What is forechecking in hockey?
Forechecking is among the most fundamental things to know for hockey strategy.
The forechecking system implemented by a hockey team impacts its playstyle and aggression levels on the rink. Several forechecking systems exist – each with its own skill requirements, aggressiveness, and goals.
In this article, I’ll be introducing you to forechecking, why it’s important in hockey, and how some of the most popular forechecking systems work.
What Is Forechecking In Hockey?
Forechecking in hockey is when a team puts pressure on the opposing team in the latter’s defensive zone (the forechecking team’s offensive zone). Forechecking can be done to achieve one of the following goals:
- Regain possession of the puck after sending it to the offensive zone. This can be part of a dump-and-chase strategy when the opposing team’s defense doesn’t allow your team to carry the puck to the offensive zone otherwise.
- Regain possession of the puck after a rebound or a scoring attempt. In this case, forechecking could pursue the goal of leveraging the chaos in the offensive zone for a second shot at the goal.
- Regain possession of the puck after a turnover. If the defending team has taken the puck away from you, your team should employ forechecking to prevent a breakout and get another opportunity for scoring.
Conservative And Aggressive Forechecking
Two variations of forechecking exist – conservative and aggressive.
Conservative forechecking is distinguished by a more reserved, defense-oriented formation of players. In the least aggressive forechecking formation, only one player pressures the puck, while the rest hang back to keep their goal safe.
In contrast, aggressive forechecking formations are more concerned with sending the puck into the goal, often with little to no regard for defense. Aggressive forechecking strategies are high-risk and high-reward.
Which forechecking variation should your team lean toward? This depends on a lot of things – three, to be more precise. Those are the coach’s personal views, the abilities and skill level of the players, and the on-rink situation.
Coach’s personal views
First up, the coach’s views of what makes effective hockey play are going to drastically impact how forechecking is carried out. Some coaches exercise more restraint, relying on counterattacks to score. Other coaches would rather have their team in the offensive zone most of their time.
There’s no best strategy when it comes to forechecking – the coach needs to select a system and make their players stick to it.
Player skill level
Generally, skilled players become part of more aggressive forechecking systems. A single mistake during aggressive forechecking could cause a devastating breakout for your team, hence the high skill cap of aggressive systems.
When your defending zone has minimal protection, no coach would want their players to commit mistakes. Due to this, coaches are unlikely to choose an aggressive forechecking system with inexperienced players.
Skill aside, what also matters is the physical build of the players. If the team is mostly composed of big and strong guys, the coach may choose a more conservative system. In contrast, teams with agile and fast players would most likely benefit the most from a more aggressive strategy.
Situation on the rink
If you’re a goal or two behind, you may want to take some risks in order to bring the game back. In contrast, if you’re winning and want to keep things as they are now, a conservative forechecking system would allow you to prevent odd-man rushes and minimize the chance of breakouts.
So, although player skills, abilities, and the coach’s philosophy matter a lot for the selection of a forechecking system, the situation on the rink is important as well. The coach’s strategy and the players’ skill set should therefore be flexible enough to be adaptable to what’s happening on the ice.
Popular Forechecking Systems
Several forechecking systems exist, offering different levels of aggressiveness and varying positioning of the players. We’ll have a look at some of the most popular forechecking systems right now.
In the standard triangle, one player pressures the puck, a second player hangs slightly back for support, while a third player hangs further behind to be able to drop back to defend or jump into the offensive zone for scoring.
The standard triangle is a basic forechecking system that can be implemented by less skilled, younger players. It teaches forwards to work together and allows players to practice basic checking.
1 - 4
Featuring a single forward pressuring the puck, the 1 – 4 is the least aggressive of all forechecking systems. The remaining 4 players – two forwards and defensemen – hang back to keep their team’s defenses in check.
With this system, it’s unlikely that a single aggressive player will be able to make a turnover. Instead, the primary goal of the forward in front is to slow down the offense. The rest of the players work together to make attacks difficult and repel those attacks that the opponent does manage to launch.
When turnovers do occur, they typically happen in the neutral zone and are followed by quick counterattacks.
The 1 – 4 system is often employed by teams with inexperienced players. Additionally, it may be applied at the end of the game by the winning team in an effort to maintain its lead.
1 - 1 - 3 Off Wing Stay Back
Also sometimes called Left-Wing Clock, the 1 – 1 – 3 forechecking system features both conservative and aggressive elements.
In this system, the center and the winger on the side of the puck aggressively pressure the puck in the offensive zone. In contrast, the winger on the offside of the puck stays back to act as a defenseman, but they should also be ready to quickly transition to the offensive zone when needed.
From a defensive standpoint, this forechecking system can prevent 3-on-2s.
The 1 – 1 – 3 system suits excellent skaters (since it requires players to rapidly skate into the offensive zone when a goal opportunity appears).
1 - 2 - 2
The 1 – 2 – 2 is the most common forechecking system. It features:
- One player pressuring the puck.
- Two forwards play support in the attacking zone, hanging back somewhat to attempt to gain possession of a loose puck or catch breakout passes.
- Two defensemen who hang in the defensive zone, ready to meet their opponents and defend their goal.
In this universal forechecking system, the team stays flexible and can do well both in defense and offense.
2 - 1 - 2
The 2 – 1 – 2 is an aggressive forechecking system often employed when the team is down a goal and needs to quickly even out the game. The Soviet Union hockey team was one of the first to use this system in the 1980s.
In this system, 2 forwards hang in the offensive zone, while the third forward remains behind. In the event of a turnover or upon spotting a loose puck, this third forward may quickly join the attackers. But if a breakout happens, the third forward plays a defensive purpose.
The remaining 2 defensemen perform their regular duties, but they often behave more aggressively and cover their defensive zone along the boards.
The 2 – 1 – 2 forechecking system is challenging to learn because it requires great situational awareness (especially from the third forward). The two attackers also must be conditioned and skilled enough to minimize breakouts.
3 - 2 press
The 3 – 2 press is a super-aggressive system wherein three forwards go deep into the offensive zone to score a goal. Typically, this forechecking system is implemented by the best-scoring and the most skilled forwards.
This intense strategy is often done at the end of the period or at a face-off.
Finally, the aggressive overload is usually implemented when the team desperately needs a goal.
In this forechecking system, the forwards’ only concern becomes pressuring the puck, with disregard for defense. Defensemen also come into the offensive zone whenever they can – at other times, they hang back near the boards.
The aggressive overload is a high-risk strategy in that if the opposing team manages to do a breakout, they are very likely to send the puck into your goal. Due to this, this system should only be used when absolutely necessary.
In short, forechecking systems define how a hockey team should behave in offense and defense. The coach selects a forechecking layout based on the situation on the rink, as well as their hockey philosophy and the skill level of their players.
For maximum effectiveness, forechecking strategies need to be practiced by hockey players. So if you want to make the most use of one or another system, you should know it in detail and try to become a better hockey player.