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Olympic hockey systems starting to take shape

Last week in my NHL fan guide to Olympic hockey, I briefly spoke about how systems on international ice can be a bit different than what we are used to seeing in North American rinks. After watching much of group play, we’re starting to get a sense of how teams are tactically approaching their opponents with the extra 15 feet of ice.

If there’s one common denominator in many of these games, it is that there’s still not a hell of a lot of room out there, especially in the neutral zone. I expected a lot of trapping from the Latvia’s and Slovenia’s, as overmatched teams generally employ such systems. However, even top teams like Canada, Sweden, and Finland are using these same conservative structures.

Below I’ve compiled a couple of screen grabs of these defensive formations. Although the teams are different, as well as the game situations, the general theme is the same – defense first.

1-4

1-4

Above we have Canada employing a 1-4 neutral zone trap with a 1-0 lead with just under 8 minutes left in the 2nd period. I’d expect Canada to lock up the ice with a late lead towards the end of the third, but not with 27 minutes still to play.

I was pretty surprised Canada went this route with all of that talent. With that said, they haven’t looked quite right just yet and Babcock has been forced to juggle line combos and play defensive hockey.

1-3-1

1-3-1

Same game, tie score early in the third period, Finland is executing a retreating 1-3-1 defensive trap. Guy Boucher employed a more static version of this system while coaching the Tampa Bay Lightning. The general idea here is to force a turnover or a dump in.

1-1-3

1-1-3

Sweden surprisingly had a tough time with Latvia this past weekend who brought a pretty aggressive forecheck.  In the picture above, Tre Kronor is working a rotating 1-1-3 lock where F1 and F2 kind of circle each other as drawn out above, while F3 drops back along the redline with the defensemen. This is a version of the leftwing lock rarely seen in the NHL.

The first forechecker in, Marcus Johansson (#90), swoops in and follows the play up the boards making a hit on Latvian defensemen Oskars Bārtulis (#37). Oskars plays the puck back down the boards to Artūrs Kulda (#32) who is trailing the play. The high Swedish forechecker (Jimmie Ericsson) swings down and makes a hit on Kulda. Johansson circles back up top and replaces Ericsson’s spot. The process repeats until they can get a turnover.  

Collapsing Box

Collapsing Box

Later in the second we see Sweden employing a very defensive neutral zone strategy. Above you see four Swedes overloading one-fourth of the the neutral zone. Here we have three forwards and one defensemen collapsing around Latvian forward Janis Sprukts in a successful attempt to turn the puck over in the NZ.

As the knockout round begins and games start to count, I’d expect to see more defensive structures like these. The key for the US, who has employed more North American tactics thus far, will be about finding ways to break through these conservative formations. If they can’t, their power play will have to be extremely efficient.

Hold on to your seats kids. Games are about to get real tight.

9 Responses to “Olympic hockey systems starting to take shape”

  1. Hatrick Swayze says:

    Thanks for the screenshots, Suit. That rotating 1-1-3 brings me back to my high school days.

    Is there any country that really stands out in your mind as being very comfortable on the big ice? When CAN FIN went to overtime, Pierre was quite vocal about the Fins’ ability to really “understand” how to play on big ice. Made sense to me, but I wanted to ask your thoughts. Also,the Swiss seem to be very stingy this tounament in limiting the other team’s opportunities.

    Lastly (and unrelated to all of this), why is Zuke out today in Norge’s elimination game v Russia? Anything long term?

    • The Suit says:

      Hard to say which team looks the most comfortable due to the rink size. I would think the North Americans would adapt after a few games. Most of these guys have at least some International experience to channel into.

      I think the teams that are gonna go deep will be the ones that find chemistry and confidence and just dig in.

      MZA has an injured hand or wrist. No news on severity yet.

      • mikeyyy says:

        Hopefully not the one he broke before. I knew something was wrong when he didn’t show up on the scoresheet

        • The Suit says:

          If MZA is out for any length of time, I’m not confident that Brass and Pooliot can maintain their production. Zuke is the engine that makes that line go.

      • Puck Luck @Centerman21 says:

        I might be somewhat partial here but the US looks like the most complete & confident team in this tournament. The Swedes were lucky to get past the Latvians. Their D was exposed by an aggressive Latvian Forecheck. The Russians don’t look like a team to me. They seem more like a bunch of star players skating & shooting while the secondary players just adhere to the stars. The Canadian team hasn’t put it all together as a team yet either. The US has. The top players have fallen into a role and play it to the best of their ability. Kessler is a monster 2 way Centerman that sells out in the D zone. That is what makes the US the best team in this tourney right now. They’re the most complete team. Let’s go USA!!!!

  2. mikeyyy says:

    If the us can consistently keep their angles right on the forecheck they can keep playing aggressive.

    people need time and space to produce. Take away one and they start making mistakes.

  3. paulronty says:

    Damn I was worried our players would get injured over there. Who knows how bad Zuccy’s injury is and we almost lost Hank too. Faster the NHL gets out of the Olympics the better.