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By Enio Sacilotto

Paying defence in today’s game is a specialized position.

I recently watched the Los Angeles Kings game on TV, and during the opening, the commentators were describing the play of elite defensemen Drew Doughty. They talked about five simple keys; Doughty does an elite defenseman:

1. Make the first pass.

2. Limit turnovers

3. Defend well.

4. Have a Fast Transition.

5. Join the Rush – be the 4th man.

Drew Doughty – the keys to being an elite defensemen

Let’s look at each point in more detail and add some teaching points that players and coaches can use to help improve their game:

1. MAKE THE FIRST PASS – Before defensemen can make the first pass, he must first retrieve the puck. Here are six points that will help defensemen with puck retrievals at all levels: Be quick – go back for pucks as fast as possible.

a) Shoulder checks – read if there are forecheckers on your back and the location of supporting teammates.

b) Use deception – If a forechecker is on you, use a body or stick fake to throw off the forechecker. The extra seconds will give you time to make the first pass.

c) Scan the ice for the best option, then make your first pass.

d) Good Passing technique. The fundamentals are essential and need to be worked on daily.

e) Communication – is the key to all the above. “Be your partner’s eyes” is the best reminder. All six players on the ice need to be as vocal as possible!

Kevin Bieksa – HNIC – puck retrievals for defensemen

2. LIMIT TURNOVERS – Defensemen need to take calculated risks and try things. At the same time, they need to be solid and safe:

a) “Take what the defensive team gives” – never force a pass that is not there. My favourite teaching cue for this is “Make the easy play.”

3. DEFEND WELL – Keep the following in mind:

a) When protecting your net, always control the “defensive side” positioning, keeping yourself between your opponent and your net. Remind yourself when you are on the ice is by including this term in your self-talk “NET-ME-MAN.”

b) The objective of defensive hockey is not to allow your opponent to score on your net and get the puck back. The best way to do this is to keep your stick on the ice and think, “stick on puck.” If you miss the opportunity to get the puck back with your stick, follow through on your opponent’s body, “body on body.”

3 Examples of “Stick on Puck” checking

4. PLAY FAST WITH QUICK TRANSITION – Transition is going from defence to offence or offence to defence. An effective defenseman is very quick on transition. When transitioning from defence to offence, keep the following in mind:

a) One needs to think quickly, as soon as you get the puck – get your “eyes up” and look for the easiest quick play.

b) “Three-second rule” – As soon as you get the puck on your stick, you have three seconds to advance the puck and get it out of your zone.

c) “Feet moving north” – always keep your feet moving and move towards your opponent’s net.

d) “On your stick – off your stick” – do not overhandle the puck by stickhandling – you will lose extra seconds, and the passing opportunity may be gone!
QUICK TRANSITION – advance puck forward, quickly!

5. BE PREPARED TO JOIN THE RUSH AS THE 4TH MAN – today’s game is fast, so when you make the first pass, think “join the attack” as the 4th man. Sometimes you may take the forwards position and be up on the play attacking the net.

Four-man attack – D getting up in the play

There are many more details to learn to be a top defenseman. If you can master the five points presented in this article, you will have a good foundation for your development as a defenseman.

If you want more help with your development as a defenseman, join our defensemen camp this summer; click here for more information.

Enio Sacilotto is President of International Hockey Camps and operates the Mental Edge High-Performance Training. Enio has 39 years of coaching experience (professional hockey in Europe and the Victoria Royals (WHL)). Currently, he coaches at the Burnaby Winter Club Hockey Academy and the Croatian National Men’s team. If you have questions or are interested in his services, contact Enio at or call 604 255 4747. Website: