every team has a strategy for creating offense in hockey. When trying to get the puck into the offensive zone, a team has two options: get the puck into the zone, or shoot the puck and try to recover it. a team would like to get the puck into the zone, but the defense makes it difficult and forces them to throw the puck inside. this is where the head-on hit comes in.
so what is preflight in the nhl? Foreplay is when a team puts pressure on the opposition in the offensive zone to create pressure and disruption so they can gain possession of the puck by forcing the opposition to generate a turnover. there are a number of pre-control systems that a hockey team could or will use during the course of the game.
Reading: What is forechecking in hockey
there is no way around it. a team must have a good pre-check system to win a hockey game. it is imperative that a team be able to create chaos and disruption in the offensive zone against the opposition in order to generate turnovers and time of possession with the puck. It’s hard to score goals if you can’t get the puck!
what are some of the preflight systems a team will use?
The system that is implemented in the game will depend mainly on three things:
- the philosophy of the coach
- the players on the team and their skills and abilities
- the situation of the game
coaching philosophy: Every coach has their own idea of what it takes to win hockey and the systems needed to make that happen. there are definitely different camps as some are more conservative and others more aggressive. forecheck can be implemented in a conservative way that involves players being left behind. or it can be implemented in a more aggressive way that involves a lot of pressure. Whichever system is chosen – conservative or aggressive or something in between – it has a lot to do with the actual coach’s philosophy of what it takes to win a game.
Player skills and abilities: When choosing a pre-testing system and philosophy, the coach will take into account the players they have to work with. Are the players on the team fast and great skaters? this would cause a coach to choose a more aggressive fast skating system. Do the team players have great size and physical game? this can lead a coach to choose a more conservative style that relies less on speed and more on player boxing.
State of the game: It is important for a team to learn to master a front hitting style. however, there will be times or situations in a game where it is advantageous to change your frontal attack style. Would a team apply a conservative tackle when they are a goal down with 5 minutes remaining? Of course, no! the team will want to play aggressive, even be willing to sacrifice defensive play, to try and get scoring opportunities to tie the game. or conversely, does a team want to be really aggressive when trying to protect a lead late in the game? no, they will choose to play a more conservative style that decreases the number of chances against.
let’s see the different preflight systems that a team can implement:
target: this is a system where players will be in a triangle with one player on the puck while the second is a support system and the third can move to the slot to score chance or drop back to a defensive position as needed.
players: This is a great system to implement for younger players or at the beginning of a season when a team joins. It is simple and easy to teach. will teach players the basic checks, how to read and react to plays.
- easy to teach and requires basic control skills
- emphasizes pushing disc carrier
- forward learning to work together
- prevents the opposition by breaking 3 vs 2
1 – 2 – 2
Objective: 1-2-2 is a conservative system where normally the center forces the puck while the wingers stay on the wings. this encourages the defenders on the defensive team to get the puck out and prevent the forwards from getting 3v2.
players: This is a great system to play if your team has big wingers, as it will allow you to control play across the boards. it’s also pretty simple to teach, and most teams will run into situations that require a 1-2-2.
- adaptable to most of the opponent’s breaking moves
- balanced between positions with no one being key
- essential for wingers to control the boards
- emphasizes positional play and needs only basic adjustments
1 – 4
target: 1-4 is perhaps the most conservative type of forecasting system applied. the team will send only one forward to the offensive zone, usually the center. the other two forwards will drop back and play as defenders. this system has also been known as the neutral zone trap.
players: This is a system often used by teams that lack talented and skilled players. he is employed by a less talented team trying to stop a more talented team. also, it will often be used late in games to try and protect an advantage.
- does not insist on pressing and simply gives up the offensive zone
- two forwards and defense will create a kind of wall difficult to penetrate
- always four players to defend against three forwards
- four players have more territorial responsibility
- front strike that creates opportunities through turnovers in the neutral zone with quick counterattacks
1 – 1- 3 off wing stay behind (sometimes called left wing block)
target: This is a forecheck that offers a mix of aggressiveness with conservatism. the puck-side center and winger will aggressively attack the puck in the opposition zone. the winger on the puck’s offside will stay back and act as a third defender with the ability to jump deeper into the offensive zone if possession is won.
In a variation of the system, the left wing will be tasked with staying closer to the defenders. they will act as a kind of roving defense that can pop up if needed, but their first responsibility is to defensive awareness.
players: This is a great system for teams that can skate well. players can get deep quickly to attack the opposition, and the third striker will be able to skate into the slot if the opportunity arises.
- allows innovation from the front on counter-attacks
- prevents opposition 3v2s
- relies on skating from the front
- can be modified to implement a more rigid left blocking
2 -1- 2
target: this is an extremely aggressive pre-control system that was introduced by the soviet union during the 1980s. they would send 2 forwards to control a defender or a winger. there is constant pressure on the defensive team in the hope that they will make poor passes and cause turnovers. the defense is also more active helping forwards and being aggressive on the boards.
players – This requires a highly skilled team to pull off. the team must constantly communicate with each other, especially between the center and the defense. the team needs to be great skaters and able to adapt to constantly changing situations and read plays well as they unfold
- this system is difficult to learn
- players will swap positions while covering and supporting each other
- the opposition must be attacked at all times and in all areas
- defenders are more aggressive and often push along the boards; the striker will need to know how to come back to cover the defenders
target: This is an extremely aggressive system used when a team needs to score a goal. forwards basically have no defensive responsibilities and try to apply constant pressure at all times. additionally, defenders are positioned wider as usual and are encouraged to pinch the puck and move up the offensive end.
players – Teams will need to be quick with highly rated players if they want to implement this. however, most teams would implement this type of pre-check when they are behind near the end of the game. At this point it’s worth taking some chances to get a goal or two!
- forwards only concern is puck pressure and not defensive responsibilities
- defense is looking for opportunities to get into the offensive zone and will risk them
- forwards will play deep inside the opponent’s zone
- used as a strategy to score goals when they desperately need them
3 -2 beats
goal: This is a system used for some specific situations, such as on a faceoff or at the end of a period, when it is unlikely that a team will be able to fight back to create a score. chance. essentially all three forwards will be deep in the zone and press the puck to create a turnover. after a turnover, players will make a quick attack towards the net.
players – The players implementing this will generally be the best strikers on the teams as they will be active during these specific situations. to create that much pressure, a player must be a great skater and fast to the puck
- key strategy is to have three strikers pressing the puck at the same time
- quick, high intensity strategy
- done in key situations like late in the period
While watching hockey, try to choose which system(s) the team is using. as the famous wayne gretzky says, “don’t skate where the puck is, skate where it goes”. knowing the systems will help you know where the puck is going and anticipate what players are trying to do. it will also let you see when a player makes a mistake!