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What I Learned at Pens Camp

Sara Petyk, PghWHR cofounder and frustrated defenseman.


I attended the Penguins Adult Clinic held at the Consol Energy Center on September 27 and 28, 2012—and I had a blast! I can’t imagine that there’s anything better than stepping onto an NHL rink and knowing you get two whole days of playing there. Add to that the fact that it was only my second time ever in the arena and I was in heaven!


The clinic was scheduled over two evenings, with a one hour and twenty minute skills and drills session followed by a one hour scrimmage. The ladies were given the Penguins Elite (amateur travel team) locker room and the men were given the much larger visitors room. No hard feelings on this end, this was the nicest locker room I’ve ever changed in—it even had carpet! Plus, we got to use the Penguins runway and walk past their locker rooms and mural every time we went on the ice. We also used their bench:) Let me tell you, that Jumbotron is right over your head when you’re on the ice; no wonder those guys are always looking up and watching the replays. It’s like having your own TV!


As great as the surroundings of the clinic were (thank you NHL lockout), the real reason I attended was to learn some tips and skills from ex-pros. Our "coaches" included Bryan Trottier, Phil Borque, and Troy Loney. Growing up in Pittsburgh and watching the Pens in the early ’90s, there was an extra thrill about being able to skate with players from those extraordinary years.


The drills we run both nights were focused on basic but necessary skills in a small space—one-timers on the goalie, taking passes and shooting, dekeing, etc. (I did feel bad for the goalies, all 10 of them! They saw a TON of shots) I wish I could recall all the drills they set up, but they really were helpful. The scrimmage time was a great place to put into practice what we learned. As an added bonus, on the second night of scrimmaging Troy Loney was "coaching" my team and he actually would pull us aside during the game or on the bench to go over a few individual plays. I cannot say how helpful that is; to have someone point out in that exact moment what actually happened and how you might have made a better choice. The directive both nights was to have fun, try your best, but also to listen to their tips and even if it felt awkward or you thought it wasn’t your style, give their tips a shot and see if it works. I think that’s a great sentiment always. I was also impressed with how they said in both drills and scrimmage, always shot to score. That kind of focus is no doubt what makes them professionals and me…well, me:)

But getting to the point of this post, I want to pass along some of the better "insider" tips I learned, in case they help out someone else. For those of us that learn hockey as adults, we almost never get the opportunity to actually be coached, so I grab tips where ever I can find them! I should also add that most of this is from my perspective as a defenseman. (Disclaimer-what follows is my interpretation of the pro’s tips; any changes, misinterpretations, and general BS you read below is entirely mine.)


THE GAP. My enemy:(

I’ve been struggling a lot lately with figuring out how to hold a good gap and not just present a good imitation of a pylon on the ice. So basics first: keep the other guy about a stick length away from you at all times. That’s a good gap. 

Here’s the pro tip: Stay Up With The Guy. So as opposed to what I always do which is back up and up and then watch the guy go straight around me (not a great idea), Troy emphasized staying up when the play is in the offensive zone and not getting stuck too far back. If you are already up there, you can maintain a better gap, maybe do something through the neutral zone, and overall make more of an impact on the play.  I’ve put this into practice in a couple games now and can say that I’ve felt much better about my positioning and play. 

Added pro tip: let’s say you keep getting smoked by a super fast winger on the other team. When you’re up at the line and see them starting to on their horse to carry the puck for an end-to-end breakaway, get the F’ in there! Don’t let him get the wheels going. Get the puck, get the man, just get something so at least the puck is off his stick. This is not meant to be your default play, this is only for the times you’re up against that one chick in the league who can go from 0 to 60 in 0.2 seconds and smokes absolutely everyone. That’s when you pull out all the stops…and maybe take an interference call.



So this is along the lines of another classic beginner tip: skate with the puck to where people AREN’T. What?…Oooohhh!!!!! I’m am not blessed with athletic prowess, so basic stuff like this I actually need to be taught, it doesn’t come naturally

So here’s the tip for defensemen dealing with the puck carrier in your zone in the corner or on the mid-wall: Skate At An Angle. This means come at the guy on a slight angle or loop out a bit. The idea is to push them up or down the boards. This way at least you have a sense of where the puck is going and where the pass is or isn’t. This is as opposed to my current modus operandi: skate straight at the sucker:) Apparently this just means the puck carrier will shoot it straight through you legs to pass right to her center and/or right on goal. (Oh yeah…you know…that DOES happen to me a lot.)


