Systems vs Style

People in hockey talk a lot about the “systems” that a team plays. Phrases like – “I don’t think their systems fit their personnel” or “Their systems aren’t effective” or “We play an up-tempo and offensive system”.

I think too often people use systems as a catch-all buzzword to describe a teams play. What people really should be talking about is a teams style of play. Are they aggressive or passive? Attacking or defensive? Do they like to play a grinding game? A transition/rush game? Are they skilled and fast? Big and strong?

A team’s systems will then make up part of their style. What their forecheck, dzone coverage, etc is composed of helps to ingrain a style of play into a players mind.

Players make decisions on the ice more under the umbrella of a team’s style than their x’s & o’s systems. Aggressive teams will have players who step up more often in 50/50 situations. Defensive or passive teams will tend to back off and protect the middle of the ice through the dot lines. These are stylistic decisions, not systems decisions.

Coaches establish the system a team will play, but more importantly they establish the style that will guide the individual decisions that players will make all over the ice.

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