12 ways to maintain a one-goal lead in a game
By Rick Traugott
Recently we published my post titled “The Two Minute Mark,” which dealt with how to run the bench when your team is down by a goal in the last two minutes of a hockey game. The article included such things as player usage and calling a timeout, but it didn’t address what to do when your team is up a goal with two minutes to go in the game.
I have never played rugby before, but I imagine that when you finally get the ball over the goal line and touch it to the ground it is a huge relief. I believe that, in hockey, that same feeling of relief comes in two situations. First, when the puck gets out of your zone over the blue line and second, when the puck gets over the center red line. Here is my rationale:
Once the puck get over the defensive-zone blue line, the opposing team can’t score again until everyone clears the zone and regroups coming back. You’ll often hear captains or coaches yell, “Get the puck out!”; obviously, what they are referring to is getting the puck out of the zone. It is crucial to a team’s defensive success to be able to do this; as an aside, your wingers must be able to get the puck out when they receive it on the half-boards from the defensemen. If a defenseman is pinching, the puck has to get by them and over the blue line.
And once the puck gets over the red line, your team can gain another 90 to 100 feet of ice by simply dumping it into the zone. This forces the other team to come 200 feet to score—which is a long way!
So, those are two very important pieces of ice to gain, and more so when it’s the last few minutes of the game and your team has a small lead. Here are some things that I remind players of before they step out onto the ice in the last few minutes, when they’ve got a one-goal lead in the game:
1. Get it out. Get it in. Take the defensive side. Simply, gain the lines and stay between their players and your net.
2. Don’t shoot at the empty net until you are over the red line. There is nothing worse than an icing call because a player got a little cocky and selfish and fired down the ice for a goal. But, if you have to ice the puck, you might as well try to hit the empty net.
3. Block every shot. This one is self explanatory.
4. Soft chips. By this I mean players must be able to chip the puck out of your zone without icing it. It’s always good to take some time to practice getting the puck out from anywhere between the defensive-zone face-off dot and the top of the circle.
5. Short shifts. This doesn’t always happen as much as it should. And unlike trying to score a goal in the last two minutes, I am more comfortable having my best defensive players on the ice when tired than I would with my best offensive players trying to score when tired.
6. Don’t get caught watching the game! Stay alert and make good changes. The bench has to be alert. I would think there are more bad changes and Too Many Men on the Ice penalties, for both sides, in these situations.
7. Make strong plays. Players have to be confident in this situation and make sure everything they do on the ice is with full strength. Each of your players need to have what I call the “Hit the Ball to Me” mentality.
Now for some things I do as a coach in the last two minutes with a one-goal lead:
8. Never call a timeout. That will only enable the other team to rest their best offensive players. Let them waste their timeout, if they still have one.
9. Unlike my strategy when you are down a goal, I have everyone change for their positions. This will help with any confusion in your defensive-zone coverage.
10. With most of my teams, I like to play a strict man-on-man coverage system (another conversation, but it teaches better defensive-zone skills). Unfortunately, when the other team has pulled their goalie they have one more player than you do. So, my defensive-zone coverage system for this situation goes to a static-box penalty kill, with the fifth player playing in the middle of the box (Five on a Die). However, any zone-coverage system pretty much works here. My big caution is that you don’t want to get any players caught behind their players on the boards. Take the defensive side!
11. If their defensive skills are good, make sure you have your best face-off person on all face-offs in the defensive zone. And, if possible, get your second-best face-off person on the ice as well, in case the first one gets kicked out of the draw. Typically, this will mean that there are two centers on the ice and it might create confusion in the defensive zone coverage. So make sure one is designated as a winger.
12. When the puck gets over the center-ice red line, it must be dumped in! Then, unlike my usual aggressive forechecking system, have your teams go to a strict 1-2-2 forecheck. The wingers, who have sealed the boards, are backing out on the breakout so that you try to force the opposition to dump it into your zone on the rush. (And sometimes, you just need to get a little luck and a good bounce.)
Rick Traugott is a veteran coach who has been working with young athletes in various sports. He has coached the varsity boys and girls programs at numerous schools, as well as the Brampton Thunder of the CWHL. Traugott has also served with Hockey Canada as a camp coach with both the National Women’s U18 and U22/Development teams. His teams have won numerous championships and medals in international competitions. For more information, visit his website. Reproduced with permission of Rick Traugott.