Letâ€™s take a page out of law enforcementâ€™s book and apply it to hockey. All good players do it. It informs their initial touch and first step with the ball. It allows them the space, vision and speed required to eliminate defenders. What weâ€™re talking about is INFORMATION COLLECTION.
Coaches talk all the time about spacing. Good spacing or structure is the result of players taking an active role in their play off the ball. In order to be effective off the ball, players must collect information in real time, and then use that information to define their next movement in the context of the teamâ€™s game plan. For example, a key element of off-ball movement requires you to read the line of your attacking teammate who has the ball and position yourself in such a way so as to isolate defenders in numbers-up scenarios (2v1â€™s, 3v2â€™s). Another type of off-ball movement may require you to lead (move) out of certain spaces (away from the ball) to draw defenders away from your teamâ€™s intended line of attack.
The important point to take away from the act of information collection in off-ball movement, is that it ultimately occurs before your next touch on the ball. The more information you have prior to receiving the ball, the better off you will be in terms making your first step with the ball meaningful- whether that implies eliminating a defender, immediately passing or defining a new space for your teammates in transition down the field. The space around you after a reception will close down very quickly if youâ€™re spending time tying to locate teammates after the fact.
Check out the video clips below of information collection in action. Again, pay special attention to Â hard work being done off the ball. The players are highly aware of where their teammates are positioned, theyâ€™re comfortable in open space and the result is a succession of possession passes and eventual scoring opportunities.