Hockey geography: Is the east-west game better?
Is your game more north-south or more east-west? In the north-south game, the puck usually moves up the ice quickly and gets straight to the net quickly. On the breakout, the puck usually comes out on the side the first pass was made on. And on the attack, the player who has possession as they cross the blue line typically ends up as the main offensive threat.
If they run into pressure, the puck carrier usually has to give up possession by dumping the puck in and the team must work hard on the fore check to gain it back.
The east-west game is sometimes seen as being a bit more risky.
On the breakout, it might mean that the winger who gets the puck on the strong side wall looks for their net front D as a lateral outlet. Instead of just carrying the puck in down the wall on the attack, it might mean making a little chip pass to the middle to a supporting player or looking for the late D as a trailer on the weak side.
You might choose to think of it as more of a puck possession game. But it requires a certain level of individual skill and hockey IQ to be able to execute effectively.
The north-south game is more straight-forward. Although you do risk giving up possession by forcing the play down the strong side, you typically have support on that side of the ice which allows you to put quick and effective pressure on your opponent.
With the east-west game, you have more risk and more reward. That quick chip to the middle might have a spectacular result if your opponent doesn’t have good back-checking support and you get a quick attack to net. But if it doesn’t work, you might have three or four players skating in the wrong direction when your opponents counterattack.
I’m not here to tell you that one style is better than the other but I do know that girls’ ability to play the east-west game isn’t where it should be.
I’ve seen far too many players with great speed, strength, athleticism just play up and down their side of the ice, almost like they have blinders on. They seem to have tunnel-vision glued to the strong side of the ice.
Getting your entire team to commit to and execute the east-west style effectively can be very challenging.
But teaching your individual players how to skate more of a east-west game is much easier to do and can have terrific consequences on team play.
Let’s start with an important one – GETTING THE PUCK OFF THE WALL.
Getting the puck off the wall to the middle of the ice is a critical skill on both the breakout and on the attack.
How many times have you seen your D skate straight up the wall on the breakout right into pressure or your winger pick up a breakout pass and turn up the wall only to run straight into the other team’s D? It happens all the time.
If that winger and that D had the right skating, game awareness and puck protection skills in place, these turnovers on the wall wouldn’t happen. They would make a sharp cut towards the middle of the ice, away from pressure, and have many more options of what to do with the puck.
Similarly, on the attack, forwards often play right into the hands of the other team’s defensemen.
D's are taught to keep the forwards to the outside, so when you skate straight down the wall all the way into the zone, you give the D control of the one-on-one situation and you limit your options. If you are able to “cut the seam” laterally between the top of the circle and the hash marks, you make that D work much harder by making her move side to side. And the goalies don’t like it when you attack by skating east-west because they need to constantly adjust.
When you skate right down the wing, the goalie has plenty of time to set up for the shot. It’s no different than when your D gets the puck along the wall in the offensive zone and shoots from there instead of walking the puck to the middle to create more options and to force the goalie to adjust.
The first thing I teach players when working on their east-west game is the LATERAL CUT.
It starts with getting them comfortable with the concept of skating the game with their toes pointing towards the side boards instead of north-south.
Work hard, dream BIG and think east-west.
Your friend and coach,
Kim McCullough, MSc, YCS, is the director and founder of Total Female Hockey.