Beating the defensemen is one of the most important skills a forward can learn
By Ben Levesque
In this article, we’ll go over some proven techniques for beating the defensemen in one-on-one situations. These tips are for when you’re coming down the ice face to face with a defenseman—not when you’re battling in the corners. (That topic will be covered more in-depth in a future article.)
While it’s usually better to outnumber defensemen rather than attempting to beat them one-on-one, there are situations where isolating your defenseman and trying to take the puck to the net is a great option.
By the time you’re done reading this article, you’ll have all the knowledge needed for beating the defensemen. Throw in a bit of practice on the different techniques, the knack for reading defensemen, a decent amount of acceleration, and you’re well on your way to succeeding every time.
Here are the 5 techniques for beating the defensemen:
1. Speed Management
One of the most effective ways of beating the defenseman is to vary your speed. A defenseman is taught to keep their gap control—the distance between themselves and their attacker—constant at all times.
Forwards that skate at the same speed during their entire attack make it all too easy for defenders. All a defenseman has to do is match your speed and they maintain the ideal gap range as a result. Skaters who skate on cruise control (at the same speed) don’t get by defenders unless they have magic hands and can rely on their stickhandling alone.
As a forward, you want the defenseman to have to adapt to you—don’t make their job easy. It can be something as simple as slowing down just a bit, only to speed up again when the defenseman decides to slow down. As soon as the defenseman slows down to close the gap of space between you and them, that’s when it’s time to hit the gas and try to catch them off-guard.
If you’re successful, you’ll see that the defenseman now has to work twice as hard to try to bring the gap back to normal and match your speed. It’s now much easier for you to take the puck wide and gain an advantageous position on them. Remember to use your legs and body to protect the puck and keep it away from your defender once you’ve gained some room on them.
Speed management can also be obtained by simply crossing over and weaving in and out as you bear down on your defender. You don’t have to skate directly towards them as it’s easier to gauge your speed this way.
Key Takeaway: Vary your speed and keep your defender guessing. Slow down, speed up. Do both; do it often. Use half-strides, long strides, crossovers, and tight turns. Try to mess up your defender’s original plan.
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2. Force a Crossover
If you were to have one main objective when attacking a defenseman, it would be to make them do a crossover. Defensemen are taught to keep their gap, match their attacker’s speed, and play the body rather than the puck. If you can get the defenseman to do a crossover, they’re already beat.
Think of it this way: A defenseman with both skates on the ice is hard to beat, but a defenseman with one foot in the air is almost like an orange cone. If you can manage to make them do a crossover, they’re essentially immobile. They can no longer come back the other way. If you time it right and decide to attack the other way while they’re doing a crossover, you’ll beat your defender 99.9% of the time.
Getting a Defenseman to Do a Crossover
Think about it. Your defender is crossing over because they think you’re going left, and then you decide to go right. They’re caught mid-crossover and can’t get back in time. The odd time, you’ll get a defenseman who has really quick feet or a long reach, that’s able to make it back in time and take the puck away from you. But it’s rare.
If that’s the case, make it a point to work on your puck protection once you pass a defender. In time, you’ll become good at keeping possession of the puck even with added pressure.
Be creative. Try new moves. Sometimes it’s just a matter of head faking and going one way, and then going the other way once they take the bait. Try different moves and take note of what works, then challenge yourself to perfect those moves so that they work on a regular basis.
Once you have confidence in your ability to make a defender do a crossover, it opens up a ton of opportunities for you during games.
Key Takeaway: Do whatever you can to make your defender do a crossover. Then attack them at full speed on the opposite side.
3. The Stutter Stop
Another effective technique to use when trying to beat a defenseman one-on-one is what I like to call the stutter stop. The stutter stop is pretty straightforward, and is used only when going wide around a defender by the outside, near the boards. (It won’t work when trying to take the inside lane towards the net.)
The stutter stop is essentially a fake stop that confuses your defender. You simply make the action of braking so that your defender also hits the brakes. Then you continue on, full speed towards the net, cutting in and protecting the puck with your body.
The goal is to stop only for a split second; you shouldn’t lose much speed at all. The objective is to get the defender—who is now skating forward trying to catch up to you—to also stop as they think you’re making a full stop.
Gain the Outside Lane
To use the stutter stop technique, you must first gain the outside lane. This is quite easy to do, as defenders are taught to keep you away from the middle and force you down the outside lane towards the boards.
Start off by skating towards your attacker. Once you get close to them (without being close enough that they can poke check you), quickly pull the puck to the outside and increase your speed.
If you’re a right-handed player coming down the left side, or a left-handed player coming down the right side, this will be easy for you. Simply pull the puck away from the defender with one hand on your stick and increase your speed until you’re slightly past your defender, but not enough to beat them cleanly to the net.
