in the U.S.A.) in ice hockey
is a player position whose primary responsibility is to prevent the opposing team from scoring
. They are often referred to as defencemen
, or "blueliners".
In regular play, two defencemen complement three forwards and a goaltender on the ice. Exceptions include overtime and when a team is shorthanded (ie. has been assessed a penalty), in which two defencemen are typically joined by only two forwards and a goaltender.
Each year the NHL
, the premier ice hockey league in the world, presents the James Norris Memorial Trophy
to the best defenceman in the league. Bobby Orr
of the Boston Bruins
– an eight-time Norris Trophy recipient – is often considered to be the greatest defenceman in NHL and ice hockey history. In addition to his Norris Trophy honours, he is the only defenceman in NHL history to capture win the Art Ross Trophy
as the league's leading scorer. In 1998, Orr was selected as the best defenceman of all-time (second overall behind Wayne Gretzky
) in The Hockey News
' Top 100 NHL Players of all-time
Conversely, according to the IIHF Centennial All-Star Team (also chosen by The Hockey News), the greatest defencemen to play in IIHF-sanctioned international competition are Vyacheslav Fetisov and Börje Salming.
'Stay-at-home' and 'Offensive defense'
Defence players are often described by the amount they participate in the offence. The extreme of non-participation in offence is a Stay-at-home
defender, who takes few risks and does not score much, instead focusing on defending against the opposing team. The extreme of participation is an offensive defencemen
, who gets aggressively involved in the team's offence. To accomplish this, the offensive defence player often goes deep into the opposing team's zone to get closer to their net. This makes it difficult for the defender to protect his or her own net from being scored on if the other team gains control of the puck
. This can lead to more odd man rushes and breakaway
opportunities for the opposing team.
Defensive zone play
When in the defensive zone
, the defence player is responsible for keeping the opposing forwards' opportunities to a minimum when they are on a rush, forcing them to the corners and blocking both passing and shooting lanes. When the opposing offence is putting pressure on the defence's team, the defence skater usually plays closer to the goal, attempting again to block shooting lanes but also ensure that the goalie is not screened (prevented from being able to see the puck at all times).
Neutral zone play
In the neutral zone
, the defence hangs back towards his or her own blue line, usually playing the puck up to other teammates. According to Jay Leach, who writes for NHL.com's "learn to play hockey" section, the defence must "Move the puck hard and quick to the open man. Join the rush, [but] do not lead it."
Offensive zone play
In the offensive zone
, the defence skaters "play the blue line." It is their duty to keep the puck in the offensive zone by stopping it from crossing the blue line that demarcates where the offensive zone begins. Defence players must be quick to pass the puck around, helping their forwards to open up shooting lanes, or taking open shots themselves when they become available. The defence must also be able to skate quickly to cut off any breakaways, moving themselves back into the defensive zone ahead of the onrushing opponent.
Essentially in all three zones of the rink, the defence is the backstop for the puck. It should never go behind the defence, unless the player lets it. The defence keeps the momentum of play squarely directed towards the opposing goal
is a play in hockey where a non-defence skater moves back to play defence by keeping an opposing player out of a play through means of checking, stick control, and/or body positioning.
in the defensive zone, most teams have their defence players pair up with opposing forwards to tie them up while leaving the team's forwards open to move the puck, though this is at the discretion of the individual coach. In the offensive zone, the defence player acts in his or her usual role, keeping control of the puck as the forwards fight for position.
In the first organized hockey, (see Amateur Hockey Association of Canada), defencemen used to line up in an "I" formation behind the rover(defunct) as point and coverpoint. Defence is still referred to as "playing the point".