Defensemen: Playing the 1v1 Rush

Playing a 1v1 rush is a challenge faced by every defender in every game, and by most other players as well.  Being able to control and stop and attacker in a 1v1 situation is the hallmark of a good defensive player.  There are a couple of primary things to keep in mind when playing 1v1 defensive situations.

Most of these tips are for players that are very capable backward skaters, but if you are not, skip to the bottom, where I will have a discussion of playing defense without good backward skating.

Defensive Gap Control

The most important part of good 1v1 play is gap control.  Fundamentally, this is the ability to keep your body positioned at a specific distance from the puck carrier.

Normally, your goal should be to close this gap to within TWO stick lengths (close enough to poke check) by the time you’re in your defensive zone.

Matching Speed

A fundamental part of gap control is matching the puck carriers speed in order to maintain the gap.  Solid backward skating is essential to this skill.  Without it, playing defense is difficult.

Angle to the Outside

In addition to maintaining good gap control, it can be beneficial to position your body to force the defender to drive to the outside.  Ideally, you position the center of his body off your outside shoulder, so the puck handler does not have an option to drive directly up the center of the ice.  In other circumstances, it can be beneficial to use known tendencies from the puck carrier to push him into a situation where he may be uncomfortable, such as on his backhand side.

Close the Gap

When you find yourself a significant distance from the puck carrier, standing still is not usually an option.  It is nearly impossible to establish gap control if you wait until the player is nearby before beginning to accelerate.

Instead, you want to close the distance to the player as soon as possible and execute a transition or turn to match their speed, as demonstrated in the Hockey Canada video below.

 

What if your backward skating is weak?

Without good backward skating, defense is hard, but not totally useless.  One good tactic to use if your backward skating is not up to par is the use of “angling” to engage a carrier on their forehand.  This requires some timing and may require some practice, but it is a skill that will help in other situations as well.

Begin by waiting for the puck carrier to skate toward his target.  You may need to intentionally give him some room.  If you skate directly at him and your skating skills don’t allow you to do a quick transition (as shown in “closing the gap” above), you are likely to get beat, but if you skate at an off angle to create some space between you before making an arc to the puck carrier, you can often match their speed and direction using this type of turn.

Remember, when playing a 1v1, a poke check is useful.  Use them when crossing the blue lines for most effect, since puck carriers are limited in their options to move the puck during that period.

Other Sources

Here’s a couple of great videos from two excellent coaches.

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