Breakout Options -- by Greg Siller

Breakout plays are used by a team to move the puck out of their defensive zone and onto an offensive attack. Every coach/team should establish some fundamental breakout plays early in the season and ensure that at least two options are designed into each of these plays.

Three keys to an effective breakout are:

1. Gaining initial control of the puck. Players must not move to their breakout positions until the team has control of the puck. All players need to read, anticipate, and react to know when to drop their defensive coverage and get into position for a breakout. If players move prematurely, they may be leaving their opponents open for a quick scoring opportunity if the opposition gains 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 the forwards and defensemen depends upon puck position, forechecking intensity, team abilities, and how aggressive, conservative, or creative the coach is with the breakout play. 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. This point reflects the necessity for team play during a breakout; by creating space as a team, you create options for the team.

3. Maintaining puck control. No turnover is more dangerous than one that occurs in your defensive zone. The first pass must be accurate. If it isn't, the receiver should do everything possible to regain control of the puck. It is essential that all receivers control the puck after receiving a pass.

The strong side breakout is the most fundamental breakout play in hockey. However, by adding a few options to this play (or any other breakout play), it becomes more than fundamental. The objective of the strong side breakout is to move the puck up the playing surface using the strong side forward (the forward that is on the same side of the playing surface as the puck). The advantage of the strong side breakout is that it is generally low risk. In the figure, RD gains control of the puck (key #1) 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. This first pass is the most critical one in the breakout (key #3).

Once LF controls the puck, the other players continue to contribute to the breakout play by creating space and providing various options for LF (key #2). LF now has three options: skate with the puck, pass it, or dump it (as a last resort). Adding options to your breakout plays add depth and the ability to succeed in its execution no matter what the opposition does to counter your play.

Contact Greg Siller @ Pro Learning Systems