If you’re a right-handed player coming down the right side, or a left-handed player coming down the left side, you’ll have a bit more trouble protecting the puck but it can still be done. Just bring the puck out as far away from your defender as possible. You’ll have to use two hands here as you’re on your strong side and not on the off-wing (a term used for righties playing left and lefties playing right).
Once you’re slightly past your defender, it’s time to stutter stop. At this point, your defender should no longer be skating backward but skating forward trying to catch you. If you manage to make your defender turn their feet and stop for even just a split second, you’ll be free to take the puck to the net as they will no longer be able to catch you.
This is useful when you feel your defender is catching up to you and you want to slow them down some more. It may sound confusing, but give it a try and you’ll see just how easy and effective it is.
Key Takeaway: This technique is used when going wide on a defenseman. Get yourself into a position where you’re slightly ahead of them so that they’re forced to pivot and skate forward in order to catch you before you reach the net. Once they have pivoted forward and seem to be gaining on you, hit the brakes for a split second and continue on. If they take the bait and try to stop, you’ll be long gone toward the net.
4. Chip and Skate
This technique is an easy one to get started with. As the name suggests, you simply chip the puck past your defender and skate around them to get it. While it’s simple in theory, it can be difficult to do well consistently.
This is different from the dump-and-chase technique, where you simply shoot the puck into the corner and chase after it. The chip-and-skate technique is a small tap of the puck to yourself that you can recover before reaching the net, allowing you to still make a play or take a quick shot.
One way I learned to do this, that I feel works really well, is to skate directly at the defenseman full speed. This gets them concentrating on your body and less on the puck, which is what you want in this situation.
Once you get in close—still far enough away from their poke check, of course—you want to look for any open space immediately surrounding the defender. Maybe it’s between their legs. Maybe it’s just behind them in the middle of the ice or off to the side. Or maybe it’s a flick over their stick so they can’t bat it out of the air or catch it with their hand. You might have to do a quick move in order to get them to commit and then place the puck in an open space.
Whatever the case may be, this technique is all about catching the defenseman flat-footed and then chipping the puck behind them, so that you can retrieve it with the speed you’ve built up along the way. It’s nothing fancy—just a good old, bread-and-butter technique that is still used by some of the best players in the NHL today.
Key Takeaway: Build speed. Attack the defenseman head-on. Make them move and place the puck where you can easily retrieve it before they do. Grab your puck and protect it all the way to the net.
5. Drag and Shoot
Sometimes, no matter how prepared you are bearing down on a defenseman, there just isn’t any room to make a drag-and-shoot play in hockey play. Maybe there’s too much pressure from a back checker. Or, the defenseman you’re trying to beat is big, fast, and has a long reach. Whatever the case may be, taking a quality shot is always a good choice—even if it’s from far out.
Defensemen are taught to take away your shooting lane with their sticks. This technique helps you counter that strategy. The drag-and-shoot takes practice to do well, but can be deadly when mastered. If you’re already good at doing a toe drag (dragging the puck on the ice with the toe of your stick blade), then this one should come easy to you.
Try a Toe Drag
To set up for the drag-and-shoot, simply place the puck far from your body and to the side, as if you were about to shoot. You can even exaggerate the movement a little. You really have to sell the idea that you’re going to be taking a shot any second.
If the defensemen bites, their stick should naturally shift and be placed in your newly created shooting lane. Little do they know, this is exactly what you wanted them to do. Now that their stick is also so far away from their body, in order to try and tip your shot all you have to do is re-position your puck quickly and let it rip.
You can do this by toe-dragging the puck in closer toward the side of your skate, creating a new shooting lane between the defender’s stick blade and their skate. For best results, try to make it all one smooth movement. If you toe-drag the puck closer to your body, pause, and then try and shoot, the defenseman will have had time to react.
The idea is to do it as quickly and as smoothly as possible to surprise the defenseman—and maybe even the goalie.
Key Takeaway: Bring the puck out and to the side. Sell the fake so that the defenseman readjusts their stick. Once the defenseman buys it, toe-drag the puck in closer to your skate and fire it off as quickly as possible in your newly created shooting lane, which should be unobstructed.
Risk vs. Reward
These 5 techniques can be used to beat the defensemen every time. Keep in mind that you always have to ask yourself, “Is it worth trying to beat this defenseman one-on-one, or should I play it safe and take a shot?”
Therefore, you need to evaluate the risk versus the reward. The risk is you turn the puck over and the opponent is attacking up the ice the other way, most likely on an odd-man rush. The reward is you may get a quality scoring chance if you beat the defenseman.
Be smart in your decision making and you’ll win the battle.
What moves do you use when trying to beat a defender one-on-one? Share your comment below!
Ben Levesque, a native of Montreal, has played hockey for as long as he can remember. Although he didn’t make it to the NHL and secure a multimillion-dollar contract or lucrative endorsements, he did come away with two decades worth of hockey memories and experiences. Levesque now helps hockey players of all ages develop their hockey sense and skills to dominate the game. For more information visit builtforhockey.com.