Capitalizing & Defending A Neutral Zone Transition

This is a practice session that is focused on capitalizing (and defending) transitions from neutral zone turnovers.

The practice starts with a dynamic 15-minute puck handling and passing warm-up After the warm-up the drills focus on quickly getting up ice with 1 on 1, 2 on 1 and 2 on 2 transitions games.

The activities are listed below:

  1. Finnish 5 Puck Warm-Up Progression (15 Minutes)
  2. Quick Turn Up 1 on 1 (10 Minutes)
  3. Quick Turn Up 2 on 1 (10 Minutes)
  4. Quick Turn Up 2 on 2 (10 Minutes)
  5. Optional: Quick Turn Up 3 on 2 (not pictured). Use the same setup as the Quick Turn up 2 on 2 but add an additional forward to make it a 3 on 2. 
  6. Optional: The Greatest Drill in the World Small Area Game (Play this until the end of practice). Encourage players to transition quickly on a turnover and generate offense.

Practice Setup: This can be modified to be a full ice or half-ice practice session. For full-ice, follow the diagrams shown. For half-ice, you can modify the setup of each drill to be each size of a half-ice zone.

In this video, Ben Eaves explains a hockey activity and progression that is excellent for every age and skill level. The activity can be done with 3, 4 or 5 players at a time. The video above shows two groups going through the progression. Group # 1 consists of 4, U18 players and Group # 2 is made up of 5, U10 & U12 players.

The major concept of the Finnish 5 Puck is to practice dynamic decision making which will help players learn to play with their head up instead of staring at the puck while they work to memorize a drill. The initial activities are set up to warm up your hands and edges. From there, the activities become more complex as more decisions need to be made within the group. Each Activity encourages players to keep their head up, move to open space, and pass the puck by interacting with their teammates through verbal & non-verbal communication.

If you commit to working on activities like this instead of memorization drills for a portion of each practice, you will marvel at how your team begins to work together. It will look extremely messy at first, but players will get better with each repetition. Moving to open space, and moving the puck will eventually become second nature to the team.

SETUP & ACTIVITY VARIABLES

  • Players: great for 3, 4 or 5 players at a time.
  • Time: You can rotate through groups of players in 45 - 60 second shifts. 5 players can be participating in the activity, while another 5 rest. Blow the whistle and the next 5 jump in.
  • Space: can be set up to be within a zone, or half of a zone (station) or a smaller area. The smaller the space, the more challenging it will be for the players as they are forced to make quicker decisions.
  • Added Challenge: add obstacles within the space to challenge the players further. Tires, cones, sticks, etc placed in the space make it harder to pass and skate around. As time goes on the added obstacles will help improve their reaction & decision making.

Activity # 1: Forward Skating

The goal of this activity is to get players warmed up and comfortable with skating forward to open space with the puck. They should be keeping their head up so they do not run into anyone or any obstacles that are out in the playing area. Players can work on their edges, control turns, mohawk turns, dekes, changing pace and whatever their creative minds (and coaches) can think of!

Activity # 2: Backward Skating

The goal of this second activity is to get players comfortable with skating backwards with the puck to open space. Since players are skating backward, it is crucial that all players keep their head up and look over their shoulders at all times.

Activity # 3: Forehand Only Puck Control

In this activity, players can only stickhandle with their forehand. This encourages players to move their body around the puck. This will help with puck protection along with changing passing and shooting angles. Continue to encourage players to keep head up and move to open space!

Activity # 4: Pass 1 Puck

Now that everyone is warmed up, this is where the fun begins. Encourage players to use verbal and non-verbal communication to pass 1 puck around between the group of players in the activity. Do not let players stand still and pass back and forth. Call out for constant movement and to skate to open space. When players receive the puck, they should take a stride or two, have their head up, and make a pass to an open teammate.

Activity # 5: Pass 2 Pucks

Here we go! With two pucks it is even more critical to keep your head up and communicate. It is important for all players to have an idea of where both pucks are so they can be ready to receive a pass and be ready to make a pass without passing to someone who already has a puck.

Activity # 6: Pass 3 Pucks

With three pucks it is important to read your teammates and anticipate what they are going to do with the puck. If you don't pay attention, you end up receiving a pass you are not ready for, or you pass to someone who isn't looking.  Communicate verbally, pay close attention and read body language! 

Activity # 7: Pass 4 Pucks

This could be the hardest of all of the activities. It is important to stress patience with the puck in this round. If players do not pay attention they end up all passing to the one open player at once.  Keep your head up, be patient and pass when your teammate is ready to receive your pass. Do not rush. If you are the only player without a puck, make it clear with verbal communication who you want the puck from.

Activity # 8: Pass 5 Pucks

With 5 pucks (or 4 pucks with 4 people) it is important to communicate with eye contact and verbal queues. Do not attempt rink-wide or long passes at first. Short and subtle drop passes and slides work excellent in this activity.

Activity # 9: 4 vs 1

Now that everyone has been challenged with passing multiple pucks, it should be extremely easy to pass one puck and keep it away from a defender. Use all of the lessons learned above (moving to space, verbal and non-verbal communication) to make sure that the defender does not have a chance to touch the puck.

Activity # 10: 3 vs 2

3 on 2 will be an increasing challenge to play keep away, but with patience, puck protection and communication, the defenders should still not be able to get the puck.  

Added Competitive Challenge:

  • Group Challenge: After the group gets comfortable with the exercises, you can add a natural element of competition between the groups by counting the number of successful passes made in the passing activities. Or you can count the number of successful passes made in a row. Either of these can be a fun way to get each group to work harder by having them compete with each other and focus on getting open and making a good pass.
  • With a Goalie: when you are playing 4 on 1 or 3 on 2, if the team makes 5 passes in a row you can allow them to shoot on a goalie.

