Anatoli Tarasov was the father of Russian hockey. He took Russia from a country that had never seen nor heard of hockey in 1948, and turned them into an international powerhouse in 1952 for, oh 30ish years. What did he do that’s successful? Why?
Tarasov knew that he would not be able to beat the Canadians by playing hockey the Canadian way. So he invented a new style of play that focused on passing and tactics rather than winning 1on1 battles and dump+chase tactics.
I won’t get into the history lessons, but what has resulted is a synthesis of Russian and Canadian style of hockey in NHL today. The best players possess the ability to win 1on1 battles, but also to make creative passes.
One area of particular interest to me are “Tarasov Numbers”. Apparently, Tarasov tracked such stats as number of passes, pass completion percentage, breakout percentage and attack percentage.
In this article I’m going to focus on breakout percentage. In other articles, I will cover attack percentage, passing, and passing completion %.
This is a measurement of the amount of successful breakouts a team has when they have full possession of the puck in their zone. A breakout is considered successful if they obtain possession in the neutral zone.
What I see with Canadian hockey coaches, especially at younger levels is the idea that you need to “just get it out!” In an effort to win games, coaches get their players to do the safest possible play. However, this has the long-term consequence of not developing the tactical awareness of the winger trying to exit the zone. It also prevents the players without the puck from learning to properly support successful zone exits.
Things that the winger misses out on if told to always chip the puck out are:
-learning how to create lanes for himself
-being aware of the position of his teammates
-being aware of the position of the defenders
-reading plays as they develop
-being aware of his body position relative to a defender
Things that the other players miss out on if the winger always chips the puck are:
-learning the timing for proper support
-learning where to support
-learning to identify when to support
The Empirical Data
I can’t tell you that I have examined the data and that passing zone exits are always more successful than chip exits, or that teams with a greater percentage of passing exits are more successful than teams with chip exits. I don’t have that data, nor do I think anyone does. Coaches are not dumb…they’ll get their team to do what has worked for them successfully in the past…but the unfortunate part of this is that at the younger levels, some players will never develop the above mentioned tactical awareness. They’ll become really good at chipping pucks out, but will fail to develop the rest of the skills necessary to be a player that will move up in levels. This has consequences for even our most skilled players. What if rather than being really good at defending chips (usually by knocking it down and shooting it back at the other team, then taking a hit), our skilled player had to try and anticipate where the winger was going to pass and defend the rush accordingly. We would see an improvement in the skill and anticipation of players across the board.
I strongly believe that teaching players to see and create creative options is something that we should foster in our game and from the ground up. Teaching players to “just get it out”, rather than teaching them how to support is missing out on a lot of coaching opportunities for our players.