German’s master class: How to play “good” hockey

The objective of this post isn’t to create a debate on what’s “good” hockey, since I’m sure every coach will have it’s own definition for this.

Having said this, I will try to express in a simple 40 seconds play what I think and feel is the way I want my teams to try to play.

Johan Cruyff once said “Playing football is very simple, but playing simple football is the hardest thing there is”. This is the best way to describe what we will be talking about, it doesn’t matter if it’s not the same sport, it is the same concept.

If you just watch the play, you’ll find that nobody did anything weird, just simple passing hockey. But in order to carry this out, there are so many things that need to be in consideration, and that’s what we will analyze.

As coaches, we want to see beyond what any normal person would see.

This is a play from Germany playing against New Zealand, during the quarter finals in Rio 2016 (the match with the epic ending).

At this point of the game, Germany was losing 1-0 in the the 3rd quarter. It’s always important to put a play “in context”.

The first thing I would like to remark, is how Germany reacts after losing the ball in order to regain posession, which is something of great importance.

Ball Recovery

  1. One player puts immediate pressure on the ball carrier. Putting pressure doesn’t mean to try to tackle, with the risk of creating a free hit, giving the defense an easy out.
  2. Players behind cover all possible passing lines and ready to intercept.
  3. The whole team moves towards the ball, not backwards.

Build up

When Germany recovers the ball, the first player to get it is Moritz Furste.

As the ball came from a long pass, with all the german players attacking (and I think some where subbing), when Furste gets the ball there is no one behind him giving an easy pass option.

What would an “easy pass option” be?

The easier thing to say would be a pass back, because it’s usually open. But this is not the only thing to consider: An easy pass for a player under pressure is a clear pass to where his face stick is pointing, without the need of moving the ball or his body in that moment. This is a key concept to work on if we want to control the ball.

Face Stick Direction
Seconds later we can see a player running to get in position

Another important thing to highlight (that we will keep seeing throughout the video), is how Furste is always protecting the ball. His body is always between the ball and the rival player, making it impossible for him to tackle, like we can see in the first picture. He never “shows” the ball.

So Furste (as usual), does everything correctly… he keeps the ball until a teammate appears in a good position, he is always covering it so there is no real danger, even while turning around to make the pass correctly, and, finally, with a “silly” pass, gets out of trouble and cleans the game.

The Tobias Hauke chapter

Of course, when talking about something good from Germany, Tobias Hauke will be part of it. Although what he does in this play doesn’t seem so amazing, we will analyze his whole action and see everything involved in it.

As soon as Furste gets the ball, Hauke start to look how he can provide help and a solution. First, we can see him moving his head around, analyzing the rival’s players, figuring out where he can get the ball. As we can see, he stands in the middle ob the box created and calls for the ball.

Once he get’s it, he doesn’t feel pressure from behind so he is able to turn and look for an offensive pass. He found it, but, as he doesn’t feel it’s safe enough, he moves  with the ball, changing the passing line angle, until he is satisfied. Perfect execution to his teammate stick for the attack to carry on.

Behind enemy lines

We have just seen how Hauke broke the defense with a great pass to get inside of them, now we will also pay attention to Tim Oruz.

Firstly, Oruz finds a great posisition in between 5 NZ defender’s, where he will get the ball from Hauke.

Oruz positioning

Once he gets the ball, of course he is immediately under pressure. He covers the ball excellently until he finds an open teammate, Martin Zwicker. Again, we can see the importance of:

  • Covering the ball with the body at all times
  • Having an easy option in the direction of the face of the stick

Ball transfer

Before getting the ball, I’m sure Martin Zwicker was aware where the open space was and where he should take the ball afterwards.

As he is pressured as the ball is traveling, he is unable to get it ready to go left, so he is forced to stop it and turn.

Putting the body in between the ball and the defender, Zwicker fakes going to his right to make a perfect roll with his reverse, again, always covering the ball. As soon as he created the space for himself, he is now ready to play to the less crowded place, making a perfect right foot pass for the attack to continue safely.

Left triangle – Attacking the space

Once Zwicker is able to get the ball to the left, we can see a great triangle play there.

There are many things to take into account when understanding why this triangle working.

Firstly, and the most important of all: The free players involved in the situation know what’s going on, and what will be the next action.

