Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Hockey Life: Playing defense

The call came Friday at work, hours before deadline. It was The Missus, not Colin bearing the news. For a variety of reasons, Colin would be pulling some shifts at defense, not his normal forward positions, in Saturday's games. His first would come against one of the top two teams in the league.

To be honest, I don't know who was more nervous. Having played defense when I was younger, I knew the perils of the positions. For one, it's multitasking. While the primary emphasis is on preventing goals, there are offensive responsibilities, too. And when you screw up, you hear it from everyone.

That's no to say, though, that there aren't plenty of positives about playing defense. Beyond the physicality, from in front of the net to the corners, there's the mental approach. I liken defense to playing chess. You have to anticipate moves, many in advance. You're willing to give up something to win the bigger prize.

More than anything, there's a sense of pride that comes from playing defense. Some of a team's best skaters play defense. Critical thinking, as in defensive awareness and positioning, come into play, too. It's not so much that you're the last line of defense, as that's the goalie, but it's the transitional aspect -- from denying an opponent's progress while launching a counterattack -- that makes it a pivotal position.

Having said that, it can be scary playing defense, especially against a good team  late in the season. That's a lot of pressure for any adult to handle, let alone a 10 year old. Still, if his coach didn't think Colin could handle it, I'm sure he wouldn't have put him back there.

Rather than inundate Colin with intricacies and nuances of the position, we went over some of the basics Saturday morning before the first game: play the logo, not the puck; use the boards; don't let an opponent get behind you; and, really, try to have fun.

It must have worked, as he played well. Didn't get a regular turn, shifting between forward and defense in his team's two wins, but he made solid plays. When he did pull shifts, including one on a penalty kill, he didn't get burned, made smart passes and carried the puck when he had time and space.

Can't expect more than that, right?

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