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Differing Perspectives

by Aaron Lopez / Colorado Avalanche
Hockey players are perpetually creatures of habit. Eating the same pre-game meal, getting dressed in identical fashion before each game and taking to the ice at the same time are superstitions many players share.

So what happens in a setting, such as Colorado’s 2008 Rookie Camp, when they suddenly need to change the way they play the game on the ice?

At the Avalanche’s rookie camp, most of the scrimmage play is done in 3-on-3 and 4-on-4 format out of necessity.

There are 27 players in attendance at this year’s rookie camp. With three goalies, that leaves 12 skaters to a side, a far cry from the standard of 18 skaters used in most sanctioned games. Factor in players who are forced to sit out the scrimmages due to injury and teams may be even more short-handed when they take the ice.

That scenario begs two questions: How does playing in 3-on-3 and 4-on-4 situations affect their styles of play, and what does it do to an athlete’s mindset, which is programmed full of systems and nearly automatic reactions to certain scenarios on the ice?

The first answer is fairly obvious: With fewer players comes more open ice, which produces a breeding ground for creativity. Offensively skilled players are given both more room and time to display their talents.

For the answer to the second question, discussed the art of playing 3-on-3 and 4-on-4 hockey with players from each position to see how they adapt their games to these situations.

Forward Thinking
Codey Burki
According to Codey Burki, an Avalanche prospect who split last season between the Lake Erie Monsters and the Johnstown Chiefs, forwards may have the easiest time adjusting to the additional open ice.

“It’s good, because you have more time to think, handle the puck and look for more plays,” said Burki. “It’s a faster pace obviously, but there’s more open room and you can really think about what you want to do out there.”

Burki also touched on what he thinks the faster pace and open ice mean to defensemen and goaltenders.

“I think they have to be on their toes, obviously, because 3-on-2’s can easily happen. It’s more spread out, so you have to skate more,” said Burki. “Goalies have to be on their toes too because plays can happen quickly.”

Defensive Stance

Derek Peltier
Derek Peltier, who played four seasons on the blue line for the Minnesota Gophers and also had a stint with Lake Erie last season, believes the situation is somewhat unique for defensemen. Peltier offered up both pros and cons for players at his position, but hinted that an offensive-minded defenseman could thrive in the aforementioned conditions.

“It’s tough, because there’s a lot more open ice. It gives the forwards a lot more time and room to make plays with the puck. You have to make sure your gaps are tight,” said Peltier. “But it’s also fun as a defenseman because you get to jump up in the play more and you also have more room to make plays as well.”

The Mind Behind the Mask
While the differences in style of play are apparent for forwards and defensemen, it may be the goaltenders that have to make the biggest adjustments, both mentally and from a technical standpoint.

Netminder Ian Keserich, who signed an AHL contract with the Avalanche this summer after spending last year in the Central Hockey League, touched on both subjects.

Ian Keserich
“For goalies there’s a lot less movement when it’s 3-on-3 because there’s not as much puck movement. Playing 4-on-4 is nothing new, because you see that at times during games,” said Keserich. “The 3-on-3’s are probably the most boring because you don’t get many shots and when you do, they’re usually breakaways. It’s kind of hard to stay focused during those, but you have to be ready at all times.”

Peter Delmas, who backstops the Lewiston MAINEiacs in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, agreed with nearly every one of Keserich’s sentiments.

“It makes everything a little more wide open and offensive. You have to stay on your toes and be ready for it, read the play and know where everyone is at all times,” said Delmas, who also offered up a bit of technical insight. “You have to play a little bit deeper because there’s going to be more passing. You’ll see a lot more 2-on-1’s, but you just have to expect those kinds of things.”

With the faster pace of play, are the lines of communication between a goaltender and his defenseman more open than they would be during 5-on-5 action?

“Not really,” said Keserich. “You always have to communicate with your teammates. I wouldn’t say you have to communicate more. There’s always a lot of chatter on the ice.”

So, when it boils down to it, do players have a preference between the 3-on-3 and 4-on-4 action at rookie camp and the 5-on-5 play seen in a typical game?

Keserich, for one, is quick to chime in on the subject.

“I just like playing hockey, so it doesn’t matter.”
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