Coaches: Are You Using Your Defensemen Correctly?
Posted by Dean Holden at November 3rd, 2012
By Alan Bass, February 25, 2012
Often, a key determinant of what position a player chooses is his handedness – whether he shoots right or left. A player’s handedness also affects how a coach uses him in various situations, such as on the power play or penalty kill, at the end of a game with an extra attacker, in a four-on-four situation, or simply at even strength. Other factors can come into play as well, including what system is used (e.g. an umbrella formation on the power play results in a lot of one-timers and quick shots, forcing a coach to play many players on their off-wing, in order to maximize the accuracy of shots).
There is no definitive answer or proof as to whether or not a player should be played on his off-hand, specifically when it comes to defensemen. But a recent study by Timothy McCarthy of USA Hockey and Vikkie McCarthy of Austin Peay State University gives some evidence to the benefits of a defenseman playing on his off-hand, specifically in offensive situations. The study looks at five main scenarios that occur within the context of every hockey game: puck containment (keeping the puck in the offensive zone), D-to-D pass, and a one-timer shot within the offensive zone. In the defensive zone, the researchers looked at puck control and pass success in the context of a breakout. Each of these five scenarios were analyzed on a player’s on-hand and off-hand.
The researchers conducted their experiment with 10 hockey defensemen ages 14 to 16. They observed these ten players in the aforementioned situations six times, resulting in 540 observations.
The results, although not staggering, were intriguing, to say the least.Below is the chart they published, showing the average success percentage in each offensive scenario:
…………………………..With On Hand With Off Hand
Puck Containment 68% 72%
D-to-D Pass 82% 90%
One-Timer Shot 58% 90%
All of these differences were “significant” (in psychological terms, “significance” means there is a distinct difference between the groups tested, and the difference is most likely not by chance). Defensively, these are the statistics reported by the researchers:
…………………………………..With On Hand With Off Hand
Puck Control Strong Side 78% 67%
Puck Control Weak Side 83% 83%
Pass Success Strong Side 94% 92%
Pass Success Weak Side 92% 92%
These differences were not significant, so most likely they happened by chance.
What is interesting with these statistics is that in the offensive zone, the position that a defenseman was playing based on his handedness made a great difference, while in the defensive zone, it did not seem to matter. The results for the offensive zone are logical, as if you are playing on your off-hand (e.g. left-handed defenseman playing on the right side of the ice), it is much easier to perform all three of these tasks. If the puck is being cleared up the boards, you are going to use your entire body to back into and hug the boards if you are playing on your off-hand. However, if you are playing on your on-hand, you are going to use just your stick, leading to more pucks bouncing over your stick and over the blue line. If you are passing D-to-D, the distance between the two defensemen’s sticks and the angle at which the pass is occurring will be much more favorable if both players are on their off-hand. With regards to the one-timer, coaches already understand the importance of a player being on their off-hand, as it creates a much easier atmosphere to release a quick shot, both in terms of the angle of the pass being received and the positioning needed to redirect the puck toward the net.
Although psychological studies do not ever give “proof” to anything, there is clearly enough evidence in the context of this study to give a second look to each of these scenarios and how players are positioning themselves. If, by simply placing players on their off-hand, you can prevent five more pucks from exiting the zone, connect on ten more one-timers, or prevent 15 errant blue line passes from occurring during the course of a game, mistakes can easily be prevented and more goals can be scored with just a simple change in strategy.