If you’re new to the game of hockey, you might be wondering about the importance of “breaking out.” Within the ebb and flow of every hockey game, your team will at various times find itself in control of the puck in your own end zone, with the opposing team forechecking hard. The challenge at this point, of course, is to move the puck out so you can clear the puck from your own end zone and then attack the opposing team’s goal. In ice hockey this is called a “breakout,” and the ability of a team to successfully and consistently achieve clean breakouts ultimately becomes a major factor in winning the game.
Practice Makes Perfect—and So Does Communicating
You’ll note that the breakout is framed as a team activity, not a personal skill. To effectively break out, particularly in the face of a highly aggressive opponent, all of your players on the ice must work together. The best way to accomplish these skills, working together as a team, is to practice and to communicate. Players practicing and playing together learn both team coordination as well as simple commands. Allowing every team member on the ice know what’s happening.
Combining Strategy with Skills
Hockey is clearly a skill sport—dynamic. One Must have the ability to skate, control the puck, and accurately pass and shoot. What many people fail to realize is that hockey is also very strategic. Teams that work together to implement the appropriate strategies often win games, even if the other team has more fundamental skills.
A team that consistently executes the proper strategic plays as a unit will find itself in better position to control the puck, shoot and score more consistently even if the opposition has better skaters and skills. For this reason, the ability of a team to consistently execute successful breakout plays becomes a prerequisite for success. There are typically 4 or 5 breakouts that every team should practice and master that will ultimately provide a solid basis for competing more effectively and for winning more games.
In the face of very aggressive forechecking, using the boards to “rim” the puck around the back of the net is often an effective play. In a rim breakout, one defenseman rims the puck to a winger, who is in turn supported by the center and the other wing. The defenseman shooting the puck should also call out “rim” or a previously agreed upon word to make sure the other defenseman in the zone knows what’s going on.
As a side note, many coaches prefer direct shots to shots along the board. Primarily because they are more effective—if accurate and properly executed. Using the boards to move the puck is often indicative of less skilled players who lack a degree of confidence in their passing attempts. Nevertheless, to counter an opponent who is pressing and aggressively forechecking, the rim breakout is a good and effective strategy.
In this play, the team recognizes that the opponents have flooded the ice on the side of the rink where one of defensemen has gained control of the puck. The “over” call is made and the defenseman with puck passes it behind the net—either using the boards, or better yet using a direct pass—to the other defenseman who takes it.
The most important thing about the over breakout is that it must be done quickly, before opposing players can flood the other side of the ice. It must also be practiced and perfected, because in the heat of game, it is easy to confuse the over play with the rim. The key difference is the strategy behind the play. The main objective of the rim is to get the puck to a winger who can get the puck down the ice; the main objective of the over play is to clear the puck from a gang of opposing players.
If the defenseman has the puck and a little breathing room from the forechecking opponent—or has a speed advantage—the wheel play becomes a good option. In the wheel, the defenseman skates behind and as close to the net as possible. While the other defenseman, remaining near the crease in front of the net, “picks” opposing players trying to close in on the puck. Once the net has been cleared, the defenseman with the puck can pass it to the center or one of the wings to press the attack.
The reverse is always a potential backup plan for the wheel, called into play if the opposing player is too close and applying pressure. To execute the reverse, the defenseman with the puck banks the puck off of the boards in the opposite direction and behind the opposing player, passing it off to the other defenseman. When the wingers and center see the reverse coming into play, they adjust their positions accordingly and then press the attack.
The up breakout is used when there are a number of opposing players near or behind the net. In this play, the defenseman with the puck moves the puck up the strong side of the ice along the boards to the winger or the center. This is a very direct play and can be executed quickly.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Hockey is a team sport that requires not only individual skills, but team skills as well. By working and training together as a unit, practicing the plays outlined above by skating together and communicating with one another, a hockey team will dramatically improve its winning percentage on the ice.
Hockey is often thought of as a very physical game, so you might not realize that it’s a game of strategy as well. If you’ve always wanted to play or have been itching to get involved again after playing as a child, hit us up at ShinnyUSA! We have a blast every morning at local rinks in the area, and as you progress, you’ll pick up both the physical skills and strategic plays that make the game so exciting. Give us a try—we know you’ll be glad you did!