Players are always taught to backcheck hard, in fact, more often then not players that don't backcheck hard are quickly escorted to the end of the bench for a while (depending on the coach). Backchecking hard is only half of the equation. Teaching players to backcheck effectively is just as important. Not all situations are the same and therefore players should be taught to recognize and react to the situation at hand. There are also basic fundamentals of backchecking that should be taught regardless of the situation. Incorporating good backchecking drills into practice is important so players become familiar with situations and can react instinctively instead of having to think about it is a game.
Each Player needs to understand how to backcheck depending on the situation and their position on the ice. Players need to have a big picture on how to backcheck as a team and each player's responsibilities.
Backchecking Basics & Fundamentals
These are key fundamentals to backchecking:
- recognize the situation (2 on 1, 3 on 2, etc...)
- count heads and identify if you are first backchecker
- unless you are applying backside pressure you should backcheck inside the dots
- stick should be flat on the ice
- move your feet until you are on the defensive side of your opponent and have created equal numbers
- look for opponents on the weak side or the high slot instead of staring at the puck
Backchecking as a team in 2 on 1 and 3 on 2 situations
AGAINST 2 ON 1
When you backcheck against a 2 on 1 the backchecker will need to take the weak side. The defense needs to read whether or not they can get to the weak side player. If not then the defense will need to position themself so that they take away the pass and try to keep the puck carier to the outside and force the shot from a poor angle. If the backchecker will be able to gain position on the weak side attacker then the defense can play the puck carrier more aggresive and try to kepe them outside the dots.
AGAINST 3 ON 2 (WEAK SIDE)
When backchecking against a 3 on 2 the first thing the player needs to do is recognize the 3 on 2 and make a decisive choice to take the weak side. If the backchecker is able to getgood position then it allows the defense to shift over so the strong side defense can challenge the puck carrier and take away more space. The backchecker has to ientify their opponent on the weak side, gain defensive position, and stay with them even if they drift into the high slot. The defense in the middle will have to stay with the opponent that is driving to the net.
AGAINST 3 ON 2 (STRONG SIDE)
It might make more sense for the backchecker to backcheck on the strong side instead of skate all the way to the weak side of the ice. In this situation they have to skate hard to apply the back side pressure on the puck carrier. The strong side defense has to also read the backchecker's position and take away any play to the middle with good stick position and a tight gap. The backchecker and defense can work together to create a turnover. The defense in the middle still has to stay with any attacker driving hard to the net. The fourth player back will have to look for opponents on the weak side of the ice or trailers on the high slot. If they are late to come back then you will be vulnerable on the weak side of the ice.
Responsibilitiies by Position
Strong Side Defense
In most situations the strong side defense needs to:
- close the gap as much as possible
- have good stick position to limit any pass to the middle of the ice
- keep puck carrier to the outside of the dots
Weak Side Defense
The weak side defense will typically have to pick up the attacker that is driving the net. They should be slightly staggered behind the strong side defense and therefore they are the last player back.
First Forward Back
This is the most important player and has challenging responsibilities:
- indentify situation (2 on 1, 3 on 2, etc...)
- count heads and identify which player you are, are you first, second, or third backchecker
- be decisive when choosing to take strong side
- communicate with defense and call out your responsibility
- move your feet until you are in defensive position
- be ready to take care of stick and/or body when there is a pass or rebound
Second Forward Back
Most of the same responsibilities apply to the second player back. This player needs to:
- identify themselves as the second backchecker
- count opponents in front of them
- backceheck hard until your team has even numbers
- pay attention to opponents away from the puck
- if you get into defensive zone and your team has numbers then protect the house with heels to the net
Third Forward Back
This forward still has to count heads and take inventory of the situation. If they are the last player then that means their team is outnumbered heading into their defensive zone so they need to skate hard until they even up the numbers. There are a couple other options for this last player back.
If they spent a lot of energy on the forecheck and look tired then they can change using the door closest to your net, the coach should be ready to send a player out the door closest to the opponents net. This way you don't lose a ton of time evening up the numbers and you will have a fresh player to help out in the defensive zone.
If the third forward back notices their team has the numbers as they enter the defensive zone then they need to:
- get to the dangerous area of the ice
- get heels to the net
- look for late attackers on the weak side and high slot
It is a Team Effort!
Backchecking well is just as important as backchecking hard. Doing it well requires a team effort and players need to understand and know their responsibilities. Here are additional resources that can be helpful to your hockey team: