The scene is one of the most iconic in hockey history. Every hockey person has seen it. The image I’m referring to is the one of Bobby Orr soaring through the air after he had just scored the game-winning goal to lift the Boston Bruins to the Stanley Cup. Everyone refers to Wayne Gretzky as “The Great One,” but in my opinion, Bobby Orr is “The Trailblazer” for the impact he had on the game as a defensemen. Hockey will never be the same because of #4 and I mean that as the biggest of compliments.
I can remember it like it was yesterday, playing forward and wanting to go out and score goals like Gretzky and Hull. When I made the move to AAA I remember my coach asking me to play defense. I thought it was the biggest slap in the face at the time. It wasn’t until my dad, who was the assistant coach on the team, showed me Bobby Orr highlights. I was awestruck and was so eager to give this defensemen thing a try. Little did my coach know that I would turn more into what I like to call a “rover”. Let’s just say I did not lose my desire to help create offense for my team.
The game of hockey is always growing and changing. With the need to create more offense in today’s game, what Bobby Orr helped create is on display every night. Guys like Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson, Drew Doughty, P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, and Victor Hedman are leading the charge in the NHL today. Defensemen who can create offense are highly sought-after assets today. I see Orr’s smooth skating, great puck skills, and knack for getting on the score sheet in all of them.
Paul Coffey is another guy who comes to mind when thinking of Orr. Everyone talks about Gretzky and Mark Messier when talking about the Oilers’ dynasty. Go look up Paul Coffey’s stats; you will be amazed. Then, I think of Nick Lidstrom and Ray Bourque; other guys who had a great impact on what defensemen look like in today’s game. They did most of their damage from the back in. They were both known for delivering the puck to the net with their heads up. You almost never saw them get their shots blocked.
The tie that binds all them together is that every single player was encouraged to be creative and let their skills shine because of how Orr changed the game.
Every defenseman will find different ways to create offense. It can be as simple as making clean, hard breakout passes and head-manning the puck to the forwards or it could be pushing the puck in transition and joining the rush as a second wave option. It’s not always just quarterbacking the power play, that defensemen can find ways to add offense. Take a page out Bourque and Lidstrom’s book and just get your shot through to help create second and third chance opportunities.
As a coach, having a solid mix of styles will help make your team the most successful. Always be looking for a solid puck-moving defenseman when solidifying your roster.
I’ve been lucky to coach some solid, puck-moving defensemen this year. It’s been amazing watching them help our team offensively. I have become a firm believer that all five players play offense when your team has the puck and all five players play defense when you do not have it. I get it…girls will always dig goal scorers, but NHL scouts dig smooth skating, puck moving defensemen. Defensemen, I encourage you to push the pace offensively and find ways to be a threat every time you hop over the boards.
Below is a list of seven keys for defensemen to focus on offensively:
- Always be moving and active. Do not just stand still! (Active in the rush and on the offensive blue line)
- Shrink the zone and hold the blue line when you have support. (Your gap starts in offensive zone!)
- Transition/Breakout puck quick (hard, flat passes). One D joins the rush every time!
- Shoot with your head up! (No Shots Blocked)
- Hard wrist shots, slaps shots only when you have time/space.
- Move your feet across the blue line. (Sprint to the middle when available)
- Use your partner and the weak side when the team is cramming one side of the ice. (Partner without the puck is an option)
Find out more about Bryce’s Hockey Academy and upcoming schools through his website.