Tips for Becoming a Better All-Around Hockey Defensemen
By Nan Werther
, last updated January 27, 2012
Being a better all-around hockey defenseman is not just about stick handling; it's about improving your overall technique in order to serve your team. Being a defenseman is a position that comes with a lot of responsibilities and requires an intelligent individual to make act decisively in high-pressure situations. To avoid costly errors, such as winding up out of place at the wrong moment or even allowing a dreaded "own goal," good defenseman can brush up on their skills using these proven tips and techniques.
Know Your Teammates
During a defensive stand, a defenseman is located near one of the central zones of the game, near the goal. While there might be several players manipulating the puck in the middle of the ice, a defenseman needs to be ready for the onslaught. Knowing your fellow defender and goalie's weaknesses and strengths will serve to make you a better defensive team, since you'll work together to protect the goal. Knowing how each individual is likely to respond means you can better adapt your own technique to work alongside theirs. For instance, if your goalie has a great glove but can't block too well, then assisting with defensive tricks such as keeping shots to the glove side will go a long way towards preventing goals from happening. Make sure you develop a consistent rapport with your goalie, as communication is key and will allow you both to be one step ahead. Not only might he or she pick up on breakouts or plays the team is running, but he can clue you in far ahead of time, leaving you better prepared and in position.
Eyes on What's Happening
The best defensive players don't watch the puck, they play the man. Focus on an area between the forward's shoulders to have the best perspective, and always keep your head moving in order to know what's happening around you at all times. Watch where the other players are and what they are doing. Once the puck gets near you, keep the forward in front of you while doing your best to steer him out of the slot area and towards the boards. Your job is to keep the goal protected while hopefully freeing the puck. If he puts it between your legs, however, just let it go and refocus your attentions on the player who's now in possession. Stay focused and be attentive at all times.
The one exception to this rule is if you have two or three players against you. Then you can play the puck and use your stick to deflect any passes that happen across the ice. Ideally you want to force a bad shooting angle outside the slot area while staying between the players and the goal.
Keep the Net Covered
When a player is in your defensive zone you need to work to keep him covered, as he is the liability in the situation regardless of whether or not he has the puck. In all likelihood, any scoring that might happen will be because of any players in the defensive zone. Never leave an opposing player uncovered for any reason unless you are absolutely certain that you can retrieve a puck that got away.
Use The Glass
The glass surrounding the rink isn't just there to protect spectators, It can also be used to your defensive advantage. Most arenas allow you to get a good look at your reflection, including any oncoming plays or forwards trying to rush you. Not only does this give you a great defensive advantage but it can help in setting up some key passing opportunities to your teammates.
Work on Agility
Playing defense requires competence, coordination, and speed moving forward, but also backwards and laterally as well. Not only that, but to be on top of your game you must be able to skate backwards as quickly as the opposing player in front of you moves forward. It's necessary that you move both as fast and in the direction of the player you're defending against. You can increase your agility by developing your lower body strength and doing agility drills.
If you're smart and quick you can open up the passing lane for forwards only to immediately shut it down once they are into position, using psychological maneuvers to outwit the opposing team. Use these moves wisely however, lest you get too cocky!