped?” NO dummy it wasn’t screened or tipped. It didn’t have to be, because you let the guy go free to fifteen feet and gave him enough time to line up his shot like Tiger lining up a gimme putt. Hell, if I could stop those lasers on a regular basis I’d be off somewhere getting paid to do it.

  6. Great article . Love the house. And protect it with your soul.
    Hey any other never-been-coached beer leaguers out there who found this article enlightening would probably like this video on the basic 2-1-2 zone:
    “The Canadians: A Defensive Positional Breakdown”
    The animation of the “gift” of an open shot cracks me up each time.

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