Thursday, October 6, 2011

Defenseman Gap Control

I had one of my favorite private lesson student's Father ask me the other day about what his son's coach was really meaning when he was saying "Control your Gap" or "Gap Up"... 

These are common hockey coaching terms, but need to be drilled down deeper, to get a greater understanding, specifically for youth hockey players, so that they learn the right way.

* The 'Gap' is the distance between a defenseman and a forward attacking your defensive zone with the puck. When playing defense, it's important to be aware of the gap, but judging the amount of gap to leave is not always easy, as all forwards attack with different skill sets and at different speeds.

A Gap too wide will allow the forward to cut to the inside, giving away the center of the defensive zone.  This is an area I call the "shooting zone" as it gives players the best angle and most net to shoot at, as well as, rebounds generally come back out in front or remain in the prime scoring area, rather than wrapping around the boards and out of the zone.

A Gap too narrow, and you run the risk of letting the forward skate by you with room behind to make a hard cut in front of the goal.
A common mistake youth defenseman make is to leave too much gap. This makes it far too easy for the forward to move to the middle of the ice for a  nice scoring opportunity.  Consequently, because of the fear of failure, inexperienced defensemen fail to "gap up" out of the zone and stay deep in their own end fearing to get beat by attacking forwards.  From a skills perspective this is equally as troubling, as it hinders the development of defenders skating ability.  In all situations, I'd rather have defenseman get beat to the outside and learn proper pursuit angles, then fear gapping up and giving away too much of the middle of the ice.

Focus on once the forward crossing the blue line to tighten the gap, and use your body positioning and sticks to communicate.   Sticks should be out in front and on the ice taking away the "shooting zone", knees should be bent, and defenders should be inside the face-off dots. Force players to the outside, by giving them no room to attack the middle, and the illusion that they can turn you.. While there is always the chance he will get by you, at least he will have a sharper angle to the net, and you can pursue to the inside near goal post, cutting away a hard cross in front.

Gap Control on the Off-Wing

Another good tip on controlling the gap is to look at the side the forward shoots from and making adjustments to where the puck is being controlled on the ice. The off-wing refers to a forward who shoots left coming down the right wing, or a player who shoots left coming down the right wing. His strong side is just his 'normal' side, and since the puck is too the outside, he has less net to shoot at.
You can actually leave a wider gap on forwards coming in on their strong side, and a tighter Gap on forwards coming in on their off-wing.
Why it Works

A forward coming in on his strong side has to expose the puck by bringing it in front of you as he cuts toward the middle of the ice. Leaving a wider Gap, encourages the forward to try cutting into the middle, rather than going to the outside. This gives you a better chance to poke the puck away.

If the forward is on his off-wing and you play too loose a gap, he can cut to the middle of the ice while protecting the puck with his body. That’s why you need to play a tighter gap in these situations.

Remember!!!  Always keep an active stick (stick on the ice moving to cut off passing angle and ready for poke checks), focus on body positioning ( your outside shoulder on his inside shoulder), ice location (stay inside the face-off dots), winning pursuit angles, and to pay attention to if he is a right or left shot and what side of the ice he is attacking from....  If you do this your Hockey IQ will win you battles and make you tough to beat.

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