Coaching Points: 

  • Encourage players to always move to open space on the ice. Do not allow them to stand still and pass the puck back and forth.
  • Encourage verbal communication (calling teammate by name, saying you are open, etc).
  • Encourage non-verbal communication (good eye contact, showing a passing target, tapping a stick, etc).
  • Allow players to make mistakes. It will take time to get comfortable with these activities. But as time goes on you will see them picking their head up to make a decision, which is the goal of this progression.

If you are interested in more hockey activities which require more decision making, reading, and reacting then please check out this article which discusses 11 Activities for Youth Hockey Practice.

Related Content

Length of Time: 
15 Minutes
Quick Turn Up 1 on 1

This one on one drill has the defense start on the top of the circle and the forward start along the wall on the blue line. The inactive forwards and defense should all line up in the center circle. Place cones as shown to mark where players need to skate around. A puck is place on the red line by the coach. On the whistle the forward will skate up the red line, retrieve the puck, and make a tight turn to attack the defense. They need to skate wide around the cone (as shown) and then attack the defense as the enter the zone wide. The defense will skate up and transistion towards the inside of the ice and then take on the forward in a one on one.

The key for the defense is to use the dots as a guide and make sure the forward stays to the outside using a good gap and good stick positition. They should try to force the forward into a bad angle shot and if they try to go to the inside they should be ready with good body position or stick.

Forwards should take what the defense gives them. If they give them too much space then take the inside.  If the defense does not give them the middle then they should protect the puck and drive wide.

Length of Time: 
10 Minutes
Quick Turn Up 2 on 1

The way this 2 on 1 drill is set up it forces the players into a situation that players often find in games.  The first situation is a quick transition and then quickly develops into a 2 on 1 using half the width of the ice, a situation that is common on the rush in 3 on 2 situations.  Regardless of how you are teaching your players to react to 2 on 1, both offensively and defensively, this drill presents a great situation.

To set up the drill place two lines of forwards at center ice as shown in the diagram.  Two forwards from each line come out to the blue line, one along the wall and the other inline with the edge of the circles. One puck is placed inline with the dots at center ice.  The defense is lined up under the hash marks along the wall and the defensive player that starts is at the top of the circles.

On the whistle, the forwards sprint up to the blue line, retrieve the puck, then attack the defender 2 on 1. The forward that starts on the inside will retrieve the puck.  There are three options for the forwards to emphasize. First, have the puck carrier drive wide.  If they do this then the inside forward drives hard to the net or stays high.  Second, the puck carrier can cut to the middle towards the defender and either keep the puck or drop it as the inside forward cuts behind.  All three options are shown in the animation.  The players should play the puck until they score, the goalie freezes the puck, or the puck goes above the top of the circles.

Variations:

Length of Time: 
10 Minutes
Quick Turn Up 2 on 2 Transition Hockey Drill

This 2 vs 2 drill is excellent for working on high-speed turnovers or transitions in the neutral zone. When a turnover occurs in the neutral zone it is important for the forwards to get up ice quick, find passing lanes and work to generate a scoring opportunity. On the defensive side of things, it is important to work with your partner to keep the forwards to the outside of the ice with good gap control. 

The video clip is from Buffalo Sabres Development Camp. The drill is set up to be half-ice situation but it is running out of both sides of the ice for full ice drill. Coaches can easily set up this drill to be full ice (like shown in the video), half ice (with only one side running), full-ice half-width (so the other width can be used for stations) or a 1/4 ice station. The variety of ways this drill can be set up makes this an excellent option for many ages and skill levels.

Setup:

  • Have 2 forwards and 2 defensemen ready to go 2 vs 2.
  • Can be full ice, half ice, or set up as a 1/4 station.
  • When the whistle blows, the two forwards cross to generate speed coming through the neutral zone. You can have the players skate around the players waiting for their turn (like it is shown in the video). This makes it hard for the defense to know which forward is coming out with the puck.
  • The forwards go into the zone and the 2 vs 2 begins.
  • The forwards work to score a goal. The play goes until a goal is scored, the play is whistled down, or the defense takes the puck out of the zone.
  • When the whistle is blown all players need to sprint out of the zone.

Forward Coaching Points:

  • Forwards should work to generate speed crossing over at the start of the drill.
  • Forwards should be mindful of the defense and consider crossing with their teammate to drop the puck or changing up their skating speed to create space and throw off the defenceman's gap.
  • The forward without the puck should be looking to go to open space to be an outlet or driving to the net to bring the defense with them.
  • Communicate with your teammate!

Defensive Coaching Points:

  • Stick on the ice!
  • Use good defensive stick position to steer forwards to the outside and take away dangerous passes.
  • Work on keeping a close gap to the forwards. You do not want to be so far back that they can easily shoot.
  • Work to angle forwards to the outside of the ice.
  • Communicate with your partner!

Variations:

Length of Time: 
10 Minutes
The Greatest Drill in the World
Players love this drill so much it was referred to as "The Greatest Drill in the World" within our team, hence the name. This drill is a variation of the typical 3 on 3 cross ice game. In this variation coaches, or designated players, are placed on each side as shown in the diagram. These coaches (or players) are used as outlets for each team. Therefore, when a team has control of the puck they will have a 5 on 3 advantage because they can use either of these outlets. When they receive a pass, the designated coaches (or players) must pass back to a player on the same team from which they received the pass. Encourage quick puck movement, moving without the puck, lots of talking, puck protection, and taking advantage of 2 on 1 situations.