In the official rules of the first organized hockey league—the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada—the fourth rule reads: The game shall be commenced and renewed by a bully [a face-off] in the centre of the rink. There is no indication as to when or why the drop of the puck was chosen to determine possession but the tradition continues in today’s modern game.
“There’s really no science to it,” says Hurricanes center Rod Brind’Amour. “I think it has a lot to do with experience. You learn how to get in there and beat the other guy.”
Brind’Amour ranks second in the NHL in faceoff wins at 60.1 percent, having won 637 of 1060 faceoffs this season. As a team, the Hurricanes also rank second, just 2.3 percentage points behind the Washington Capitals.
“It’s just quickness,” said Carolina coach Paul Maurice. “He’s got really quick hands on the face off. I think the majority of that is just experience. Once they get into a game, both Ronnie (Francis) and Rod Brind’Amour know what the other guy is doing, and if they’re not having any success, they have a game plan or a place to go. They don’t just keep trying the same things, they try to get better. Mostly, it’s just experience.”
In the closing moments of Carolina’s 3-2 win at the New York Rangers on Jan. 24, Brind’Amour won several defensive zone faceoffs that helped the Hurricanes avoid a last-minute Rangers score.
“We’re No. 2 in our league,” said Maurice. “We had talked about that after the first period and said, ‘If we get in any kind of troube, pound it because we’re doing well on the draws.’ It was actually an unusual team for us to play against because (Jeff) O’Neill and Francis both take draws on their line, but (Petr) Nedved was killing them. But Brind’Amour, on the other hand, has been just on and you can see it in his faceoff. We started in the second period running him on defensive zone faceoffs when Joe (Vasicek) was going out there.”
The plan worked and the Hurricanes held onto their one-goal lead as the Rangers ran their six-man, empty net attack.
“It makes a big difference confidence-wise when you have a guy like (Brind’Amour) on the draw,” said Maurice. “You’re not nearly as jumpy. You control the puck a lot more and if you don’t like what you see or don’t have a good outlet pass, then you’re a lot more comfortable banging it off the glass. Even if it does go down for icing, you’re not as concerned about it.”
Maurice points to faceoffs as one of the main reasons why Carolina’s penalty kill ranks third in the NHL at 87.7 percent.
“Our penalty-killing is where it’s at for three reasons,” said Maurice. “One, our goaltending has been very good. Most importantly, our faceoffs have been strong. Brind’Amour, unless he’s in the penalty box, takes every defensive zone faceoff killing penalties. And (Tommy) Westlund and (Jeff) Daniels have done a great job in the neutral zone.”
Francis ranks 11th league-wide in a faceoff wins at 56.7 percent and throughout his career has excelled in gaining control of the puck.
“There’s no real secret,” said Francis. “You’ve got to understand before you go in there what’s going to happen, how he’s going to take his shot and what you think is going to work to beat him.”
Maurice credits Francis and Brind’Amour for the team’s high marks in the faceoff wins category but points toward the future as well.
“I think Joe Vasicek is going to be a strong faceoff guy someday,” said Maurice. “He’s come in at 20 and he’s about 47 percent. Those are good numbers for a rookie and I think next year, even right now, we’ll have three real solid faceoff guys. The up side, too, is that you always have a guy like Jeff O’Neill that, even if a guy gets tossed, we’ve got a left and a right-handed faceoff guy. We’re in good shape there.”
O’Neill is historically a center who currently plays wing for the centerman-strong Hurricanes. The combination of O’Neill and Francis allows Carolina to play faceoffs more strategically.
“He’s right-handed and I’m left-handed so we can work opposite sides of the ice,” said Francis.
The numbers do not lie. The Hurricanes tend to control the puck more often than their opponents off the faceoff, which allows them to dictate the flow of play. Experienced players and a bit of lady luck go a long way when you are toe-to-toe with the opponent battling for possession.
“We’ve got two pretty strong faceoff guys that we’re comfortable with and, if O’Neill goes in there we’re comfortable,” said Maurice. “We’ve actually got some real strong support guys. Tommy Westlund can take faceoffs and if he gets kicked out, Jeff Daniels is real good on the draws. We’ve got a number of guys that can take faceoffs if we get tossed out. We’re at least as strong, if our centermen get kicked out, as we’ve ever been.”
|NHL FACEOFF WIN PERCENTAGE LEADERS|
through January 25, 2001
|RANK||PLAYER||TEAM||POS.||GP||ES FW||PP FW||SH FW||TTL. FW||TTL. FO||FW %|
|2||ROD BRIND'AMOUR||CAROLINA||C||44|| 453||67||117||637||1080||60.1|
|10||Mark Messier||NY Rangers||C||49||403||155||43||601||1059||56.8|
|12||Craig Conroy||St. Louis||C||48||213||4||64||281||496||56.7|
|35||Serge Aubin *||Columbus||C||48||377||24||64||465||884||52.6|
|38||Eric Landry **||Montreal||C||32||186||27||5||218||417||52.3|
|74||JOSEF VASICEK ***||CAROLINA||C||47||232||22||1||255||562||45.4|
|75||Michael York||NY Rangers||C||48||236||13||51||300||663||45.2|
|* Leads all NHL rookies|
** Second place among NHL rookies
*** Third place among NHL rookies