The Attacker's Strategic View
As we understood in the previous post, we have two main ways of dodging stick checks against the grain and one main way to go with the grain. Another way to describe going with the grain is "being steered" by the defender. In other words, if you go with the grain, you are doing what the defender intended and going to an unfavorable position.
Why would an attacker do this? Many times keeping possession is more important than creating offense now. An attacker may have a lead late in the game and not need to create offense. Or they may simply be better off delaying while keeping possession in hopes of creating offense later.
If it's an acceptable result for the attacker, why would the defender be ok steering them that way? Basically, in most defensive strategic thinking in hockey, a method that makes the offense predictable (so teammates can focus on doing their normal defensive coverage jobs instead of possibly needing to scramble) and takes away prime scoring areas is looked upon favorably.
So, for a puck carrier, dodging in direction away from a stick check makes for a "safe" play. On the other hand, dodging against the grain makes for a risky play. As usual, risk is a possible pathway to outsized rewards and thus, is sometimes worth it.
An example where taking on risk is usually worth it... for the casino!
To this point we have looked at scenarios where the defender has their stick to the side of the attacker and where the attacker has the puck on the forehand side of their body. I will leave it as an exercise for the reader to consider the mirror image of the scenarios described above where the attacker has the puck to the backhand half of the space around their body (either a lefty on the right side coming down the wall or a righty on the left side). But, suffice to say that all three ways of dodging stick checks still work. However, in some cases, making them work involves some technique differences and asymmetries in terms of changes to which side of the stick blade gets used for each movement of the puck.
Image provided as a reminder of the set up we had been imagining including attacker and defender body positions and stick positions
For now, let's instead look a little deeper at a stick check coming from the front of the attacker. A first thing to consider is if this could be a steering type stick check or an aggressive type stick check.
Could this be a steering stick check? Not really because if its is really in front and not meaningfully off to one side or the other, it fails to take away access to ice on either side of the defender. It fails to steer. So, this really winds up being an aggressive stick check. Failing to steer at all makes it extra risky for the defender, so this will not typically be attempted unless they think they have the element of surprise.
Since its an aggressive stick check, the attacker will have to react and likely won't be able to plan. With that said, if they have trained well enough, they may have an automatic reaction that can involve moving the puck around the defender's stick and then into a slip under. This is usually devastating if it works because the defender is off-balance and reacting to first a move one way and then another move back the other way under their stick. If they don't get stick-on-stick, they are beat. And this is one example of why high slip under skill can be so dangerous.
Frontal attacks are common in other sports as well. And, as with frontal stick checks in hockey, they too rely on an element of surprise. In the boxing case, the surprise comes from not knowing when the punch will be thrown.
Yet, given this aggressive frontal stick check, even a simple move to protect the puck can be a huge advantage for the attacker because the defender's body motion will be in the direction of that stick check. Once the attacker has the puck protected, they can figure out how to go against the grain of the defender's motion while the defender recovers and then parlay that into the dangerous areas of the ice!
No doubt there are many more scenarios we could consider, but, for now, these scenarios that we have covered have provided examples for the general points this post (as well as those leading up to it) is intended to make. Hopefully you have a good grasp of the interaction of stick checks, ways of dodging them both with and against the grain, and how slip unders add new methods and versatility for players looking to counter defenders’ strategies.