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The Circle Around the Crease

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Welcome to the sport of hockey. You already know the rules and how to play the game, so you know that in the super basic concept of the game all you have to do to win is put a black piece of rubber into a net more than the other guys do. Yeah, that is super basic, so let’s take a magnifying glass here for a minute – No, scratch that – we’re taking a microscope, and we’re going to look at something important that actually leads to those goals that win you games in our sport. Hey defense, you listen up here too so you can save a few goals.

It’s not shots that are under the microscope today, no that’s a bit too broad of a topic for right now. What I’m really wanting to show you here is one area of the ice. A circular area with a ten foot radius; the area that surrounds the net. In this relatively small region there are a few key things to keep in mind. There’s the net of course, the very bottom of either face-off circles, the goal line, the “trapezoid” area (which on most non-professional ice surfaces isn’t marked with the usual goalie prohibited lines) and of course the crease which in 95% of all scenarios will have a goalie in it. I’d like to point out here that the center of our circle is on the goal line under the center part of the crossbar. Now that we have that all sketched out let’s realise that the goalie in that crease will probably be in that crease almost always, and if they aren’t they’re only, at most, half a foot outside of that blue paint or playing the puck nearby. Their job is to guard that semi-circle that covers the front of the net so that no pucks will end up behind them, past that goal line, and in the net. That really isn’t much space to cover, especially when you consider the size of the average rink and how much space that say, a center has to cover. It also, however, means that there’s quite a bit less room to be moving around in. When it comes to goalie positioning, being half an inch too far left or too far right can be the easy difference between the puck going in the net or not.

But, hey, we’re trying to score some goals here, right? Well yeah okay, I’m getting to that. If you want to rack up some extra goals, you’re going to want to learn how to get comfortable in that circle around the opposing team’s net. 

Let’s start with something that’ll benefit everyone on your team; Getting in the goalie’s face. When the opportunity arises and the puck gets passed up to the point for your defense to take a shot, it’s time for you to sit right in front of the goalie. 

This benefits you in four ways. First, the goalie can’t see a thing, or maybe they can, but they at least see a lot less than they would if you weren’t right there. 

Second, the goalie might hate you for sitting there, just like how you hate people who are too tall standing in front of you when you’re trying to watch a hockey game at the Staples Center. Except since you’re on the ice and you can’t sue them for hitting you here, the goalie might start trying to push you down and out of the way so that they can see and do their job. How does this benefit you? Well it’s a distraction and when the goalie’s moving his or her arms to try and push you, they are no longer keeping that hand in they’re ready stance to stop a puck. 

Third, this little pushing and shoving going on by the goalie isn’t liked by some refs and the goalie might get called on a roughing penalty for it. As a goalie, I know I’ve been called on it before and the kid didn’t even fall down. Even when the goalie is warned by the ref to stop pushing the players around, most will do it anyways. 

Finally, your favourite benefit I’m sure. We’ve got you here with the ability to tip the puck in off of your D’s shot or you have the opportunity to slam in a nice juicy rebound.

Look at that. Four really nice benefits and that’s just from standing in one place. 

You can guess where else in this circle is a great place to set yourself up in, I’m sure. That would be the “backdoor.” Wait for the opening and get yourself open on the opposite side of the crease from the goalie. You’ll give yourself a beautiful wide open net to shoot at if your team can feed you the puck or if the goalie gives off another one of those rebounds in your direction. The thing with the backdoor is that you need to react quickly. The opportunities that come from sitting backdoor are ones that you gain and lose in half a second: your reaction has to be quick. If you hesitate, any good goalie will have that area covered before you actually make your move. Don’t forget to keep your feet moving though, the play moves around a lot so the backdoor isn’t always an open area for you; circle around and of course, keep your position, but once you see that area open you’d best hustle to your spot so you can slam the puck in.

