How to improve at faceoffs

So one of Dave’s “lady friends” told me that she thought my posts were boring, so I figured I would try to appease her and post something I’m sure all watered-down Rangers fans can relate to…and that’s FACEOFF STRATEGIES!!!

I guess my scriptures only appeal to the diehards, oh well…

To begin, let me first say that winning faceoffs isn’t just a skill set, it’s an art. And I believe it is one of the most overlooked parts of the game.

A friend of mine – who used to play down in The Coast (aka the ECHL) – would always tell me that no matter what level he played, be it high school, college, or pro, teammates of his were always contemplating how to get more ice time. Some focused on scoring pretty goals or making fancy plays, but for fringe players and rookies, winning faceoffs was an aspect of hockey that could help keep you in the lineup.

As he explained to me, there are essentially three components that go into taking a faceoff.

The first is reading your opponent. A centermen has to anticipate his enemy’s game plan based on how the other team is setup. He has to know his opponents tendencies, his strengths, his weaknesses, and obviously whether he is a right-handed or left-handed shot. The second component is having a plan in place for you and your team. You need one plan if you win the draw and another if you lose it. The final component is getting your body in the right position to win whichever faceoff tactic you are planning to execute. A centermen must always think of all these things, before the puck even hits the ice.

Now, there are several different things you can do on the draw based on the location of the faceoff and how your opponent grasps his stick. For example, if the draw is in the neutral zone or the OZ, you can simply try to win the draw cleanly on either your backhand or forehand. However, this may be difficult if you are going against someone who’s using the same hand and same strategy, or if you are matching up against a vastly superior center.

When squaring off against an elite center, players will often try to take away the enemy’s stick first. From there you can try to quickly draw the puck back, you can have your winger go for the loose puck, or if you have good balance, you can try to kick the puck towards your winger.

Faceoff tactics can also change based on a how much time is left in the period. For example, if it’s late in the period in the defensive zone, the center must pay attention to the enemy’s location (strong side or weak side) and whether or not the palm of their hand is on the lower part of the stick facing in, or if it is facing out. If their palm is out (facing you), you know the other guy may be attempting to put a shot on goal.

This is where home ice advantage can come into play. The visiting centermen’s stick must always touch the ice before the home team’s stick. This rule gives the home team’s center a chance to analyze the opposition and react. Often times you’ll notice that centers who are subpar at faceoffs will generally have significantly better stats at home than on the road. This chance to read and react is often the reason behind these uneven faceoff statistics.

Of course there is also the strength factor. If you are in in the OZ and you think they’re playing the stick lift, you can counter by placing your strong hand real low on the stick, right above the blade. In this setup you can use your core body strength (if you’re in great hockey shape) to fight off the stick lift or tie-up. Guys like Stepan and Arty certainly need to get stronger if they are going to avoid getting dominated in the dots this season and this tactic is one that definitely can be utilized with increased strength.

Overall, I am not worried about either Stepan or Arty. As these kids learn to read the opposition, mature physically, and grow into their bodies, their faceoff % will likely improve. Until then, let’s hope some of Messier’s skills rub off.