DEFENSEMEN PUCK MOVEMENT: 6 key points and 6 drills

By Enio Sacilotto

The key to a hockey team’s offence is the defensemen’s ability to retrieve the puck and make the first pass to the forwards, then join the attack.

Let’s say the puck is dumped into the zone, here are the main points for a defensemen to keep in mind:

1.       Go back for the puck quickly.

2.      Do a shoulder check to see where the opposing forechecker(s) are and where your teammates are located.

3.      Recover the puck at an angle.

4.      Use deception (a stick or skate fake) to through off the forechecker even for a brief second.

5.      With Eyes up and feet pointing up ice as quickly as possible, pick the best passing option or carry the puck out of the zone.

6.      Communication between the goaltender, the defence partner and the puck recovering defencemen is crucial.  My favourite cue phrase is, “be your partner’s eyes.”

 The first progressions for the skill of retrieving pucks are; 1) skating skills such as pivots (backward to forward), and punch or jam turns used for deception, 2) puck carrying skills such as escapes and pull the puck across the body move and perhaps the most important is 3) passing skills.

Here is a great example that illustrates the above points, from Hockey Night and Canada analyst and all-star defensemen Kevin Bieksa:


Here are drills players and coaches can use to: 

1. Pivot Shooting – D1 starts backwards, pivots backwards to forward around the pylon, goes forward to next pylon, then pivots backward to next pylon, pivots forward goes around the circle, picks up spotted puck (by D2), then pivots backward, skates along blueline with the puck, then shoots.  Goes to back of the line.

2. Pylon Escapes:  D1 starts forward, with the puck, at the pylon 1 D1pivots from forward to backward, goes backward to pylon 2, makes an outside escape (away from the pylon) D1 then skates forward to pylon 1, once clearing pylon 1, D1 pivots backward, carries the puck backward to pylon 3, then does an outside escape and sprints forward to pylon 1.

(DO WITHOUT PUCKS THEN WITH PUCKS) LH does a forehand escape at pylon 1 and a backhand escape at pylon 2.

3.  Tight to the Net – breakouts – This drill teaches the D men to use the net on the breakout. Two starts backward, receives pass 1 from player 1, turns forward, stays tight to the net, passes back to 1, player 2 steps up, goes backwards, gets pass back from 1 and repeats on the other side.  D men are not to dribble puck, heads up making passes.

 4. King’s Agility Retrievals – D1 steps up and with quick feet, does a figure 8 around cones (with quick feet), goes forward to backward around the cone, retrieves puck that coach spots, does a shoulder check, fake, then passes to D2 on the wall, D2 then to D3, D3 drags & shoots.

Set up a rotation to get all the D through quick.

5. Agility Breakout Series – Defense D1, D2 are at the blue line. Coach points stick, and they do cross-overs, agility etc. On whistle D’s skate backwards, turn and get the puck dumped by the coach. D1 and D2 pass to other D on point – D go D to D for the shot. Both D then steps up for another Break out to the other side.


They can go 1) quick up, 2) wheel, 3) D to D (over) or 4) reverse out of the end.  

6. Wheel Break out to 1 on 1 – D1 steps up around pylon, pivots backwards, turns, retrieves puck then wheels the net, D2 or you can use your forwards, times his skating and receives a pass from D1, D2 (or the forward) skate up to the pylon and challenges D1 to a 1 on 1. In the meantime, D2 gaps up as quickly as possible to defend the one-on-one.

Coaches can get creative with these types of drills, like adding a forechecker and making it as game-like as possible. Here are more examples from the 2021 World Junior Championships of defensemen moving the puck for stretch passes:

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