The point itself shouldn’t need much explanation: forwards should come back to the puck when their defensemen have it so the defensemen have passing options, and their team can break out easier. You get the puck out of your own end, advance a zone, and start attacking.
Unfortunately, it seems that it does need some explaining.
The problem with coming back deep is that it’s A) rather un-sexy and B) takes more work. I mean, most rec hockey guys aren’t at the pinnacle of their fitness levels (two thumbs at self), so it’s easier just to have the D pass it up farther than having to come all the way back to their own end.
The “un-sexy” part, is that not many people get clean breakaways after diligently hustling back to provide puck support, which lets the opposing d-men keep you in front of them.
But I assure you: you will find the game far less frustrating, and have more success if you do it. Here’s five reasons it makes more sense than constantly “stretching” (floating):
Remember, we’re talking rec hockey here. The guys handling the puck back there are very rarely true puck-movers with the ability to thread lasers onto the tape of teammates three zones away (and most of us couldn’t handle those passes if the did – “Sorry man, I didn’t see that until the last second”). In sum, you do not play with Erik Karlsson.
Short passes within a zone or up one are going to be completed, far, far more often. Usually, an attempted stretch pass in rec is a turnover. Maybe there’s a connection 10% of the time, maybe it turns into a clean breakaway 2% of the time. If you can up your odds of maintaining possession and advancing a zone to like, 60% or better, don’t you think that’ll translate to more offense?
This is the biggest point you should take away from this post, if you take anything at all. In the last rec hockey post I wrote I explained that d-men need to work on their gap control. They need to keep them tight. Well, guess what’s the opposite of that, forwards?
There’s nothing scarier for a d-man than having to skate, way, way up in the neutral zone while the puck is about to transition their way. In fact, most won’t.
The deeper you come back into your own zone, the more gap you create, meaning you’ve already made life harder for your opponent. You can cross over the blueline, drive wide, whatever you want – you have time with the puck now.
If you’re stretching and you get a pass, the d-man is already right on top of you. You’ve eliminated your own time and space, essentially doing your opponent’s job for him.
Head-up, decision-making time
This isn’t all about you of course, and actually, this point is similar to the last one, only looking at the whole team picture. With that time you’ve now allotted yourself, you get to do something crazy – think for a second. Assuming your linemates have also come back for support, you’re now coming up as a unit, instead of a staggered group of pigeons, all trying to get the bread for yourself. Yes, that analogy sucks, but shut up, you get the point.
This creates coverage problems, and allows you to opt for chip and supports, dumps, and creativity on the rush if you feel so inclined. To me, one of the best parts of hockey is having solid possession on a rush with linemates headed in the same direction, with your D keeping everything safe behind.
When you stretch, it’s breakaway or bust.
And lastly, it’s…
In rec hockey, you really never know when an egregious turnover is going to happen. We’re all capable of the straight whiff, the pizza turnover, and occasionally just falling.
If you’re stretching, that’s when you throw your hands up in the air to show “Well jeesh, it wasn’t my fault,” because hey, what could you do, right?
But if you’re actually on the right side of center, occasionally you can help. You can catch a guy, or at the very least, provide some pressure.
There are times when I’m pro-flying the zone – when your team is desperate for a home run late, or when you can catch a d-man napping. It’s not a huge sin. But the majority of the time, whether you think you’re going to be the guy to get the puck or not, take the extra few hard strides back to support your d-men. Knowing they can trust you will go a long way, and seeing how it helps you will make it worth your while too.