A forechecking system is a structured attempt to prevent the opposition from clearing their defensive zone, and for you to gain possession of the puck in that zone. There are numerous forechecking systems, and no one system is necessarily better than another. The type of system your team uses should be developed by utilizing the potential of the players you have on your team.
If you have a lot of fast, knowledgeable players, you can forecheck a little more aggressively. If you have a slower, defensive minded team you might want to be a little more conservative.
No matter which system(s) you decide to utilize, just remember that all of them can be adjusted to meet specific needs and situations, and that every team should have at least one system that they master (that means practice on a regular basis!).
Regardless of the system, positioning is the key to success. The forechecker should always get an angle on the puck/ball carrier so, at the least, we can confine the offensive player’s movement to one side of the surface. Basically, never forecheck straight at the puck/ball carrier, or you’ll get burned.
Unfortunately, without sounding like a broken record, we have to decide between 4-on-4 and 5-on-5. For argument’s sake and space in this column, we will discuss 5-on-5, and you can delete the fifth player if necessary.
If you want to be aggressive, remove the fifth player from the defensive end; and if you want to be defensive, remove the fifth player from the offensive zone. Finally, if you want to be conservative (middle-of-the-road, or you just can’t decide what’s best) remove the player from the middle.
What do the numbers mean?
Let’s take the 1-2-2 system as an example. The first number (1) is the number of players that are putting direct pressure on puck carrier. The second number (2) is the number of players who need to support the forecheck on the puck/ball carrier. The last number is the number of players that make up the “defensive” component of the system. (Taking the same system with a 4-on-4 format, we would go 1-2-1 to be aggressive; 1-1-2 to be conservative; and 0-2-2 or 1-0-3 if we wanted to be even more conservative).
That is all there is to it. There is nothing magical about systems, but the most important thing to remember is to work together and be flexible. If the opposition gets past your part of the forecheck, do not give up—hustle and backcheck.
More can be accomplished with good backchecking than can be accomplished with good forechecking.
This is a conservative system that stresses one forward on the puck/ball, a second player in position to move in to help and a third player to backcheck or move to the slot on the offensive. This is probably the most sound instructional system for your players. This system is also good for the smaller surfaces we tend to see in roller hockey.
Some key points of the Triangle:
• It is easy to teach with objectives that are simple and direct.
• It is adaptable to most breakout plays.
• It is dependent on pressuring the puck/ball carrier (where most younger players are not comfortable).
• It stresses positional play while permitting communication and interaction between the three pressuring players.
• The main defensive focus is to prevent a 3-on-2 breakout.
This is a conservative system that is easy to teach. It can result in preventing 3-on-2 breakouts; encourages the opposition to set up in their own end, and to have their defensemen to carry the puck; and allows you to control the boards. It is a good system to introduce to young teams because of its basic checking (not body checking). The 1-2-2 system has the same basic key points of the Standard Triangle and also is positionally balanced, with no specific position being the key to the system. But it is essential for the wings to control the boards.
This is a “defensive” system. One forward, usually the center, must pressure the puck. All other players play a similar role to that of a defenseman. The four players (three in a 4-on-4 game) form a wall across the surface either at the top of the circles or at the center line. This is a good system to use late in a game when protecting a lead. Some key points:
• It is easy to teach.
• It does not stress pressuring the puck/ball carrier in the offensive zone (it essentially gives up the zone).
• The objective is to form a wall and to prevent the opposition from advancing the puck/ball through this wall.
• The center is usually the pressure on the puck/ball, and the rest of the players assume a role of a defenseman.
• The primary defensive principle is to always have four (again, three in 4-on-4) players in position to defend against the opposition’s three forwards.
This is an extremely aggressive system. It calls for constant pressure on the puck/ball by two players. The defensemen play aggressively by pinching in along the boards. This system, when successful, results in the opposition passing the puck/ball either under intense pressure or blindly in their own end. The constant pressure makes it difficult for a player to carry the puck, and forces quick passes which can be difficult to execute.
This is not a system for all teams. Constant work, speed, and anticipation are essential. Some key points on the 2-1-2 are:
• It is difficult to learn.
• It is a positionally-balanced system.
• It emphasizes the interchanging of positions, which means players must know the responsibilities of each position.
• It is a free-flowing system with constant motion, and emphasis is placed on attacking the opposition at all times and in all areas.
• It stresses skating and quickness. The ability to play the man can be an important ingredient.
There are many other types of systems out there, and I’m sure with a little imagination you could probably come up with one of your own. I’ve tried to show an example of each type—aggressive, conservative and defensive.
It is important to realize that these are forechecking systems, and that the opposition must have the puck/ball. By using these systems you are trying to force a turnover by pressuring the puck/ball carrier, or force the puck/ball carrier to make a bad decision. You might (depending on the ability of your team) use several different type of systems in one game. The most important thing to remember is to be flexible and, of course, have some fun.
Keep on rolling!
Wayne Anderson is Managing Director of Huron Roller Hockey Schools.
This first appeared in the 07/1996 issue of Hockey