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Studying Hockey Systems for Goaltending: Zone Entry Plays

Studying Hockey Systems for Goaltending: Zone Entry Plays

Today we continue the series of articles from coach Hiroki Wakabayashi. Too often young goaltenders think their world begins and ends in the blue paint, learning all the intricate details of our position while assuming the rest of the team game holds little value to them. In this series we focus on the team game and how the systems employed by opposing teams can have an effect on how a goaltender reads, prepares for and ultimately handles scoring threats.


 

Classic Attacking Triangle 1-2-3

Zone Entry plays happen when the opponents rush up the ice and breaking into your zone from break out or regroup. Classic hockey fans might remember the 1987 Canada Cup series winning goal by Mario Lemieux, assisted by Wayne Gretzky. It is the classic zone entry play often referred as the “Attacking Triangle 1-2-3” where the player with the puck drives wide, the second player also drives wide on the other side to the back-door and the third player skates into the high-slot on the strong side.

Defenders have to respect the puck carrier and the back-door threat so the high-slot area would often become available for the pass or long rebound.

This simple triangle still works when the back-checker is late to catch the third attacker in the high-slot. It is essential for a goalie to follow the movement of the puck on the top of the goal crease in order to face both shot and passing options. Challenging out too far or backing up too deep could make the goalie vulnerable under multiple options. In the video clip below, the goalie was patiently moving on the top of the goal crease and successfully made the save on the shot after few passes.

Classic Triangle plus 4th man

The classic triangle has become less popular nowadays due to the improvement of defensive transition strategies. The first back-checker usually sprint to cover the high-slot so it’s not that open anymore. Therefore, offensive team has activated the 4th attacker, usually a DF, in order to create better width and depth on the rush.

Here on the 0:02 or 0:58 mark, Chicago players were forming the triangle but they were all covered. Then Chicago #19 sneaked into the weak-side high-slot as the 4th man for the pass and shot. LA Kings goalie was very patient, did not commit on the strong side plays and successfully moved across the crease to make the save which led the goal on the other end.

Middle Drive

Another big trend is “Middle Drive” that have the second attacker driving straight to the net through the middle ice and have the third attacker sliding across the ice from the weak-side blue line to the slot area. Middle drive creates some space in the slot area and often confuses the first back checker who is supposed to cover the third attacker. Middle drive also draw goalie’s attention towards the player driving to the net and leave the third attacker in the slot inattentive. Here at 0:08 and 3:58 mark, you can see LA Kings #13 is driving hard in the middle and leave LA Kings #27 wide open for the Stanley Cup winner. Against Middle Drive plays, goalie needs to respect the first shooter and the second attacker in front of the net but he/she must be aware of the real threat in the slot area for the rebound or pass across.

Here, the goalie successfully made the first save then slid across the crease to catch the rebound shot from the slot (luckily it wasn’t a clean shot).

Triple Drive

Triple Drive is the progression of the Middle Drive that all three attackers are almost parallel to cross the blue line then the middle attacker drive towards the net. The weak side attacker stays wide and high waiting for the one timer from long pass across. The goalie must be aware of the wide attacker and be able to move across the crease with one push to make the save. Here the goalie shuffled a bit then slid against the long pass, caused a little delay for the shot.

Reverse Triangle

While most of the North American teams would like to drive the puck wide entering the offensive zone, the teams influenced by European hockey would not hesitate skating the puck through the middle lane for zone entry plays. Defensemen needs to clog the middle lane to prevent the clean shot from the slot, therefore, attackers on both side will be available to receive the pass. Once the pass is made to either side, the middle attacker keeps driving middle in order to draw the defensemen and create traffic in front of the goalie. Here, the goalie was patient to follow the play but opened up his shoulder against the shot through the screen and got scored.

Zone entry plays are one of the most repeatedly practiced systems in any levels. Most coaches have their preferable zone entry plays and practice them throughout the season. Also, every team has lines and shooters that are good on zone entry attacks. Studying and recognizing the systems will definitely help you to prepare for the scoring chances.


Hiroki Wakabayashi is a USA level 5 certified hockey coach from Japan. Hiroki has coached goalies and teams in Japan, Canada, USA and five other countries in last twenty years. His work varies from professional teams, national teams (Hong Kong), Junior and NHL drafted goalies to youth hockey level. Heroki is currently working with Arizona Jr. Coyotes.

About The Author

Hiroki Wakabayashi

Hiroki Wakabayashi is a USA level 5 certified hockey coach from Japan. Hiroki has coached goalies and teams in Japan, Canada, USA and five other countries in last twenty years. His work varies from professional teams, national teams (Hong Kong), Junior and NHL drafted goalies to youth hockey level. Heroki is currently working with Arizona Jr. Coyotes.