Better Ways Using Set Plays
(Originally submitted as an article by Greg Siller for Roller Hockey Magazine)
Although roller hockey is a game involving a lot of improvisation, if all of your teammates are not on the same page when trying execute a play, that improvisation will easily turn into chaos. To play as a team, you need to constantly be aware of what your teammates are doing (and going to) to support your overall strategy; whether that strategy is defensive or offensive.
This article is designed to help you and your team by defining specific plays to get all of you on the same page. I have chosen four (of many) essential plays that your team should perfect to get you to play better team roller hockey. These four plays include the breakout, bringing the puck through the middle, setting up a high percentage scoring opportunity, and covering your opponents in your defensive zone.
Play #1 – The Breakout
Breakout plays are used to move the puck out of your defensive zone (the beginning of an offensive attack) and also to trap one or two opponents deep in your defensive zone. The ability to effectively move the puck out of your own end is important both defensively and offensively. Defensively it means that you have eliminated the offensive threat from your opponent. Offensively it means that you have possession of the puck and now have an opportunity to move the puck into a scoring opportunity. The saying the best defense is a sound offense is particularly meaningful in the context of breakouts.
Two keys to an effective breakout are:
1. Initial control of the puck. No turnover is more dangerous than one that occurs in your defensive zone. Your first pass must be accurate. If it isn't, the receiver should do whatever possible to gain control of the puck.
2. Creating space through player positioning and movement. Space is needed for the breakout play to develop. The positioning and movement of your forwards and defense depends upon puck position, forechecking intensity, team abilities, and how creative the breakout play is. Although many breakouts appear to involve only one or two players in the execution of the play, all players need to assume a role to enhance the likelihood of success.
The give-and-go breakout is a great way to move the puck out of your defensive zone no matter what kind of pressure your opponent is applying. The objective of the give-and-go breakout is to quickly move the puck up the playing surface while trapping at least one of your opponents in your end. This will allow you begin a strong offensive attack as a 3-on-2. In Figure 1, RD gains control of the puck deep in the defensive zone, reads that there is minimal coverage on the left side of the playing surface, and skates behind the net to the left side. As he moves out from behind the net, he passes the puck to LF. LF reads the coverage from X2 and dishes the puck back to RD. What happens is that RD continues moving the puck up the middle (with support from RF and LD), while two opponents (X1 and X2) are caught in the offensive zone. This leaves your team with an initial 3-on-2 break; not a bad start!
Play #2 – Through the Middle
Moving the puck, and your team, into the offensive zone is essential if you are going to have any kind of success with your offensive attack. Some teams do it by skating, some by passing, but if you can combine both elements, you'll be able to successfully penetrate any team's offensive zone.
An effective offensive zone penetration technique that you should practice is a play going through-the-middle. With the puck in the middle of the playing surface, your team should have quite a few skating and passing options to eventually move the play deep into the offensive zone. As shown in Figure 2, RF has control of the puck and has just crossed the center red line. Once past the red line, LF should put on a burst of speed and head to the net. While this is happening, RF should skate in between the two defensemen. If both defensemen converge on RF, then RF should pass the puck to LF, who can take it in on net. If XRD turns and skates to cover LF, then RF is in a one-on-one situation with XLD. The options in that case include a screen shot (with LF getting any rebounds), a deke, or a pass to LF (if open). Either way, this is always a sure fire way to create some offensive excitement for your team.
Play #3 – High Percentage Scoring
Putting the puck in the net is much easier if you learn to take advantage of your opponents’ weaknesses and focus your offensive play on high percentage tactics. To be effective, your offensive zone attack should incorporate the following two scoring elements:
Positioning of your supporting (non-puck carrying) players is crucial to the effectiveness of your offensive attack. Supporting players will enhance your offensive attack by either getting open to receive a pass, clear an area to allow space for the puck carrier skate in (by moving away from the puck carrier or by blocking an opponent), or support the shooter (by getting a rebound, screening the goaltender, or by deflecting the shot).
