The (slow) death of dump-and-chase hockey?
Posted by Dean Holden at November 3rd, 2013
by Jack Blatherwick, 31 October 2013
It couldn’t happen soon enough – the death of dump-and-chase hockey. It’s boring for spectators; it’s counterproductive in the development of skills; it isn’t fun for participants; and it’s contrary to every instinct cultivated on the outside pond. In spite of all that, coaches convinced themselves, and sometimes convinced their players … it wins. But did it win simply because every other team did the same thing?
The philosophy: Give up the puck as quickly as you can, and see if the opponent has the skill to break out of their end against the forecheck. Is that the best we could come up with? Is that why we coach?
In watching this strategy move down the ranks from college and NHL levels into youth hockey, I often wondered why kids would play our sport. Is forechecking, backchecking and D-coverage that much fun? Why not play basketball? At least they don’t intentionally give the ball to the other team, just to avoid a turnover that might leave them outnumbered in their own end.
No one ever did a large statistical study to see if dump-and-chase is a winning strategy. After all, every college was doing it, so there was no way to compare it to another alternative. In my own little universe of biased inquiry, I’ve noted that 80 percent of the time the puck is dumped into the zone, the defending team gets it out without a turnover.
When the Detroit Red Wings won with a skillful attack and puck possession, the rest of the league just said, “Well, of course. They have the most skill, so they can play that way. Let’s see what happens if we tell the refs to stop calling penalties in the playoffs.”
What happened? The Wings kept winning, so the Chicago Blackhawks transplanted some management genius from Detroit, naming Stan Bowman general manager, and his father, Scotty, as an advisor. The Hawks made a long-term commitment to skills, speed and puck possession, and won two Stanley Cups in four years.
Boston College and Yale broke the mold somewhat in college hockey and won championships. This year’s Gophers team seems to have that same urge to possess the puck and make plays. It will be interesting to watch their progress because, after all it’s fun to make plays, so skills improve.
The biggest win for puck possession hockey might have been the U.S. Olympic Team’s gold medal in 1980. Herb Brooks knew that if the Soviets had the puck much more than the U.S. team – no matter how tenacious and responsible the Americans were on defense – they’d lose. So Brooks chose the most skillful college players in the country, and worked for six months on playmaking, speed, puck possession and skating 200 feet to defensive position.
It takes a commitment by coaches to devote every practice to skills, and accept mistakes in games. Of course the 1980 team had some disastrous games at the beginning of the winter before skills and conditioning were elevated, but Brooks stuck with the plan. Every effort in practice by youth coaches to cultivate skills is outweighed by a short fuse in games and requirements like, “No turnovers! Keep it simple! Get it deep.” The origin of our ugly dump-and-chase game was simply the impatience of coaches.
Canada’s major junior leagues (CHL and junior A as well) have changed dramatically in 10 years. I’ve watched as the Western Hockey League grew from what was the most physical hockey in the world 10 years ago, to a league dominated by skill, rink sense and puck possession. How did they make the change? Officials are calling penalties as written in the rulebook. If you watch a Minnesota high school or college game, you might see a couple dozen violations ignored; yet those same infractions would be called in the WHL. When rules are enforced, the only way to win is to do more things with the puck than your opponent does.
Coach Mike Yeo decided the Wild needed more puck possession and offensive spark this season, and the team has made strides. They recently earned a split with the Stanley Cup Champions, but in the second game, which Chicago won, offensive zone-time and scoring chances were decidedly in the Hawks’ favor. That is the Blackhawk identity; they are the best in the league, and the Wild are making every effort to move in that direction.
Chad Graff of the St. Paul Pioneer Press (Oct. 25) asked Wild players to discuss their early improvement, and they pointed to three things: 1) stellar play from the defensemen, 2) forwards backchecking consistently and 3) team focus on playing a puck-possession game.
Zach Parise said, “It’s a combination of those three things … when you have the puck a lot … you don’t give up as many chances, and you don’t spend as much time in your zone.”
These are positive signs that hockey is being rescued from the 30-year grasp of conservative coaching which required players to avoid mistakes by not trying anything with the puck. Contrast Parise’s description of the Wild’s new philosophy with that of a player from the dark days of college hockey, who said, “Our plan? It’s simple. We’re trying to give the puck to the other team as fast as we can.”
<This is a great article! About time someone questioned the over-riding mentality of dump and chase / chip and chase! The game has changed. The players are much faster and overall skill sets are improved from even ten years ago. The rules have changed to favour speedy, skilled play. The Portland Winter Hawks (WHL) are one team that does a great job developing skill every day and they use up-tempo practices to help train fitness and decision-training under pressure. This allows them to play like Detroit (puck possession). Yes, there are times you still have to chip it in (tight gap, strong backpressure, outnumbered), but increased skill, speed and a possession-based philosophy are starting to appear! Yay! – DH>