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By Coach Enio Sacilotto, Assistant Coach, Victoria Royals, President, International Hockey Camps

This is the second of two articles on the play of defensemen. The main goal of the Defensemen is to stop goals first, this was discussed in the first article, “Seven Rules for Defensemen playing Defense”. In this article we will introduce the seven rules for the Defensemen playing on offense.

1. BREAKOUT PASSING – Making the 1st pass. One of the situations where a defencemen starts the breakout is going into his own end to retrieve a puck that is dumped in. First step is for the defenseman to a) pivot from backward to forward skating as quickly as possible, the quicker you can get to the puck the more time you will have to make a play, b) head on a swivel (shoulder check), look around and read the situation, where is the forechecker approaching you from?, where are your teammates?, know what you are going to do with the puck before you get it. c) If you have a forechecker on your back, do a shoulder or head fake, to slightly throw him off, this will give you more time, d) pick up the puck and turn or pivot so you are skating forward with your feet pointing up the ice, e) MOVE YOUR FEET, HAVE YOUR HEAD UP AND BE READY TO MAKE A PLAY – “LOOK-MOVE-LOOK-PASS”.

Be calm cool and poised with the puck, you have more time than you think. Do not pass to a covered forward, partners must support and communicate with each other. Help each other be aware of where the forecheckers are and the various passing options. Goaltenders must be good communicators and can help with identifying situations as well. If you cannot make a play, or you are at the end of a shift and are tired, you can “eat the puck” and get a whistle or you can use the glass and flip or deflect a puck out of the zone. DO NOT FORCE A PASS THAT IS NOT THERE!

Always be ready to make subtle interference on the forechecker, this can give your partner a few extra seconds. Make sure you do not overdue it and get a penalty for interference. When you retrieve a puck off defensive zone coverage, get your feet moving up ice and make a play to an open forward as quickly as possible (LOOK-MOVE-LOOK-PASS).

The blueline is key, getting the puck over the line is the first priority, the more time you spend time with the puck and in the other teams zone, the better chance you have of winning!

2. REGROUP PASSING. When receiving the puck for a regroup the puck receiving defenseman must pull the puck backwards towards the boards, in order to spread the zone out and attract a forechecker, the defensemen’s partner must “fold underneath” and “stagger” away from his partner, this a good support area for a defensemen to defensemen pass.
A good team will have a regroup system where the forwards will fill all 3 lanes and make themselves available as options for the defensemen. As a defensemen if any of the three forwards are immediately available, pass them a tape to tape pass as quickly as possible. If no one is available then pass to your “supporting” or “staggering defense partner. When receiving the pass from a partner, you must “LOOK-MOVE-LOOK- PASS”, IF NO PASS IS AVAILABE, KEEP THE FEET MOVING up the ice and pass back to your partner who is “supporting from under” or staggering. We call this, “THE HINGE”. Usually the weak side forward is open for a pass.
Keeping possession of the puck as a defensemen is key, turned over pucks in the neutral zone can cause odd man rushes and scoring chances against. If no play is available then work hard to get the red line and put the puck “deep” into the offensive zone, this will allow our forecheckers to put some pressure on the opponents. Be prepared to use an indirect pass off the boards to the forwards as well, they can then advance the puck “deep”.

regroup 1

3. JOINING THE ATTACK. – Once the pass is made, and the puck exits your zone be ready to move quickly up the ice (move your feet) following your forwards. Many defensemen stop moving their feet as this point.

Most teams encourage a 4 man attack, so one of the defensemen should jump into the rush and help in creating scoring chances. If your coaches system is the triple drive, then the “pocket” in the slot (in between the top of the circles) is a good area to go. A couple of things to keep in mind, a) only 1 defensemen jumps up into the offensive zone, partner stays back and supports the rush, b) forwards must have 100% possession before one of the defensemen activates, c) Once the rush is over and the scoring opportunity is gone, get back to your blueline position.

4 man attack 2

4. OFFENSIVE ZONE PASSING – You can stay wide apart with puck possession on the offensive zone, this spreads the zone and makes it hard for the defense to cover your team. When the puck does come to the point, one of the partners staggers off the blueline into the neutral zone for a safety in case of a turn over. The defensemen with the puck must move his feet laterally to the middle and can a) look for a shooting lane or b) look for the rolling forward in the slot. A simple rule for any team is the forward that passed to the defenseman at the point goes into the slot, looking for a return pass and a shot on net. Other possible passing plays: a) high cycle – if the forwards is coming up the boards the defenseman can slide down the boards and get a drop pass from the forward, the defenseman can then take the puck down the wall and look to the slot for an open forward or take the puck behind the net looking for more options. The forward who “handed” the puck to the defensemen stays at the point position on the blueline. b) D slide – when the D sees the opportunity he can slide into the slot or to the back door for a pass from a forward.

point shots 3

high cycle 4

5. OFFENSIVE ZONE SHOOTING – As mentioned in Rule 4, once you receive the puck at the point start moving laterally across the blueline this way you will open up a shooting lane. If this does not create a shooting lane then try faking a shot, this will freeze the defender and open a shooting lane. A slap or wrist shot 13 to 15 inches of the ice is the best, make sure your head is up and the shot gets through. Remember it is not your job to score, it is to create situations for tips, deflections and rebounds so the forwards can score goals.

6. PINCHING IN THE OFFENSIVE ZONE – If you are at least 90% sure of keeping the puck in play in the zone then get the puck. Communicate to make sure that you have a supporting forward (F3). You can pinch 100% of the time when the puck is wide rimmed to your side, again make sure there is an F3.

7. WORK ON SKATING AND THE FUNDAMENTALS – Keep working on the fundamentals, skating (forward, backwards, pivots, escapes, quick feet, etc.), puckhandling, shooting and passing. Too many players think they are above fundamentals but they are the key to being an effective elite defensemen!

It takes years of hard work to be a great defensemen. Following the 7 rules of defense and the 7 rules of offense will get you there quicker. Be a student of the game and watch for these 14 rules when you are watching NHL or WHL action on TV!


Enio Sacilotto is a career hockey coach of 31 years. Twenty years at the Elite men’s level in Europe with coaching stops in Italy, England, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland and Croatia. Enio was the Assistant Coach with the 2013-14 Team Pacific U-17’s who won a Silver medal at the World U-17 Challenge.
Come join Coach Enio Sacilotto, Assistant Coach, Victoria Royals, President, International Hockey Camps this summer for his Defensemen Camp in Victoria, BC, Nanaimo, BC, North Delta, BC and Burnaby Winter Club. Go to COACH ENIO’S INTERNATIONAL HOCKEY CAMP SCHEDULE for details of the Defensemen Camp and all other camps. Call Coach Enio at 604 255 4747 or email at and visit website for free articles and drills.