Playoff Hockey

For college hockey lovers, this is the best weekend of the year. Twelve games, all televised on the ESPN family and in High Definition. The only thing better than playing in it is having a comfortable couch and being able to watch every minute.

Watching the games Friday and Saturday, I noticed one major trend standing out – the teams that fail to advance want the game to be easy instead of playing strong, honest hockey.

What does it mean to “want the game to be easy”?

  • Looking to score on skill plays and rushes – with an increased sense of urgency, teams backcheck better and play more responsibly in their own zone. Skill plays and rush goals are few and far between in the playoffs. Teams that look to generate all of their offense off the rush or by “out-skill-ing” teams are typically teams that go home early.
  • Reaching for pucks and engaging in stick battles – teams that want the game to be easy look to avoid contact and don’t want to put themselves in a position to get hurt. Stick play becomes a big part of their game and you see them reaching with hands while pulling away with bodies. More than one stick foul penalty typically indicates a team that is reaching and playing soft – hooks, trips, etc
  • Losing the net front – teams that want the game to be easy don’t own the net front. They set cursory screens and try to go to the net but don’t establish body position and plant themselves in the scoring area. Clear look, first shot goals in the playoffs are rarer than a parking spot in Boston. Playing against the best goalies in the country, you have to get to the net front.
  • Failed clears – blind clears, plays on the backhand, etc, the inability to get the puck out of your zone is killer in playoff hockey. Teams that play the right way make sure that they get pucks to the neutral zone at every opportunity. They are willing to take a hit to make a play.
  • Cheating hockey – what is cheating hockey? A little harder to quantify, but teams that look to cheat on 50/50 pucks or expected possession. Players and teams that play cheating hockey are hoping that their teammates make the play rather than digging in to help or staying in an appropriate support position. They look to put themselves in an advantageous position offensively rather than a smart defensive position.
  • Complaining to the officials – teams that want the game to be easy are usually the teams that you see complaining to the refs after every call. This doesn’t mean every coach who talks with the officials has a team that wants it to be easy, but it is the coaches and players who raise their arms and complain about every penalty called. Some players and teams are notorious for giving the refs and earful with every call – these teams are looking for the easy way out rather than playing honest hockey.

Am I generalizing here? Absolutely. Are there teams that win that play this way? Of course. Do teams play the right way and lose? All the time. Hockey is a game of statistically random events that lead to an outcome. 

These are observations from tournament games as well as NHL and College games throughout the season. All players and teams are guilty of doing these things from time to time. It is human nature to take the path of least resistance towards success. However, the teams that survive and advance in the NCAA Tournament are the teams that play hard, honest hockey and commit themselves to the cause. They finish checks, put themselves in harms way and do whatever it takes to win.

Ultimately, the question is do you want to look back and know you could have done more or know you did everything you could to help your team win a National Championship?

3 Responses to Playoff Hockey

  1. Arlen says:

    So what you are essentially saying is “Play hard like you want it… or go home”.

  2. Tim says:

    Our Pee Wee B team just failed to reach the semi-final round in this weekend’s tournament. Unfotunately, your six bullet points describe our play perfectly.

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