How to Defend a Two-on-One Rush in Hockey

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The two main goals of the hockey defender during a two-on-one rush are to prevent or break up a pass and to force a shot from a bad angle. This is easier said than done, of course. The traditional method for defending against a two-on-one is for the defender to skate backward, equidistant between the two rushing players, using his stick and body position to block the passing lane. Conventional wisdom says the defender’s main responsibility is the attacker without the puck, while the goalie focuses on the puck-handler/potential shooter. But this doesn’t mean you simply let the puck-handler waltz in on goal to get off a high-percentage shot, as if it were a breakaway. You want to keep the puck carrier off-balance, unsure of what you’re going to do, and on a path that keeps him at a sharp angle to the goal.

Two-on-One Defensive Strategy

For a defenseman, a two-on-one attack presents a difficult set of choices. There are basically two ways that the onrushing players can score: The puck carrier can shoot, or they can pass to their partner for a shot. There’s no way for a single defenseman to cover both attackers effectively, and if they over-commit to either one, they risk letting the puck carrier walk in on the goalie or pass to a wide-open teammate in front of the net. To be successful, the defenseman must read the situation, keep the opposing players guessing, and take away the easy options. 

You can increase your odds of success by quickly reading the play as it develops. Variables to take into account include:

  • Whether the puck carrier is the opposing team’s sniper, which might make him more likely to shoot
  • Whether the other player is the main scorer, which might mean a pass is more likely
  • Which hand the puck carrier shoots with; a left-handed shooter approaching from your left has a better shooting angle, so you’ll need to shade more to his side to push him wider.
  • Whether the attacker without the puck is staying even or crashing to the far post

This is a dynamic situation, and you must be aware of the position of the player without the puck at all times. Don’t focus on the puck; instead, pay attention to the locations and body language of the two attackers, so you can maintain your position between them and cut off the passing angle.

How to Execute the Two-on-One Strategy

As you skate backward, keep your stick blade on the ice and your body in the passing lane between the on-rushers. Your speed should match that of the attackers. If you’re going too slowly, a pass behind you might find a back-post one-timer. If you’re skating too fast, you’ll get too deep—crowding and screening your goalie and allowing a pass in front of you.

Maintain a balanced body position that will allow you to react to anything. Don’t lunge or reach, and don’t commit your hips to one side or the other. If you do manage to disrupt a pass or if there’s a shot and a rebound, you’ll need to be ready to get to the puck as quickly as possible. Never turn your back on the player with the puck; if you need to turn around—to use your stick to block a passing lane behind you, for instance—turn toward the puck-handler.

There comes a point when you must commit to one player or the other. Since you’ll most likely be taking responsibility for the player without the puck, you want to leave your goaltender in as good a situation as possible. As you retreat, try to push the puck-handler as wide as you can, by either shading to his side of the ice or by faking that you’re going to take him on instead of his partner.  This can also elicit a panicked pass, which you may be able to break up.

Remember, unless the puck goes in the net, the play isn’t over after one of the two attackers takes a shot. There may be a rebound you need to clear, or you may need to take a man to push him away from goal.

Defending a two-on-one requires a lot of practice, during which you can work on maintaining the proper position and communicating with your goalie. Then, when the situation occurs during a game, you’ll know exactly what to do.