Hockey Strategy: The Left Wing Lock Forechecking Defense

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It’s hockey lesson time! A while back we touched on the 1-3-1 Neutral Zone Trap, a.k.a. the Tampa ‘T’, as they mainly employ that style of defense. Now I’ll talk about the defensive forechecking system known as the Left Wing Lock.

The Left Wing Lock was made popular by the Detroit Red Wings in their Stanley Cup runs of the 90s. Also, if I remember correctly, it was employed by our own Lindy Ruff for the Buffalo Sabres in the late 90s. At least, I remember hearing about it and wondering what what the heck it was ever since those days.

Basically, it’s this: when a team loses possession of the puck, the left winger moves back in line with the two defensemen. Each of those three skaters covers a third of the ice, playing a zone defense. That’s really it. You have two forwards up front forechecking and three guys back playing defense.

Watch this animated GIF a few times to let it sink in:

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Pretty easy, eh? Why did coaches of the 90s make it sound like an extremely complicated chess move?

While the concept is pretty simple, the execution of it is much more difficult. Think about if the left winger is way up in the offensive zone when his team loses the puck. Either the center or right winger has to swing over and cover his zone. Which guy should do it? Confusion could abound in the heat of the moment and quick pace of the game. Like anything this strategy could take a LONG time to refine.

The cool part is that, when applied correctly, you can play some hellacious defense (and that’s actually a bit better than tenacious defense). With three “defensemen” back (or “defencemen” for you Canadiens), the two forecheckers can get really aggressive. The Left Wing Lock can also help prevent odd-man breakaways, as you’ll typically have three guys back – each one able to cover an opposing forward.

The history of the Left Wing Lock goes back to Czechoslovakia in the days of the great Soviet teams of the 1970s. The story goes that the Soviets were primarily left-handed shooters and so attacked moreso from the left side of the ice. The Czechs rolled their d-men over to that side and pulled the left wing back to cover the empty spot.

Know you know. And knowing is half the battle.

Go Sabres!

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