I happen to play in certain games where my forwards, gods bless them, happen to sometimes skate right up to the other blue line and stop. Flat. In a line. This makes break-ins just a tad difficult. So I asked what should I, as a defenseman, if I get the puck at my blue line/neutral zone area and there’s a.) no one moving to pass it to, and b.) all my forwards are sitting flat on the blue line. On the occasions when this happens, my pro coaches (who I’m sure have never had this occur in their games) suggested one thing: SMART DUMP. 

Send that puck up into the offensive zone, but DON’T just throw it around the boards, behind the net, for the other D-guy/goalie to go get. (Oh!) Instead, try sending it off the far corner to shoot back up to my (hopefully) forward-skating winger or try sending a soft dump to the mid-wall to just sit there. Again, the hope is my forward can get there and make a reasonable effort to get possession and maybe a scoring chance. Given the leagues I play in (hello Lower D) this sounds like a fantastic tip to me. I’ll let you know how this goes:)


Occasionally I will be in a situation where my center has not come back to help us in the defensive zone. It’s a tough job being center, I know. All those faceoffs; all that skating up and back; remember all the places you’re supposed to be, etc. So those times when I don’t have a center what sometimes also happens is that I and my D-partner get a little discombobulated. So here’s one scenario that Troy helped me straighten out. 

If you’re in your zone with no center helping and your d-partner goes to the corner to pressure the puck carrier, you’ll probably also have an opposing player sitting in front of the net and another one somewhere behind you. The best thing to do is to get close to guy behind you if he’s at the back post (which he should be) and make sure you feel him back there. Don’t let him cruise around. When the puck comes out of the corner (your d-partner didn’t get it) you want to prevent the pass to the center and the guy on your back. You DO NOT leave your post and go after the puck. This leaves the guy behind you WIDE open for a shot or rebound. Basically you’re playing a 2-on-1 between the guy in front of the net and the guy behind you. The guy with the puck coming out of the corner may get a shot off, and the goalie just has to deal with it. What you don’t want is that pass to get through and make your goalie move for a shot from either a.) the dude setting up house at center, or b.) that sneaky weasel bastard behind you waiting for the easy tip in. Watch for that guy! (Too harsh? Possibly. But that guy gets me every time!


This came from a fellow player who is an experienced D and is great about giving out tips. When the puck carrier sets up behind your net in your zone, as the defenseman you want to prevent that pass coming straight out to the center for the quick bang in. Right? So his tip was to set your skates together, at an angle, AWAY from the net so if the pass does come you’re basically deflecting it off to the wall. Even better is to line up both skates and your stick blade in one long, unbroken line to prevent the pass. Similar to the "guy in the corner" tip, skating straight on at the puck carrier apparently only means she’ll pass it straight through your legs. Doh!


This is super, super basic and I still don’t get it right. But Troy pointed this out to me on the ice and it’s always good to repeat. If you want to get yourself open as an outlet for your D-partner, you need to be BEHIND them…and to the side…and some distance away. This is, of course, not to say you want to be 10 feet back and on the opposite wall, but if you want to be a good outlet get into a slightly back and away position so you have space to receive it and do something. Always watch for that steal across the center though! (It always looks so open and inviting!!)


Finally, this was a tip repeated for several of us, both defense and offense. Sometimes you just try to do too much. Don’t. If you’re trying to skate around three guys, break in, and score the goal, you’re probably trying to do too much. If you’re the last guy back and you don’t see a safe outlet, don’t try to skate around. Just get it up the boards. If you don’t see a great play, at least make a SMART play. Get the puck up, get it out of the zone, get it across the line. 

But don’t, for the love of god, pass it through the center for a steal and breakaway by the other team who then scores the game-winning goal. DOH!  (It just looked so inviting, though)


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