In Hockey, What is a Forecheck? And What are the Keys For each Forechecking Role?

If you’re not a hockey player, the concept of forechecking may seem like a complicated topic to wrap your head around; however, it’s not difficult to master. Read on!

What is Forechecking in Hockey?

Forechecking is a pressuring strategy employed by the team in possession to force an opening, create a turnover, and win the puck back. 

Forechecking specifically refers to the coordinated pressure on the opponent on their defensive or offensive side to end their team’s pressing.

Forechecking is an offensive strategy that is designed to put pressure on the offensive zone of the opponent. Some teams do not employ the same forecheck throughout the entire game and will employ different strategies according to game circumstances. There are a variety of forechecking patterns that are designed to block or impede the offensive progress of an opponent.

In a typical forecheck situation, there will be anywhere between three players exerting pressure in an attacking area.

The main player is either chasing after a loose puck or hounding the puck carrier; the two other players could cut off the likely pass blocker or cover a clear-out effort along the boards.

In the past, these three forecheckers would be the forwards of the team; however, in the present game, there are occasions when a defenseman (on the team that is attacking) moves in the direction of the goal in order to help in the recovery of pucks.

In this situation, it’s the responsibility of a forward (usually the centerman) to take over the defender out of position.

If you’ve ever witnessed this kind of situation in the game, you’ll see the defenseman withdraw within one or two seconds in the event that they cannot perform well on the forecheck.

What Are the Different Forechecks Strategy in Hockey?

Forechecking in hockey occurs when the defense team puts pressure on the offensive team. The objective is to recover the puck; however, different formations try to accomplish this in various ways. Different forms of forechecks may be used in various situations based on how aggressive the defensive team would like to be.

1-2-2 Forecheck Strategy

Forechecks of 1-2-2 is a simple and most popular forecheck pattern and is often the first form of instruction taught to hockey players in the beginning. One forward, typically the center player, is pushed deeply while the other forwards sit back slightly to help him.

The defense players stay behind with a cautious approach and wait until a moment for them arrives. This type of formation is called traps because it entails being in a position of waiting for an opponent; this is the standard hockey strategy; it is not defensive or aggressive but is an equally-minded strategy. The team using this strategy is not willing to sacrifice its defensive side in order to score or to sacrifice its offensive side in order to stop goals.

1-4 Forecheck Strategy

The 1-4 forecheck is a moderate variant of the trap. In this setup, a forward can press the opponent while the other four skaters remain behind and wait for the opponent’s willingness to cough off the ball.

This is usually done when the team is trying to keep the lead; since one player only applies pressure, it’s hard to recover the puck on the offensive wing, but having four players behind makes it more difficult for opponents to score.

2-1-2 Forecheck Strategy

2-1-2 forechecks are a tactic that can be used to attack; two forwards are in deep, putting pressure on the opponent; the third forward is seated and is ready to join the action when his team is in control.

The defensemen are further back and act as the primary defense line if the opponent is able to control the puck. This tactic can be used when a team is willing to take a chance to score; since two players are exerting pressure and the third player is preparing to join in, the odds are higher that they will be able to regain possession of the puck.

2-3 Forecheck Strategy

The formation of the 2-3, often referred to as the left wing lock, includes the center and right winger applying pressure to the opponent. The left winger remains at the center of the line close to the boards; the left winger is positioned to help the other forwards should they need to retrieve the puck, but they can return to be an additional defender in the event that they do not get the puck and are under pressure.

The left winger’s ability to move into or out of the offensive game makes it an extremely versatile set-up; this increases the chances of a team recapturing the puck without putting the defense at serious risk.

1-3-1 Forecheck Strategy

The 1-3-1 forecheck is a peculiar formation utilized by only a few coaches aside from Guy Boucher of the Tampa Bay Lightning. In this particular formation, a forward presses the other team; two forwards stand back to the blue line in a neutral posture while a defensive player pushes ahead to join the forwards, and one defenseman remains behind, who acts as the final first-line of defense.