Now, defense, it’s your turn. You know those two areas I just pointed out? You cover them. ‘kay? Cover them. Please. This is from a goalie to the defense of the world. Please do not leave the backdoor open and don’t leave people standing loose in front of your goalie. Keep your head up and know your surroundings so that you can help your team from getting those goals scored on you. Goalies can only do so much when they have to move from one side of the crease to the next.

That isn’t your only job in our 20 foot diameter circle though, defense. There’s something just as important, if not more so, than just preventing opposing forwards from getting opportunities in front of the net and in open areas. Though really there are many things, I’m just going to focus on this one. 

You keep out of the crease

It is actually worse to have your own defense in your crease as a goalie, than it is to have the opposing forwards in the crease. If there is a scramble for the puck inside the crease your job is not to stop the puck: that’s the goalie’s job. 

Your #1 job is to clear the players out from in front of the net so they can’t get to the puck. Yes, it is also important to try to get the puck away from that area, absolutely, but that also means not facing the net. Get your body in there and push your way through the crowd to clear the crease of opposing players; however, pushing your goalie, getting in his or her way or (worst of all) just standing in the crease, doing nothing, or even watching from the outside is not helpful in the least. 

Do not go beside the goalie nor behind the goalie if you have any other option. Actually just don’t stand beside the goalie ever. There’s no reason for you to be there. If you see that the puck is about to trickle in, that is your one excuse for being allowed in that vicinity. And please, do not to ever cut across the crease going behind your goalie. Just…don’t.

The answer as to why you should never do this is quite simple: It’s high-risk and unpredictable and it freaks us out. When you are in the goalie’s space you limit our options of mobility and spaces we can get to. As stated earlier, goalies already have such a small space to be able to move in and to cover, but it’s also the most important space to be covering. If you as a defense are in the crease, you’re actually making the goalie’s job so much harder than it should be. 

If your goalie can’t get somewhere because you are in their crease and in the way, it will cause a variety of problems. First, the goalie might not realise you’re there because they are more focused on where the other team is and where the puck is coming from. They are probably assessing what the other team’s options are as well, so that they can get in proper position. These are things that are supposed to happen. You in the crease? Not so much. 

Your presence now creates the (distinct) possibility of a collision between the two of you. Now that you have both collided, you fall down, your goalie might fall down too, and the other team grabs that golden opportunity to shoot at the open net. You’re out of the play, your goalie is out of the play, and no one is there to cover the ? and suddenly it’s in the net. That’s not good. 

Another scenario: There’s a hard shot, the goalie stops it and now is sliding over to cover the opposite side of the net if they can’t pounce on the rebound. But there you are, and you decide you have a better chance than the goalie does at stopping the second shot. You, with your skinny little stick and skinny little shinpads.

yourself than the goalie does. The goalie is sliding and is now suddenly stopped because they hit your skates since you’re – not even in the crease – on the very edge of the crease. Chances are, the goalie was going to get there in time and you have missed your shot block. Once again the puck is now in the net. Next time, do anything else. Cover someone, take away some open ice and any passing lanes, but leave the puck stopping to the tenders.

Defense, you always want to be in the white, unless you are 100% sure you won’t be in the goalie’s way and that you will be right out of the blue within the same second that you entered it. Remember to never block a shot ever when you are in the blue crease (the situation is completely different if your goalie is pulled). 

With that said, even the white ice can be a danger zone: you also can’t be standing directly in front of your goalie. If you do this then you will be granting the other team two out of four of the benefits (see above) that the forwards get when they stand in the goalie’s way: The benefit of obstructing the goalie’s view, and the benefit of distracting the goalie while your goalie now tries to yell at you to get out of the way so that they can see the incoming shot.

So forwards, go get yourselves dirty, get in the opposing goalie’s face and dig for that puck, or go find a nice open side of the net and wait for the puck to come. Defense, you go keep everyone, including yourself, out of your goalie’s way. You’ll find far fewer goals going in.

Oh, and goalies, don’t be afraid to whack at your D’s feet if they’re getting in your way. Stopping the puck is the most important thing when you’re on the ice?you can apologise (or not) to them after.

 

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