Up here in Canada, it’s rage hangover day (also, it’s cold as s***, but that’s neither here nor there). The Canadian Olympic team has been named, and we’ve all pleaded our cases to people who agree with us, or don’t, or those who don’t even want to listen to us, like any of these people can change the decisions Hockey Canada made.
The team, she is set. (Barring injuries.)
So, on to the next question: how do you play with all that talent on the roster? How do you adjust for the bigger ice surface? How would YOU coach that team? I mean systemically – how would you chose to maximize the team’s chances of winning gold in Sochi?
I put some thought into it since the announcement yesterday, and here’s what I’ve come up with to start. And like a coach using his assistants, hopefully you guys have some tweaks that would improve my hypothetical plan.
In The Neutral Zone
My personal preference would be a 1-2-2. I think that the best team you can assemble plays defense-first, but has a ton of talent so they can transition effectively and challenge offensively. There’s no need to send two forecheckers at talented, poised players – they’ll just end up caught and now you’ve given up numbers.
In The D-Zone
I like the way Boston defends with layers, and would encourage my team to do the same. The only difference is that I’d be all over our wingers to take defending seriously (not that you normally don’t, but I’m asking for more movement), because the blue-line in the offensive zone is actually closer to your net on the Olympic sheet than it is in the NHL. That means giving up too many bombs from there isn’t ideal, which means that while you’d like to have them help in the layering, they also have to be cognizant of the increased threat up top. Stops, starts, and active sticks, like you’re killing a penalty.
Once possession is established, I think you unchain the dogs, specifically from your back-end because it’s a great way to use the extra width of the ice: you push the opposing D back by driving wide (which is now easier), and you delay (unless you have a step) and look for the late layers. I think you preach possession at all costs (as in don’t dump the puck in), because it’s easier to keep the puck with the extra space, and harder to recover it. I think you encourage spreading out in the offensive zone, specifically behind the goal line, to make players who haven’t played together much communicate on coverage switches.
On The O-Zone Forecheck
Basically the same as the neutral zone forcheck: F1 on body, F2 on puck retrieval or board-side wing (reads off F1), F3 in the middle reading. I think I’d want F3 to approach a bit wider than normal and hope to flush the play up the overloaded side. The wide ice makes angling & directing the play more important than ever. Oh, and use discretion when finishing checks. Wasting strides to take yourself out of the play is kinda nonsensical when there’s so much skill on the ice.
On The Powerplay
You don’t force players into a powerplay system, you build a system to best utilize your talent. Which is to say, if I have a healthy Stamkos, I’m loading that gun. If I have Subban, I’m loading that gun. If you’re using skill guys not bombers, you run more low options. I also think after the initial game or two, you better set the plan in stone. The concept of “chemistry” is never more relevant than on the powerplay, when you have solid possession and are looking to make precision plays, which involves being able to predict/read where your teammate is going, and get the puck heading there before he arrives.
On The Penalty Kill
Nothing too crazy unusual aside from two pieces of advice: be careful not to get stretched out to the walls (which is easy to do when you’re mesmerized by some skill guys zipping the puck around) because the added width means you’re prone to leaving a gigantic soft spot right down broadway, and against the higher skilled teams, play more passive. As much as I love get ‘em-pressure-get ‘em-pressure, that equals burned players and clean looks against the best in the world (it’s killer against panicky kids though!).
It’s a seven game tournament at best, so all you can do is take care of your own end first, and maximize the difficulty of containing your own skilled players going the other way…and hope. Mike Babcock’s a smart hockey mind, and I have no doubt he’s got better plans for the team than I do. I’d also be willing to bet his plan isn’t too far off mine – it’s just a lot more in-depth.