As we learned in the last post, stick checks can come in “aggressive” and “steering” flavors. To elaborate a bit on those concepts and to better understand our task when dodging stick checks, let's look a little deeper.
An aggressive stick check often leaves the defender who initiates it vulnerable. So they are taking on risk in order to attempt to free up the puck. But, if the attacker is prepared to move the puck out of the way, the odds an aggressive stick check will work go way down. In other words, aggressive stick checks rely on the puck carrier not being prepared to evade them and thus need an element of surprise. While the defender may not succeed in making a stick check surprising, a defender should at least be trying to meet that standard.
Steering stick checks are typically much more predictable. The stick winds up positioned in such a way that it isn't worth it for the attacker to take on the risk of losing puck possession in order to gain access to ice on the other side of the defender’s stick. However, the attacker can usually delay for at least a little longer. So, for the defender to deny access to a certain part of the ice, they need to keep their stick in position. Things that maintain a certain position are very predictable.
On the one hand, we may not have time to think and will simply have to react when we encounter an aggressive stick check. On the other hand, with steering stick checks, we may be in a position to choose a dodge that is best for us. In other words, in the aggressive case, we will likely have to mindlessly react with a habitual response (if we are fortunate enough to have a good habitual response) while in the steering case we may be able to dodge a stick check with a move that we can select because we think it is more favorable than other options for our team’s chances.
With that understood, lets consider ways of dodging stick checks.
Ways of dodging stick checks
Spoilers! The above image captures the options for dodging stick checks that we'll go over below. It's provided now so you can come back use the drawing to better understand the descriptions as needed.
1. Dodging away from the stick check
If we are dodging away from a stick check this means simply working the puck in the direction opposite the defender's stick. Often times, we will be working along the wall, either while attacking in transition or when we have the puck in their zone, and the defender will position their stick to "take away" the middle of the ice. Let's imagine the wall is on our right and the defender's stick is on our left. In this case, dodging away from the stick check means moving the puck toward the wall and out of reach of the defender's stick. From there, there are a few options but a natural one is to continue in a puck-protection mode and do an escape turn toward the wall.
Is the bear defending the best parts of the river? From the Salmon's perspective, yes... and it pays to dodge well!
2. Dodging toward our feet (pull back, pull across)
Let’s imagine the same set up but with the added stipulation that the attacker is a righty and thus has the puck on the forehand side of their body to keep the puck away from the defender who is on an angle so they are between the attacker and their net and shading over to the attacker's left. It is not always the case, but defenders will often have their stick blade in a position to so that, if they moved their stick toward the attackers, the blade would close down on and impact the puck. This would mean that not only is their stick shaft having some impact on the attacker's ability to get to the middle, but also their blade is taking away a lot of (non-saucer) passing options. Plus their stick blade is a threat to impact the puck if they wanted to transition from a steering stick check to an aggressive one at some point. This threat of “stick on puck” is key for why their stick is a credible deterrent to the attacker getting to the middle even if the defender keeps that stick check in the "steering" variety.
As an attacker, we would want to remove the threat of that stick blade to open up options that the defender is trying to take away. One way to do so is to pull the puck back toward our feet or at least more even with our feet (like in a shooting position as opposed to out in front of us). In other words, this winds up being a "toe drag" or "pull in" type action to dodge the defender's stick by pulling the puck out of the defender's stick zone.
Once the threat of the defender's stick blade is removed by this repositioning of the puck, the attacker may have the ability to pull the puck across theri body to the backhand side and get to the middle of the ice. This is the first example of an against-the-grain way of dodging stick checks. It first involves dodging the defender's stick blade and then going against the grain by going across the defender's stick to the ice that they had intended to deny.
Running on a treadmill may be the ultimate "against the grain" activity... you are being propelled back by the treadmill belt and you run forward to counter that motion. "But," you ask, "is the surrealistic track above really a treadmill?" Close enough.
3. Dodging toward the defender's feet (push in, slip under)
Staying once more with the same set up, can the attacker dodge a stick check by working the puck toward the defender's feet? Yes, but this is tricky and extra risky because they are pushing the puck deeper into the defender's stick zone. If they can push the puck past the defender's blade, they can remove the stick-on-puck threat. But, this makes a "stick-on-stick" threat even worse because it effectively increases the degree to which the attacker's and the defender's sticks are crossed.
So, if they push the puck past the defender's blade the attacker needs to be in a hurry. From here it is possible to still dodge with the grain and pull the puck away from the defender's stick. But, if that was in the cards anyway, why not just do that from the start? So, what can we do? Readers of this blog know that slip unders are a main theme so they can probably see the somewhat obvious plan coming. The attacker can push the puck under the defender's stick and to the middle of the rink thus working against the grain.
All that is left is the element which is the uniquely challenging feature of slip under moves, working the stick around the defender’s stick. The attacker must retract their stick back toward their self to create the space needed to get it over to the middle-of-the-ice side of the defender at which point they can regain control of the puck. With all that accomplished they’ll have the puck and a clear lane to some dangerous ice!
We aren't quite done yet with this analysis of slip unders, stick checks, and ways of dodging stick checks in general. We'll conclude in next week by going into more depth on the strategic view of the interplay of the attacker's and defender's respective tool sets and tie up some loose ends.