Shifting the Focus | Off-Season Conditioning

To those who know me, its no secret that enjoy a decent amount of time at the gym. I love to throw around some iron and a couple fists, ride a little too far and run probably more than a normal human actually should. For this reason, I will be taking the off-season of hockey from a different angle – off ice training.

I have long been enthralled with the endurance, physical strength, and post-injury recovery of hockey players and have wanted a deeper understanding of what it means to maintain condition during the off-season. From personal experience, post-injury recovering is not easy even without professional expectations. Athletes, hockey players more specifically, have almost immeasurable demands for their condition upon returning to the game. I will strive to witness and experience this first hand. We as fans are too quick to critique a player’s abilities or lack thereof without having any frame of reference.

Starting this week, I will embark on a journey (albeit painful) to understand the level of devotion and pain it takes to reach the level of athleticism required to be a pro. I am by no means going to akin myself to their ability however, I will understand better and hopefully bring that knowledge to the critical masses. With better understanding comes a better appreciation for the game.

 

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Faceoff Violations | Basic

Contrary to popular belief, hockey is not solely a game played by club-wielding barbarians. Since its inception, the world of hockey has perpetually changed in order to add structure and even the playing field for its participants. Of the many regulations that have been established over the years, the most mind boggling ones happen to be in regards to the face-off. The rules regarding the face-off can be complicated and tend to read a lot like like legal manuscripts. If you’re like me, a complete understanding of the game doesn’t come automatically with the love of the game.

Admittedly, the face-off violation has been the hardest for me to grasp over the years. Here is the most basic break down. Upon deciding where the face-off will take place (which is an entirely different story), the players take their positions around the designated spot. They get into position, tensions build, everyone holds their breath waiting for the puck to drop, and… whistle. The center gets waived off and another takes his place. Face-off violations are at the discretion of the facilitating Linesman and can be assessed for a number of reasons but the most common are:

  1. One or both centers are not positioned for the face-off
  2. One or both centers refrain from placing their stick on the ice
  3. Any player has encroached into the face-off circle
  4. Any player makes physical contact with an opponent or
  5. Any player is in off-side position, the linesman shall have the offending center(s) replaced immediately prior to dropping the puck (www.nhlofficials.com/rule54.asp)

For example, if a center is late in arriving at the designated spot, each center has 5 seconds to get into position, that center can be waived off or if a center crosses the face-off circle lines prior to the puck being dropped. In the event that a team receives two violations on the same face-off, the bench of that team receive a minor penalty for delay of game.

There are several other instances in which a face-off violation can be assessed however, these given are the more basic. Each violation has a sub-set of rules and any official on the ice can call prior to the puck being dropped. However, in the instance that you find yourself, like me, a little confused whenever a player gets waived off the face-off, now you have a one out of five chance of knowing why!

The Basics | Part Two

Off-Sides

Understanding the official on-ice calls can be tricky. While the players are zipping around the ice and swarming around the puck like bees, its hard to pay attention to absolutely everything. So when the play is whistled to a stop, most are left scratching their head. “What’s the call?” you wonder to yourself. You hear someone next to you mumbling something about an “off-sides” call. You replay the last few moments in your head trying to make sense of this “off-sides.” Everyone seemed to be all over the place and there was no clear “side.” If you’ve found yourself having this mental dialogue, you’re not alone. Off-sides is an odd concept to understand and that odd concept could change the course of the game if left unchecked. Allow me to elaborate.

To begin understanding off-sides, it helps to get to know the different zones. The offensive and defensive zones are from their prospective blue lines, back to the boards. For example, lets say a goaltender is in the crease to the left of center ice (if you were facing the bench), that teams zone would be from the blue line back to the boards behind the goaltender, and vice versa for the other team. The neutral zone, which is the zone that off-sides deals with, is the area between the two blue lines. Here’s a handy picture to demonstrate what I mean.zones

Photo provided by http://www.arizonacactuscup.com

Now that you get a mental picture of the ice and its corresponding zones, we can move on to the actual off-sides call. Off-sides occurs when the offensive or attacking team precedes or “beats” the puck across the blue line into the attacking zone without having any contact with the neutral zone. For example, player A (attacking player) is currently in the attack zone (the defensive zone for the opposing team). Player B passes the puck to player A but player A does not have at least one skate in the neutral zone. He/she is entirely in the attacking zone. Player A receives the puck and its immediately whistled down due to player A preceding the puck. Player A, if receiving the puck, must have at least one skate in contact with the neutral zone while receiving said puck. Upon the whistle and stoppage of play due to off-sides, a neutral zone face-off will take place to resume play.

There are a few additional rules that surround the off-sides call. I won’t explain them all, however, I will touch on one. Off-sides will be waived off in the event that player A has full possession of the puck prior to entering the attack zone. Meaning, if player B passes him the puck in their own zone or the neutral zone while player A is still fully inside the zone, player A is permitted to continue skating into the attack zone without risk of the play being stopped.

A good or bad off-sides call could make the difference in a victory or defeat. The linesmen’s responsibility is to monitor the skater’s ability to keep plays on-side and determine when and where to drop the puck. Failure to do so, could result in disputed goals, failure in plays and loss of games. Though a small call from the stands’ perspective, it could make all the difference on the ice.

The next time you’re mentally dialoging about what in the world just happened and wondering if the mumbling fan next to you has just had one too many or if they actually know what they’re talking about, you can now be sure that you at least understand on a basic level, what that call means. Perhaps you’ll even be able to start seeing off-sides before they’re even called! The game of hockey can seem simple from the stands, but its an intricate balance between skill, strategy and precision. Everyone on the ice, refs and linesmen included, play a part in a game being properly executed.

offsides

The Basics | Part One

If you’re like the vast majority of hockey fans, following the sport is easy when it comes to facepaint, screaming and telling the refs what to do. However, the technicalities of the game, terminology and general rules can slip through the crease of your understanding. Every Thursday, it is my goal (no pun intended) to introduce the basic concepts of the game and help you understand them. So the next time you’re sitting in the stands watching the ref waive around his arms in what seems to be a poor rendition of the Macarena, or trying to follow the commentators’ endless streams of stats, you’ll know exactly what’s going on.

Admittedly, I am that crazed fan that could tell you the birthdates of every player and where they went to highschool, but even I get a little mixed up when trying to understand player statistics. That being said, I’ve decided to start this fun little adventure off by discussing the plus-minus rating. This is one topic I haven’t spent much time looking into, but have long intended to, so I’m taking this hockey for dummies adventure with you!

The plus-minus scale is a quick way to determine, however obtusely, the affect a player’s presence on the ice affects the club in questions’ ability to score or be scored on. To understand this further, I headed to NHL.com. According to their handy “Go Figure” page, I learned that whenever a specific player is on the ice when his (or her) team scores, a plus is granted to that player. These plus ratings can be given for goals at even strength (5 on 5) or short-handed (ex. 5 on 4). Not too complicated, right? Now for the minus. Minus ratings are given when the player in question is on the ice when the opposing team scores a full strength or short-handed goal.

Now, to get your rating, find the difference! Its much like an elementary school problem. For example, if there are 26 goals in favor of the players team while he’s on the ice, and 10 opposing team goals while they are on the ice, then that player’s plus-minus rating would be 16.

Its a far cry from rocket science, but its a statistic that is continually talked about and brought up when talking about a player’s potential for goals during their shifts. Though just one facet of what coaches look at when creating lines, its a good place to start to evaluate a player’s effectiveness. The next time you hear a commentator or the friendly, beer-spilling fan next to you talking about a player’s plus-minus, feel free to comment and join in with your newly acquired knowledge!