Shots on net from a high percentage scoring location. Unless you are Wayne Gretzky (who is one of the few players who can score from behind or to the side of the net), an effective offensive zone attack must move the puck from the perimeter of the net to the slot area. This is the highest percentage scoring location because you have the most net real estate to shoot at. After the initial shot, you must always take advantage of the second opportunity; a rebound. Remember that each shot is really a potential one-two punch; the initial shot and the rebound. High percentage shots yield high percentage (first and second) scoring opportunities--and with hustle and aggressiveness, that usually translates into more goals.
Figure 3 shows an example of how to work the puck when you have control of it deep in your opponents end. In this corner-to-slot play, LF has control of the puck near the goal line. The 3 supporting players (LD, RF, and RD) are all in position to take a pass from LF. As XRD collapses on LF, RD reads the play and moves in from his point position to the slot area. As the pass is made to RD, RF moves around to the other side of the net, in anticipation of a rebound or deflection. RD has several choices, but a quick shot to the corner of the net will provide the highest percentage scoring opportunity. RF will also be in position for any rebounds.
Play #4 - Playing Solid Defense
The primary role of a team in their defensive zone is to prevent the opponents from scoring goals. The defensive team should always favor the middle of the defensive playing surface, especially the slot area, and approach scrambles for the puck from this defensive position; pressuring from the inside out.
To do this, a defensive team must think beyond blocking an occasional shot or just covering an opposing player; you’ve got to focus on regaining control of the puck! To do this, you should focus on the following three skills;
· Communicating with your teammates is essential to playing solid defense. This means that both you and your teammates must know who is covering a particular opponent as well as what options are available. Verbal communication is very important both on the playing surface as well as off. Spending time after each shift discussing the effectiveness of your play and exchanging information about opposing players is just as important as letting a teammate know that the puck carrier is being covered. Effective communication also takes most of the sting out of making mistakes. If you do not learn from your mistakes, you are going to continue making those same mistakes; and that demonstrates a defensive player who is not reaching his or her fullest potential.
· Reading/Reacting/Anticipating (in the context of this portion of the article) refers to the ability of the defensive unit to perceive the play around them and to respond appropriately; based upon their ability, experience, and knowledge. Anticipation is the one element that sets upper echelon roller hockey players apart from average roller hockey players. Anticipation is a combination of skill, intellect, judgment, intuition, and experience and refers to a player’s ability to predict a teammates or opponents probable course of action based on reading the play. An underlying element in these skills is the need to keep your head up and observe everything that is going on around you; not just what the puck carrier is doing! These skills help a defensive team determine whether to play an aggressive or patient style during a particular play; always looking for an opportunity to regain control of the puck.
· Controlling the slot means defending the area in front of the net. By doing this, you eliminate high percentage scoring opportunities. An effective way to control the slot is with your stick and your body. Use your stick to cut off passes from one opponent to another, to knock the puck off a players stick, and to help your goaltender control rebounds. Use your body to control the positioning of an opponent. When an opponent is positioned in the slot and screening your goaltender, you may want to employ some body contact to move your opponent out of your goaltenders field-of-view.
Figure 4, the Y-Defense, shows how to play a solid brand of defense while giving up only low percentage shots. The Y-Defense is established by using one forward (RF in this case) to cover the two defensemen. The second forward (LF) plays in the slot area and has the responsibility of covering an open opponent (such as one of the defensemen who moves into the slot) in the slot in addition to helping gain control of the puck. The two defensemen cover opponents near the net and try to regain control of the puck. The Y-Defense uses three defensive players down low and only one near the opponent’s defensemen. With this approach, your team is very strong near the net. With only one player covering the two defensemen, there is a greater opportunity of allowing the opponents defense to shoot the puck; but a shot from the point is less risky than a shot near the net. In addition, you usually benefit from a shot from the point with the Y-Defense because since you have three players down deep (compared to your opponents two), you are more apt to win the battles for the puck and regain control of it.
I hope that you find these four plays beneficial for improving your team’s offensive and defensive ability. By establishing set plays as a basis for your overall team play, and allowing for some level of improvisation, your team will have created both a solid foundation as well as a flexible implementation of your teams strategy.
Greg Siller, founder of Pro Learning Systems (www.ProLearning.com), has put his 25 years of ice and roller hockey experience into authoring several hockey articles as well as two highly acclaimed hockey books;