Twenty-first century hockey has become a high-energy skating game where taking your opponent’s time and space away is the norm. When I was a young hockey player, I was taught on the backcheck to let the defenseman take the puck carrier and the forward would then peel off and take the closest available player. I was taught to be a stick length away from him so my player couldn’t get inside positioning. I was also taught to backcheck my player back to the post and to eliminate him from receiving a pass or rebound.
Today, a lot of the same principles apply. However, the one change is that today’s game is predicated on puck pressure all over the ice.
If you look at forechecking, penalty killing, defensive zone coverage and BACKCHECKING, the game has gone to a level where offense is a fraction of what it once was. There is a limited amount of time and space to let the players of today perform like the game of yesterday. There is no “easy ice” anymore at the higher levels of hockey.
Backchecking vs. Back Pressure
Backchecking (away from the puck): Picking up the closest available player to you and denying him the ability to get the puck. Backchecking is also a result of turnovers and forechecking miscues. As such, there are times you need to simply backcheck the middle of the rink to get back into the play. By being in the middle of the rink, you are denying the opposition that space. Recognition and discipline is the key to becoming a good backchecker.
Back pressure (at the puck): To apply pressure from the back, or side, of a puck carrier that will eliminate the player’s ability to make a play. Once the offensive player senses pressure, they are typically forced to dump the puck or turn it over. Applying puck pressure from the side is side-pressure or back lateral pressure. Basically, back pressure is forechecking the other way!
“Sometimes you can shoot too much. Sometimes you can pass too much. Sometimes you can even skate too much, but you can never backcheck too much.”
“Forecheck – Backcheck – Paycheck.”
– Bob Peters, former BemidjiState coach (744 career wins)
Backchecking tests the will and mental toughness of a player. You have to be determined, you have to have the want to, but most importantly backcheckingtests the intestinal fortitude of a player. Why? Because when you are backchecking, you’re typically fatigued and the opposition has the inner desire to make something happen because they have the puck.
1. Have inside positioning on your opponent.
2. Deny the offensive player the ability of getting to the middle of the rink.
3. Once you’ve committed to your man, do not release until the puck has changed hands.
4. Try and maintain eye contact with the puck carrier without losing your man. (The old hockey proverb – don’t take your eyes off the puck).
5. Deny your man the ability of touching or getting to a loose puck.
6. Always backcheck up the middle of the ice when you are racing to get back into the play. You do this to deny cross-ice passes and to eliminate cut-backs from the puck carrier. Always take care of the “guts of the ice.”
7. Communication is essential from a recognition standpoint. Thebackchecker should point to the man he is picking up to insure proper communication between him and the defenseman.
8. The backchecker must have his man by the time the puck carrier hits the attacking blue line. The blue line is a critical area of the rink where mistakes happen. Defensemen and forwards can get crossed up here, so communication is essential. Forwards tend not to pick up people here as they get puck focused and sometimes think that occupying the high slot is good enough! Defensemen can also get crossed up when the puck carrier cuts to the middle.
Back Pressure/Side Pressure Goals:
1. Don’t give puck carrier time to make a play. Once the puck carrier senses back pressure, he will tend to make a decision with the puck he doesn’t want to make.
2. Back pressure creates “hurries” for the puck carrier. “Hurries” put the puck carrier in an uncomfortable position as he is heading up ice which will often lead to turnovers and dumped pucks.
3. Back pressure also allows the defenseman to be more aggressive on the puck and gives him a sense of security with his gapping. (Safety net for defensemen).
4. Back pressure turnovers allow transitional counterattacks the other way.
5. Back pressure also takes away time for the second wave of support to get up with the play (these are trailing forwards or defensemen trying to get in on the attack).
6. By coming back hard through the middle of the ice, even if you are trapped low in the offensive zone, your back pressure will deny plays being made by the other team! Conversely, this is why we really encourage our players to attack the net on zone entry and discourage drop passes (when on offense) because of the back pressure in today’s game.
Situations that have a negative impact on your backcheckingsuccess:
1. Poor line changes. Coming off when the puck is in the neutral zone or when it’s not deep. This makes it very difficult for your defensemen to hold the blue line.
2. Having three players trapped low on the forecheck.
3. Lack of sustained offensive zone pressure
4. Turnovers and blind passes in the offensive zone.
5. Having two forwards on the strong-side defenseman in the neutral zone allows the defenseman the ability to bypass two players with one pass. This again will back off our defensemen because they have no support coming back through the middle of the ice.
6. The ability to not get a puck deep.
To simplify things: Good line changes; disciplined forechecking; sustained offensive zone pressure; proper puck management; having one-man on the puck in the neutral zone; getting pucks deep. Essentially, all of this will deny the opposition from having any quality rush offense. Why? Because they are getting possession of the puck in difficult areas to make plays and they will be simply to fatigued to generate anything offensively when they do get the puck.
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