A hockey player with great skating and stickhandling skills is exciting to watch, especially if they use great dekes to get by defenders. We’ll explain some strategies for dodging the dekes.
What Is a Deke in Hockey?
A “deke” (short for “decoy”) is a feint or a move designed to draw an opposing player out of position so you can get by them to score. If you look online, you’ll find countless articles and videos that teach tricks and tactics for deking a defender or a goalie, as well as highlights of the best dekes from the NHL. What you don’t find are many videos about how to defend against a deke.
As defender, it’s nerve-wracking to know that the player coming at you has effective, deceptive moves. But according to David A. Jensen—a former Olympian and NHL player who now owns and operates DAJ Hockey, New England’s premier hockey skills training company—there are several ways not only to keep from getting beaten, but to take control and break up the play, as well.
The keys are to stay focused, maintain your balance, and be patient. Then, once it’s time to act, be decisive.
Three Strategies to Avoid Getting Deked
1. Watch the Logo on the Opponent’s Hockey Jersey
“The biggest mistake you can make is to look at the oncoming player’s head or at the puck,” says Jensen. “They can use a head fake or puck movement to trick you into thinking they’re going one way and then go the other.” If you get too locked in to the head or the puck, there’s a good chance the player is going to get by you.
Instead, Jensen says you should focus on the stickhandler’s chest—or the logo on their shirt—because it’s tough to make a “chest fake.” Once the oncoming player decides which way they’re going, they’ll lead with their chest, giving you the opportunity to react. Teaching yourself to ignore the head and puck fakes will make you much harder to beat.
2. Be Patient and Stay Balanced on Your Skates
Good stickhandlers will try to put you off-balance because that makes it more difficult for you to change direction. This is why you need to stay off your toes and maintain balance, with your weight centered over your skate blades. An ill-advised attempt at a poke check will cause your weight to shift forward, and if you miss the puck you may find yourself left in the dust.
Instead, stay patient, forcing the opponent to move to one side or the other. If you’re maintaining a good hockey stance—with your knees bent, your weight centered, and your head up—you can move quickly in any direction. By not overcommitting, you’re putting the onus on the stickhandler to choose one side or the other. And once that decision is made, then you make your move.
3. Close the Gap Between Yourself and the Puck-Handler
Once the opposing player has made the decision to go left or right—something you’ll recognize by the movement of their chest—it’s time for you to react by closing the gap between you and the puck-handler. Your main goal is to disrupt the rush and keep the player from getting around you. By stopping the rush, you remove the immediate danger and give your team time to get back and get organized.
If the rush is along the boards, your strategy should be different, according to Jensen.
“We teach players to focus on the triangle formed by the opposing player’s body, their stick, and the ice.” Jensen says. “You want to move through that triangle, with your hip on the opponent’s hip and your stick on their stick.”
To do this, you need to maintain that good hockey stance—staying low and balanced. Put your stick through the triangle and meet the opponent’s body with yours. This is a great strategy for separating the on-rusher from the puck, effectively killing the attack. Practicing these techniques against a player who has really good moves will help you improve your ability to recognize the difference between a feint and an actual move to get around you. Plus, you’ll get better at intercepting the oncoming player as they try to get around you. Ultimately, you’ll simply be tougher to beat—something your teammates will appreciate.