The Evolution Of Hockey Tactics

You have to understand history in order to move into the future.

Naturally through my passion of the game, I have done an awful lot of research and studying of the history of hockey and how it’s played. I have pretty much watched every movie or documentary you can name, and some of the books I have read are listed below.

  • The Game by Ken Dryden
  • Playing with Fire by Theo Fleury
  • Hockey for Dummies
  • Herb Brooks: The inside story of a hockey mastermind by John Gilbert
  • Bobby Orr: My story
  • Hockey! : I believe Stan Fischler wrote this in the 70’s but cant find record of it

I have been specifically interested in the coaching, training and management of athletes for as long as I could remember. And today I wanted to share with you the evolution of the strategies and systems.

The Beginning & Traditional Approach:

I must admit I do not know much on the specifics dating before 1950’s. The NHL as well as all of hockey was like the Wild Wild
Lester Patrick posing on the iceWest, there were limited rules and they were changing every day. Essentially the game had much of what you see today in the sense of strategy; you might hear people say it’s the traditional approach. Players stayed in their respective positions for the most part, and remained in their specified roles. Unless you were a Maurice Richard or Eddie Shore, you were doing what you were told. The game was very simple, play on your respected side and shoots the puck when you get a chance. Crash the net on all scoring opportunities and play tough, back down to no one. Jack Adams, Toe Blake, Frank J. Selke and Lester Patrick were among the most notable pioneers of the game. They helped shape the sport that you see today, maybe more than you can imagine. A lot of their tactics and enforced rule changes helped shape much of sports to date, like the entire playoff system you see in North American sports. The game was a Canadian one, and most of the league’s teams played the same way. North to south movement gets the puck deep and keeps it there, finish your checks and do not get pushed around.

The Red Army

Anatoli Tarasov had asked permission from Canada hockey officials to help him grow the game in the Soviet Union. When denied, he took it upon himself to reinvent the game in his own vision. He implemented a dynamic strength and conditioning program, dry-land practices and created a style which saw all 5 skaters attack and defend as one. If any of you are familiar with The Dutch style of Total Football, then you can very well think of it like that but just for hockey. Through this ideology, The Soviets dominated the hockey world from the 60’s all the way to the end of The Cold War. Their success in international competition saw early adopters of their style all throughout Europe, especially their allies in the Czech Republic. The style was simple to understand, but difficult to execute. It required the players to move the puck quickly and to always keep in motion. They created various attacking and break out plays and helped innovate the weave as well as cycling the puck in the corners. Personally, it is my favorite type of hockey to watch just as is the Dutch in football. Respectively, I dub this style as Total Hockey. Though many people choose to believe this style exists in all teams today, I have really only seen the current Tampa Bay Lightning team under Jon Cooper work with it so well. It helps when you have “The Triplets”, Stamkos and Victor Hedman on your roster.

Soviet Union Hockey Players

Herb Brooks

Though it took most of the North American teams and coaches to implement any of the total hockey ideologies,
Herb Brooks smiling at the cameraHerb Brooks saw its benefit early on. As coach of the NCAA Minnesota Golden Gophers, he slowly would combine the best of the Canadian hockey culture with the Soviets to help lead the team to 3 National Titles. His success at the college level gave him the opportunity to coach the 1980 USA Hockey team which went onto winning Gold in Lake Placid (The Miracle Game). His style of coaching did not necessarily catch on very well at the professional level but I believe if he were alive today he would have won a Stanley Cup by now.

The Left Wing Lock aka The Trap

Many of you may think of the trap as the cheating methods used by the Devils to win 3 Stanley Cups. I can understand that being a Ranger fan, but it’s surely a wonderful tool that most of the league still implements from time to time. What many of you may not have realized is the most successful team to use this was The Red Wings under Scotty Bowman. Since they had some amazing attacking talent alongside The Russian Five, no one really trashed them as being a boring team like the Devils.

Scotty Bowman posing next to his trophies

The system enforces all five players to basically sit back in the neutral zone and slow down the attacking teams speed into the offensive zone. The left wing typically would help the center in forcing the puck handler to one side, which not only slowed down the opposition but would commonly cause turnovers.

“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.”

The Torpedo

Djurgarden's Hockey Arena

This system was widely popularized by The Swedish National Hockey team, where two forwards would act as “super-forwards” or “torpedoes”. It was essentially a 2-2-1 defensive formation; a “sweeper” in the back, two “halfbacks” playmaking in the defensive zone and the two torpedoes waiting for a break-out pass. The style was used heavily to counter-attack opponents who were playing The Trap. Before when the rules prohibited two-line passing, this system was limited. However in the modern game it has been implemented more and more by certain coaches. Alain Vigneault and Jon Cooper come to mind the most.


Do not let anyone tell you that one system is better than the others. A successful team is based upon how well the entire team and staff is on the same page with one another and how well they execute the game plan. You may see a lot of teams using one of these systems like the Torpedo system, because it sounds radical, but even this has no proven efforts to be the best to score goals or win games.  

“And perhaps most important of all, there's no indication that "high-octane hockey," as the Swedish National Team's GM put it, will revive goal scoring after all. Although the press (the Times' excitement follows earlier buzz from the Hockey News and theSporting News, among others) has been keen on pointing out that Waltin's squad torpedoed its way to the Elite League championship last year, it's worth noting that Djurgarden was not the highest-scoring team; an anemic goals-against total was its recipe for success. The finals-clinching game, far from a free-wheeling exchange of firepower, was deadlocked at 1-1 for hours and ended, at last, on a fluke goal from the rear-guarding libero, of all people. It was the second longest championship game in the 80-year history of Swedish hockey.” -

The same way we dub the trap as being a boring style of hockey, yet no one had an issue watching The Red Wings dynasty. The game will continue to evolve and we shall enjoy the ride.


Flyers vs Red army 1976

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