1) Stay Between the Forward and the Net.
When playing defense in Hockey, you can never go wrong with the basic principal of keeping yourself between the opposing player and the net. One-on-Ones are a perfect example.
Keep Him to the Outside
When a hockey player on the other team is heading into your zone with the puck, your goal is to keep him to the outside towards the boards. His chances of scoring from the outside are far less than if he beats you on the inside. The best way to do this is with your body position. If the player is coming in down the middle of the ice, position yourself directly in front of him.
Own the Centre Lane
If he’s coming in on the wing, line up slightly towards the centre of the ice. Your outside shoulder should more or less line up with his inside shoulder. This encourages him to try to beat you to the outside, where he’s less of a threat. Picture a wide imaginary lane down the middle of the ice, and keep the other player outside of that lane. The tricky part is controlling the amount of space, or the gap, between you and the other player.
2) Control the Gap
A Gap Too Wide will allow the forward to cut to the inside. Or, it may give him enough room to get in close to the goalie for a shot, using you as the screen. You don’t want the gap to be much wider than about two lengths of a hockey stick.
A Gap Too Narrow, and you run the risk of letting him get around you if you’re unable to check him.
Willie Mitchell of the Canucks uses a much more deceptive approach. In an interview with the Vancouver Sun, Willie explains how he baits the forward into, “Taking the candy.”
“I call it taking the candy,” Mitchell said Monday, explaining his ability to bait opposing forwards. “The game of hockey is all about putting someone in position where they react, so they’re taking the candy.
“When I have my gap [defending an opposing forward], I hold my stick real close to my body, so it looks like there’s a lot of ice in front of me. The forward wants to make his move as close to the defenseman as possible because he wants the defenseman to bite so [the forward] can go around him. They come in to make a move — they take the candy — but then I move my stick out and poke the puck away. On a rush, that’s how I play it.
“In the defensive zone, it’s the same way. I’ll give them the pass and they think: Oh, I’ll make the pass backdoor. But I gave them that space. Now they make the pass; they take the candy. And I’ll put my stick there and break it up.
“You want to put them in an uncomfortable position. Instead of you taking the candy, you want them to take it.”
Even after the forward makes his move, try to stay between him and the net. You won’t stop them all, but you’ll make it as tough on them as possible.
3) Watch Their Hips
One-on-Ones in hockey can be tricky against an experienced puck carrier. These guys are just dying to deke you out and score that highlight reel goal. Watching their hips will help prevent you from getting deked-out in your own zone.
Once you’ve correctly positioned yourself between the opposing hockey player and the net, Mr. Deke will try to fake you out any way he can. As you know, Mr. Deke has a hockey bag full of tricks. I’ve been deked out of my shorts way too many times by guys like this. The infamous toe-drag usually gets me. Mr. Deke entices me with the puck by strategically placing it barely within my reach, sucking me in to try a poke-check. But he’s way ahead of me. As soon as I reach out for the puck, he pulls off his patented toe-drag maneuver and goes right through me. The next think I know he’s behind me, deking out the goalie as well. I hate getting undressed by these guys.
Don’t Stare at the Puck
The best hockey tip I’ve been given on this is to watch his hips as he’s coming in on you. An experienced forward will try to fake you out with the puck, his head, his shoulders, a change of speed, or anything else he’s got up his sleeve. If you focus on his chest or the crest on his jersey, he may even deke you with his entire upper body. The worst thing you can do is watch the puck. Keep the puck in your peripheral vision, but don’t stare down at it.
The Hips Don’t Lie
He is not going anywhere without his hips, so keep your eyes on them. A hip can’t be dropped like a shoulder, or quickly dart around like a head-fake. With your eyes at waist level, it also makes it a little easier to keep the puck within your peripheral vision. Watch their hips, not the puck.
4) Keep your Stick out in Front
Keep your stick on the ice out in front of you, with one hand on the stick. Not in the air, not off to the side. Pointing your stick at the hockey player coming in allows you the flexibility of swinging it towards whichever side he tries to go around you.
Let the forward make the first move, then react to it. If you lunge at the puck and miss, you could find yourself right out of the play.
I used to sweep my stick from side to side. Against slower hockey players, I would sometimes be able to get my stick on the puck and slow them down, or even whack the puck over to the boards. But it doesn’t always work. The Hot Shots would often time their move just after one of my stellar sweep attempts. My stick would be out to one side, and they would go around me on the opposite side. Burned again.
If you notice the forward is having trouble with the puck, that’s the time to try a poke-check. Otherwise, just keep your stick out in front and be ready when he makes his move.