Game THEORY  - Breakout Concepts


As previously explained in the page dedicated to DEFENSIVE FLOW, the objective of a breakout is to move the puck as quickly and effectively as possible generating 2 on 1's. However, the term "Breakout" can be miss-leading. A "breakout" in essence is a term used to describe the action of "getting the puck out of one's defensive zone". This action can either be through a "clearing" action, " "play action", or by "skating it out".


As well a breakout can come from 3 basic game strategies:


1 - Opposition dump-in and forecheck - passive (1-2-2, 1-3-1) or aggressive (2-1-2, 2-3, 3-2)

2 - Zone occupation and turnover

3 - Face-off

4 - Man advantage

5 - Man disadvantage


We must then separate each basic concept and isolate strategies involved.


In order to fully comprehend breakout philosophies we must isolate the "Intrinsic components" of the defensive zone itself:


1 - Boards: How do rebounds come off the base board or wall itself. Are the boards "dead" or are the edges poor (clean or dirty rims, bank passes, etc)

2 - Glass and support structure: What is the glass support structure? Seamless (clean predictable bounces off of the side glass) or support posts (unpredictable rebounds off of cleaning attempts that deflect into mid ice).

3 - How  high is the side glass (easy out for face-off, or high rebound into neutral zone)?

4 - Zone size: What are the dimensions of the zone ( wall to wall, back wall to blue)?

5 - Zone marking: What are the dimensions and locations of the face-off circles (GT reference marks), goal - line (space behind the net)

6 - What is the height of the ceiling (vertical obstructions for high loft clearing attempts).

7 - What are the ice conditions; does the ice surface breakout down quickly (brine freezing temperature or air temperature) which limits quality of passes (bouncing or rolling pucks) or does the ice take a long time to melt (puck sticking - over-skating puck)

8 - Frozen or fresh puck: Are the pucks kept in an ice bucket so when a clearing attempt goes over the boards a frozen one is brought into the game (effects face-offs and wall/rim clears).


It becomes quite clear once the intrinsic components have been analyzed that many bad turnovers or poor outlet attempts have been the result of one or more of the above. Aside from the "intrinsic" components of the game or the environment in which we play, we must take into consideration the players themselves.


1 - Skill intelligence: Skating, passing, clearing, face-off, etc, skills and knowing when and where to use them

2 - Anticipatory Intelligence: Thinking one step ahead of the forecheck; knowing the right outlet play.

3 - Tactical Intelligence: Knowing how the forecheck works and options off of player movement.


It is critical that each player knows their own as well as their team-mates skill level, and play within their limitations. Any action within the defensive zone could be deemed as high risk. The following diagrams and notations will progress from the Dump-in to "occupation and turnover" to face-off outlet plays.


In order to understand options we must first break the zone down into lanes, layers, at the same time include the most obvious intrinsic component (the net). All of these factors play a critical role in the success of the breakout. I have a basic strategy that there is ever really only one great option. There are usually several options available but if we were to prioritize all the possibilities, one seems to be better than the rest.


As previously mentioned, I like to think of hockey as a progression of "BINARY" thought processes that put together collectively, moves the puck from one end of the ice to the other. DO I CARRY.....DO I PASS....ETC are based on, again as previously mentioned, on our ability to observe. What we see and how we interpret what we see allows us to make calculated decisions. As well, our ability to observe also allows us to confirm our primary option; that that particular decision is what we want, and if not, we can make an adjustment immediately. 


We can isolate the breakout into several different basic tactics:

1 - Wheel: Puck carrier drives behind the net to screen off fore-checker or to gain speed.

2 - Up: Move the puck quickly up the near or strong side.

3 - Reverse: Move puck against the flow.

4 - Over: Move puck to far side

5 - Over and Back: Move the puck to far side and return pass back against the flow.


How each of these plays form is based on the position of the puck as the original or primary read. The position of the puck is determined by WHERE the puck is picked up by the primary player. Obviously, the position of the fore-checking and support players become secondary reads. In the diagrams below, I have shown 4 basic breakout options based on mid-lane or seam puck position. The one constant is that the net is used as a screen. The position of the fore-checking players as well as the supporting players determine movement and options. 



Where possession of the puck is gained will in most cases dictate the type of breakout tactic used. As shown in diagram No. 1, we can in essence break the defensive zone down into 5 lanes. In reality there are only 3 different variables (seam, wide-seam, and outside lane) but due to the fact that we have off-wing and natural sides we can alternately think that there are 5 layers and 6 options (FH and BH). Relative to the seam we have (1), the "wheel". (2) - strong side reverse, (3) - over and reverse,  (4) - split and reverse (could be called an "over pass" but due to the proximity of the puck carrier [a] and receiver [b] to the net we would classify this as a reverse).


In option (1), the puck carrier uses the net as a screen to trap a checking player behind the net to create a man advantage up the ice.

In option (2), the puck carrier is aided by support player who runs a screen and then supports behind the net.

In option (3), the puck carrier and the receiver "switch" positions so as to draw fore-checker across front of net and then reverse pass against the flow.

In option (4), the rebound has gone to the short side and back side supporting defense-man provides outlet back against the flow.


In each of the above diagrams, the primary option utilizes the net. Using the net whenever possible is critical to creating 2 on 1 options on the breakout.  It is one of the only legal picks/screens that one can use without penalty (besides using referees, linesmen, and opposition players screening each other).  Using the net properly depends on several criteria:


1 - Location of support player

2 - Direction of travel when picking up the puck

3 - Location and speed of the primary fore-checker.


In the following diagrams I will analyze primary checker and breakout options resulting from seam position and supporting defensive player.



Breakouts strategies can thus be broken down into two distinct variables; those that utilize the net for screening purposes and those that do not, but use passing and "FLOW Countering" techniques. This takes us to the outside lanes and applicable strategies.



Copyright 1996 by Ron Johnson. All rights reserved.