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This is a flexible formation that allows as many as four players to squeeze forward in order to exert pressure or drop back into a trap in accordance with the circumstance.

Other Forechecking Strategies

There are other, more aggressive and non-aggressive strategies for forechecks.

These include the 3-2 Press (highly aggressive) and the highly defensive 1-3-1 plan, where the best player does not press for the puck.

The 3-2 strategy could be described as a kind of offensive blitz that aims to retrieve the puck; it could be utilized in situations where there’s not enough time for your opponent to launch an attack; however, there’s still plenty of space for the team you’re playing to seize an opportunity to score.

You have heard of the 1-3-1 strategy because we’ve mentioned it above, which is also called the trap. Due to this passive forecheck technique, this strategy usually transforms into a backcheck for the team, but don’t be fooled; the trap (1-3-1) is used to make the opponent surrender the puck.

Why Is Forechecking Important?

Forechecking plays an important role in many different situations. When a player throws a puck in an offensive zone, the offensive players would have to rush to press the defense of the opponent and take possession of the puck.

A well-constructed forecheck makes it difficult for the team in opposition to switch players; this can exhaust the opposition team and increase their chances of making errors.

Furthermore, forechecking may help your team recover the puck following an incident, even though the puck remains located in offensive territory; for each scenario, it is helpful to ensure that your puck is in an offensive area and improve the opportunities to score.

How your team can Execute and defend against Forechecking

The continuous 1-on-1 drill

In this scenario, two players work together and constantly train to move between one offensive zone and the other, switching defensive roles and trying to stop the other player from scoring.

This helps build endurance and forechecking capabilities; these skills can be applied to more advanced exercises.

A continuous 3-on-2 or 2-on-1 (or the odd-man rush)

It involves one (or two) defenders and two (or three) forwards; each defender stays in their defensive zone while the forwards alternate backchecking/forechecking for an effective odd-man rush drill that builds endurance and communication.

If you are in an offensive rush in a defensive situation, the player(s) must focus on the opponent(s) without the puck; in this way, the goalie should focus on the puck’s holder and move quickly to make a save when necessary.

Defenders can also practice lying out in a 2-1 formation so offensive players don’t pass the puck on the ice.

Stretch pass drills

A stretch pass occurs when a defenseman is moving backward with his head up and makes a pass to a forward on the far blue line; the forward takes the ball into the zone of offense. Test multiple defensive stretch pass scenarios to aid your team in understanding how to effectively perform and protect against stretch passes.

These drills aren’t only helpful with forechecking but also help your team improve their fitness, communication skills, and general awareness of the playing field. This will help your team maintain the ball in offensive play.

Using Forechecking to Keep the Puck in the Offensive Zone

The aim of forechecking is to maintain the ball in offensive territory. Why?

This increases your chances of scoring and reduces the chance for your opponent to score; keeping the puck inside the attacking zone will help to gain the advantage.

As the last ten years have demonstrated with the Pittsburgh Penguins, an ability to be offensive and remain on the offensive side is vital. Sometimes, they are able to pull it off; in other instances, they may totally fail to play defense and be unable to win crucial games despite their ability to score.

Keeping the puck away from your zone of defense is an effective method to stop the other team from scoring; it’s a lot easier to say than do.

These are where the exercises discussed above can be used; it is crucial to instill good habits in each member of your team and to ensure they are aware of their roles on the playing field.

Conclusion

Forechecking is a crucial ability that every player and team member must learn, and it isn’t something that can be learned through a single training session and should be constantly examined and refined throughout the time that you play hockey.

When you are watching hockey, try to figure out which system(s) your team employs; in the words of the legendary Wayne Gretzky, “Don’t skate to where the puck is; skate where it is going.” 

The systems you know can help you determine the direction of the puck and help you anticipate what players might be trying to accomplish. Also, it will let you know when a player has made mistakes.

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