Jack Blatherwick

The ugly growth of dump & chase

 

By Jack Blatherwick
Let’s Play Hockey Columnist

The common neutral zone advice from coaches at every level is, “As you cross the red line, if you don’t see a play, get it deep.” Instead of teaching players to create a play when the defense looks solid, we reward them for “dumping, chasing, avoiding turnovers, getting it deep and forechecking hard to make the opponents cough it up.”

That’s college hockey’s game plan to a T. “Nothing fancy. Don’t take chances.”  

But ‘fancy’ is the fun of the game.

It’s a good thing Pavel Datsyuk didn’t go to college in the U.S. … or Wayne Gretzky, Sidney Crosby, the Sedin Twins, Evgeni Malkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Jaromir Jagr, Patrick Kane, or any of the great playmakers in the NHL. How many times have we seen Gretzky or Datsyuk enter the zone against ‘perfect defense,’ cut to the middle to create confusion between the two D, then wait for the wings to fly to the net, so they can shoot, pass or chip it softly toward the crease?

The playmakers of the game don’t dump the puck, because it’s a wasted opportunity. Coaches argue that the dump-chase strategy reduces turnovers at the blue line, so it is the safest plan for winning.

Oh? The math-teacher problem I have is that I want numbers, so I kept track of a junior team’s success rate in a recent game to see if dumping the puck created turnovers by the D and possession for the attack team. Sixty-eight percent of the time after dumping-and-forechecking hard, the opponent came out of the zone with the puck, and the attack team didn’t touch it. 

Of course, the opponent was into dump-chase as well, so they had about the same success rate, meaning this was just a ping-pong match. The object was to get the puck to the other team as fast as possible.

“We don’t have a bunch of Datsyuk’s here,” I was told by a college coach. He was a bit irritated when I suggested that the coaching strategy was an insult to the skills of so many talented players. He countered, “The youth and high school coaches don’t develop those playmaking skills, so our best bet is to get it deep and let the defense make mistakes.”

That’s what the high school coach says about Bantams, and the bantam coach says about PeeWees, etc. And of course young defensemen will cough it up often when forechecked, so it’s an even better strategy to dump-and-chase at that level than it is in college

Where does this cycle end? It ends when we realize it’s not about coaches; it’s about kids having fun, learning creativity in practices and being given the freedom to make plays. Watch a pond hockey game (without coaching of course) and see how many times the puck is intentionally given to the opponents. Skillful playmaking begins when coaches start saying, “If you don’t see a play in the neutral zone, MAKE ONE UP. SURPRISE US.”

Visit Jack’s website at www.overspeed.info.