A lifetime of static X’s and O’s might have been the Americans’ demise
Posted by Dean Holden at March 13th, 2014
by Jack Blatherwick, 27 February 2014
Ryan Suter summed it up after Team USA’s loss to Canada: “We didn’t show up. We sat back. We were passive.”
Does it mean the Americans were not motivated? Impossible; we saw them play their hearts out. Did the Canadians have more talent? Debatable, but talented offense was definitely not the difference, because the Americans had their share of great scoring plays. Was it defensive skills? No.
Quite simply, the Canadians had more sustained pressure in the offensive zone. To turn that around, in their defensive end Canada allowed fewer rebound chances and less puck-control and forechecking time by American forwards. The Canadians gained possession of the puck and got out of their end faster.
How does this happen? The difference was aggressive support on defense … team synergy. The Canadians moved quickly to support their teammate who was defending against the opponent with the puck. The Americans stood dutifully where X’s and O’s were drawn in the defensive zone.
Defensive support? When a Canadian defender caused an American to bobble the puck, another Canadian was quick to gain possession. In the American end, the defender appeared to be out on a limb by himself, because his teammates were standing still at their designated coverage spots. Therefore, the Canadians owned the loose pucks at both ends of the ice.
A winning defensive zone system must do two things: maintain solid coverage while providing the defenders with an advantage in retrieving loose pucks. After all, there are more defenders close to the areas around the goal and in the corners, so when one defender attacks and disables the puck carrier, his closest teammates must get to the puck.
Canadians grow up in a hockey culture that says, “Systems are not a substitute for aggressiveness.” On the other hand, fast-skating Americans can somehow be convinced to stand still in a protective shell of X’s and O’s if they’ve been bombarded with this their entire life.
That is the state of American hockey today, led by college coaches who draw X’s and O’s on the board at coaching clinics. This is the danger of certification requirements – it can disseminate bad advice as well as good. Keep in mind that it’s a lot easier for beginning coaches to draw X’s and O’s they’ve seen at a clinic than it is to teach real hockey sense. Therefore, youngsters face a lifetime of propaganda that says, “Disciplined coverage in the D-zone is the key to team defense.”
No. Disciplined systems are totally inadequate without anticipation, team support and aggressiveness. These are the three areas where the Canadians beat the Americans in Sochi.
Because hockey is played on skates, decisions occur faster than in other sports, and defenders can move a great distance in the time it takes to draw an X-O. Players who anticipate loose pucks can practically be in two places at once. X’s and O’s don’t win games unless they serve as a platform from which to attack.
At every age, anticipation, aggressiveness and defensive support must be taught along with basic coverage, or we are preparing American hockey players for bitter defeats at the hands of those countries that do it right. Finland and Sweden are very disciplined in the defensive zone, but they also anticipate when to leave their check and support the defender playing the puck.
Canadians would never ‘sit back and be passive.’ Americans might just be too coachable.