This one falls under “The Basics,” because it really doesn’t take that long to explain.
When your team has three forwards in the offensive zone and solid possession of the puck, you have a lot of leeway from your coach to get creative, and have very little positional rules. Still, when the puck changes sides you want to do it as efficiently as possible, so there’s a rotation.
Priority 1A is keeping a guy high. Let’s take a look at where players will typically be to start, and where they eventually go.
One of the most basic statistical measurements is one of the game’s most important: shots per game.
While we wait for the advanced stat crowd to tinker and refine their numbers to help us grade player A-through-Z, shots-per-game continues to be a page you can click on, understand, and see a list made up of at least 90% all-stars. Great players pour pucks on net.
The tough part with so many fancy stats is determining what they really mean. A lot of people are pretty sure they have it dialed in, but numbers aren’t always what they seem. For example:
Our junior hockey coach used to bag us for 10 minutes for everyone one of nine goals we didn’t meet in our previous game. He had the scratches record what were then considered “deeper” stats. We had to have 75 hits (seriously), 10 blocked shots, 20% PP conversion etc. (….Yes, he liked to skate us.)
The point I’m making is we’re learning more about our raw numbers – common sense implies that if you got a lot of hits, you didn’t have the puck a lot, and that’s not a good thing. If you’re blocking a lot of shots, the other team is pushing the play too often, and has the puck too often. Also not a good thing.
But shots-per-game is pretty cut and dried – if one guy gets more shots per game because he gets more ice time than the next guy, guess why? It’s because he’s a better player. If one guy has more shots per game because he gets more powerplay time than the next guy, guess why? It’s because he’s a better player (or at least his coach thinks so). If a guy puts up a good number in this statistical category and doesn’t get a lot of minutes or PP time, guess what? He deserves more.
On the offensive side of the puck, players have a lot of freedom. Aside from keeping a forward high at all times in case of a turnover, there’s not really a set of rules – just find a way to get the biscuit in the basket.
There is one scenario, however, where there’s a script: the 3-on-2.
Everybody wants to be the high guy. He doesn’t have to skate as hard, doesn’t get involved in any contact, and likely gets the puck in the slot for a shot.
Laziness and glory? Yes please.
In rec hockey, it’s a battle. Nobody goes to the damn net. You just float in three abreast, and wait to turn the puck over.
Players are taught to move the puck out wide, have the guy in the middle be the workhorse and charge through to the net - the other forward wins, and gets to be the high guy. (Note that “high” doesn’t necessarily mean he helps the trio form an equilateral triangle. Just gotta find that soft spot.)
The reasons it should (almost) always happen this way are pretty clear: first off, if the defenseman doesn’t go with the middle guy who’s heading for the net, he’s got a short breakaway. You just make the easy pass to him behind the d-man’s wheels.
But he will go with him for the reason just mentioned, so you’ve pushed back at least one d-man, leaving room for the high guy when he inevitably gets the puck.
The other defenseman can’t cover two guys, so he won’t commit to either guy until it’s getting close to the forward’s “shot or pass” decision time.
Some coaches will encourage both forwards without the puck to drive the net (and for a shot from the puck carrier), because they’re idiots and North American coaches adore dumbing down the game for our players. (We play the game the “right” way, grrr!)
But, this is the rare scenario where I feel like one of those coaches, because executing this right is pretty well undefendable. It makes sense to stick with simplicity here. I don’t think I can tolerate my rec hockey teammates refusing to go through to the net for another shift.
Even if the d-man pressures the puck carrier early, he can slide the puck under his stick to the mid-lane drive guy and you have a 2-on-1 (which I’ve written about how to defend here, albeit somewhat controversially).
It’s the most basic, effective script in hockey if you can count on that one guy. Just because you may not get on the score sheet doesn’t mean you didn’t help your team score.