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NHL Seattle: Simplifying the Game

The next year is going to be extremely busy as we prepare for NHL Seattle’s inaugural season. A branding announcement is expected in the first quarter of 2020, more staff needs to be assembled, and we have the always exciting expansion draft.

As we get closer to puck drop, I want to restart a series that I began to write a few years ago.

The game of hockey moves fast – and I mean extremely fast. It can be challenging to follow, especially for those new to the sport. A lot is unfolding on the ice simultaneously, so I want to help simplify it a little. For the next few weeks, I am going to break down certain aspects that will help organize the chaos and open you up to the sport I love.

I want to begin by discussing one of the most essential parts of the game – space. There is a saying in hockey that “space and time create success.” You can talk about zone entries, possession, shots, and passes, but without space, you have nothing. There are a few techniques used to create space on the ice with the most common being “the cycle” and “the switch.”

I’ll break down cycling the puck next week, but for now I want to introduce you to the switch.

Using the switch to create confusion among defenders.

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In the above video, you will see #89 Alex Tuch carry the puck across the blue line toward his three Golden Knights teammates. It may appear counter-intuitive regarding creating space on the ice, but you will notice it does exactly that.

By skating toward the two Calgary forwards, Tuch forces what is known as a switch – mainly, calculated chaos among the defenders. He draws the two forwards toward him, creating space for a freed up #81 Jonathan Marchessault along the boards, before dishing the puck. While this is unfolding, #26 Paul Stastny can be seen at the top of your screen, driving toward the net and exposing the back of his blade for a tip. But what he has also done is draw the shorthanded defenders down low and created space for #71 William Karlsson at the top of the right circle.

The Calgary penalty-kill maintained their shape (“a box”), but the move from Tuch to start the entry allowed them to get behind the defense. At that point, Calgary became disconnected from the Golden Knights players and got caught watching the puck – allowing for a great cross-ice pass and one-timer from Karlsson.

One of the best techniques for creating space on the ice is confusion, and that is precisely what the switch does. It forces two defenders to commit to the puck briefly and opens up space for one of your teammates.

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Another example of a switch from the same game can be found here when Calgary enters the zone on a four-on-two odd-man rush.

Rasmus Andersson, #4 for Calgary, takes a pass from the point and drives to the corner. This forces number #27 Shea Theodore of the Golden Knights to leave his man, #77 Mark Jankowski. Jankowski begins to wrap around the net while facing the puck to create the pass option if needed. Instead of passing the puck, Andersson follows Jankowski around the net and creates confusion for the two Golden Knights defenders.

In a perfect world, #81 Jonathan Marchessault for Vegas would have left his man and cut in front of the net to pick up the players wrapping around the other side with Theodore staying on the post to mark his man – initiating the switch.

Instead, both players were caught marking the same man for a brief moment, which allowed Andersson to get a clear shot on the net.

Both of these examples revolve around creating confusion while having an odd-man advantage. Let’s look at an example where a team has established possession in the zone, five-on-five.

Using the switch after establishing the zone.

The Colorado Avalanche are currently sitting fourth in the Western Conference, and much of their success comes from their ability to use their speed to create space. It’s not uncommon to see fast skaters, such as Connor McDavid, Andreas Athanasiou, and Nathan Mackinnon, make these long circling arcs around the zone. This creates chaos among the defenders, and as we have discussed, chaos leads to space.

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In the above clip, you will see #29 Nathan Mackinnon come curling around the top of the circle toward #28 Ian Cole. Mackinnon draws both defenders toward him, which creates space for Cole at the blueline (“the point”). A quick back-pass to Cole creates confusion among Vancouver as to who will pick him up. You’ll see #18 Jake Virtanen step up to cover him while #70 Tanner Pearson fills the spot he just left – both players now focus on Cole.

As Mackinnon continues to cycle around the zone, it creates significant space at the top of the point. #49 Samuel Girard of the Avalanche, recognizes what is happening and cuts in to fill the void. Cole then feeds him an easy pass, where he has all the time in the world to post a shot on the screened goalie.

These examples are only a couple of many but the concept remains the same – create space and you create opportunities. If you have the chance to sit down and watch a game or two this week, keep on eye out for this. Look for players moving the puck into busy areas of the ice then watch where their teammates establish their position. Hopefully, it’ll help you understand the game a little more.

Until next week, wheel, snipe, celly.

(we’ll cover that later)

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