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Defending the one-on-one
By Shawn Killian

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Full ice drill: The winger (W) passes the puck out of the corner to the defenseman (D). D returns the pass as W starts out of the corner...
There aren’t too many plays more exciting than a forward beating a defenseman in a one-on-one situation to score a goal. And as a defenseman—there aren’t too many plays more embarrassing. To keep yourself from being on the wrong side of these highlight films, here are a few tips to keep in mind when defending the one-on-one.

Body position

Because so many players don’t skate backward as well as they do forward, they fear being on the defensive side of a one-on-one. The biggest problem I see in most younger players I work with is their poor body position when they skate backward. As with skating forward, knee bend is the most important key to remember. This is where we generate our power and it gives us balance. Too many defensemen bend at the waist, instead of the knees, putting their body weight out in front of them instead of over their skates. If the defenseman is able to maintain his balance with his body in this position, he will certainly not be able to pivot and keep up with a forward who is moving around him.

Also remember to keep your head up. The obvious reason is to keep your eyes on your opponent, but this will also help keep you from leaning out over the front of your skates and thus prevent you from being off balance. Once you’ve got the correct body position, you can focus on where to position your body.

When defending the one-on-one you want to try to meet your opponent as close to the blueline as possible. If you “give up the blueline” you are allowing the forward to enter your zone uncontested. More often than not, when this happens the defenseman ends up backing in on his goalie, creating the perfect screen for the forward to shoot through. To prevent this, gauge and match the attackers speed through the neutral zone, then as he reaches the blueline you can be there to greet him.

Quick feet

It used to be that defensemen were the biggest, slowest players on the ice. But these days defensemen have to be some of the best skaters, jumping into the offensive play to help out their forwards and then hustling back to defend their own zone. This requires quick, agile feet with the ability to change directions in a hurry. When a defenseman gets caught “flat-footed” or standing still, the play passes him by as if he were one of those orange pylons forwards so easily go around in practice.

When a forward makes his move to go around a defenseman, the defenseman has got to be able to pivot and stay with him to keep him from cutting back to the middle of the ice for a good scoring opportunity. This will require those quick, agile feet with no room for tripping over your own skates. Too many defensemen get caught crossing over as they try to keep up with a forward who is attempting to blow by them. As soon as you start to crossover, you are committing all of your body weight to the side you are crossing to. A good forward will recognize this and cut back immediately, leaving you to finish crossing over only to be standing by yourself near the boards as he walks in alone on your goalie.

Half ice drill: The defenseman (D) makes the breakout pass to the winger (W). W carries the puck to the center ice and goes around the cone and heads back...
See the ice

We spoke earlier about keeping your head up when skating backward to help with balance and body position. The other, more obvious reason to keep your head up is so that you can see the play. As a defenseman it is vital that you know where every other player is on the ice with you, both opponents and teammates. If you have back-checkers who will soon be entering the play to help you, or if there is a trailer moving in for a drop pass, you may play the one-on-one differently. Being able to “see” the ice is an important quality for all hockey players, and those who are good at it are good at it able to use it to their advantage.

When focusing your eyes on the attacker, don’t get caught looking down at the puck. Remember forwards are a tricky bunch. They have a bag of tricks that they can’t wait to unload on you in a one-on-one situation. As a defenseman it is important not to get fooled by fancy stickhandling and head dekes. Remember that the attacker is not going anywhere without the trunk or middle of their body. They may be able to fool you with fancy footwork or mislead you with their eyes—or even deceive you with head fakes—but if you are looking at the emblem on the front of their jersey you will be able to follow their every move.

This will allow you to force your opponent to the outside and keep him from having a good scoring opportunity. Just because you are not looking at the puck does not mean that you can’t see it. With your peripheral vision you should be able to still see the puck and even poke check at it while you skate backward. This will make it all the more difficult for forwards to get around you.

The job of a defenseman in a one-on-one situation is to keep his opponent from getting a good scoring opportunity by either taking the puck away or forcing a poor angle shot. In order to have the confidence to stand up to an oncoming forward, a defenseman must be comfortable with his ability to skate backward and pivot to stay with that forward as they try to pass by. If you keep these tips in mind the next time you are on the defensive side of a one-on-one, you will be much more successful and your goaltender will thank you for it.

Shawn Killian is the Director of Skills, Development and Training for Planet Hockey.



This first appeared in the 04/1997 issue of Hockey Player Magazine®
© Copyright 1991-2003, Hockey Player® LLC and Hockey Player Magazine®
Posted: Nov 10, 2001, 11:20
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