This can be seen in the details:

  • Zwicker passes the ball to Müller’s left foot, so he is ready to play forward afterwards.
  • Oruz (Yet again), is preparing his run to attack the space. He first runs slow, until Müller get the ball and is ready to pass, this is when he sprints to leave his defender behind. Timing is key.
  • Müller: As soon as he gets the ball know whats he is doing next. He just uses two touches and less than a second for the play to continue forward.

Breaking the defense

When Oruz gets the ball he is unable to attack towards the goal so they will need one more action before going all the way. He turns and gets surrounded by three players, but the most important thing, by always identifying the space, he never puts the ball in danger.

Again, he gets 3 rival players together, so this means there has to be space somewhere else, and he knows it. He looks for support, Zwicker is again ready for an easy pass and they both know whats happening. Oruz passes, already on the move, and sprints right away to use the empty space created. Zwicker controls, waits until he is clear, and makes a perfect pass to put the ball in front of Oruz, who now is open and ready to run into the circle because he found the gap.

Oruz Movements

As we have seen throughout the analysis, Tim Oruz had a major role during this whole play. he touched the ball in three different occasions, and also being him the one to get the corner.

I think the most important thing he has done, is, not only getting the corner, but showing that you cannot just attack forward whenever you want. You have to build the play and understand when it is the right moment to do it.

  • He got the ball once, was defended, so he made a simple pass and kept moving.
  • He got the ball for a second time, was defended again, so he passed and kept moving.
  • He got the ball a third time, now facing the goal, with no one in front: It’s time to go all the way. Fantastic decision.

It’s not all about running

Of course, what Oruz did was great. He has made great movements, made great decisions and got the corner. But there’s more happening on this play for him to be able to carry this out, teammates creating spaces and teammates playing for him.

Martin Zwicker was part of the whole thing as well. Firstly, when the play starts and his team is attacking, he is already behind the ball for two reasons:

  • Being support in case they want to pass back
  • Being close enough to the play in case they lose the ball and he has to put pressure

In the beginning, when they recover the ball he is one of the players putting pressure, and after, he gets the ball two times from Oruz, being in great support positions and playing really simple passes to keep the ball moving.

In order to appreciate players like Oruz, doing wonderful stuff, we need also Zwickers, getting in good positions and playing simple, yet really smart hockey.

Final video: Just enjoy

Comments 15

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  1. You say the ball must be covered (shielded) with the body at all times, which is true, but I believe it is important to make a distinction between illegal shielding, which is an obstruction offence and the kind of play seen in the video where the only player who comes close to giving obstruction is Moritz Furste. After he first receives the ball (he delays on it while facing his own goal and with an opponent at his back, a little too long for my liking.
    A great many players and umpires cannot see the distinction between illegal ball shielding – the kind of play that prevents an opponent from playing at the ball when they would otherwise have been able to do so – and what you term using the body to cover the ball – where there is no opportunity to play at the ball denied to an opponent because an opponent is never able to come to within playing distance of the ball before it is passed on. That distinction must be made.

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      1. Javi, Ball receiving is a matter of habit of technique which of course develops as a matter of proper training, which I believe Moritz Furste has now let go in this area, at least in loosely contested situations, he probably felt under no pressure.

        As the high ball is coming towards him he does not move to the left of it so that he receives it on his forehand and he can keep both the closing opponent and his possible pass target in view. He instead collects the ball to the left of his body – without letting it run past his position so that he can run on to it strong on his forehand – a lesser alternative if there isn’t time to get left side of the ball but one that maintains distance between the ball and chasing opponents.

        Having opted to collect the ball to his left foot, he turns his back to the closing opponent – also temporarily losing sight of what his team-mates, particularly the player to the far right is doing – and then props with the ball, almost ensuring that the opponent will run into his back while he is stationary and may be able to force an obstruction offence. He had three options and chose the worse one: this receiving situation should never have got to “the edge of legal”.

        This kind of play is now arising because players have no expectation that they will ever be penalised for obstruction no matter how blatant it is. Moritz had no worries that he would be penalised in what at best was a marginal case at considerable distance from one umpire and when both umpires had a foreshortened view which would have made judgement of the distance between the two players impossible – but that receiving play was casual and the result of allowing bad habits to develop because the need for good habit has fallen away.

    1. Having reviewed the video I think that Moritz Furste did not have time to get left side of the approaching ball, and so the second receiving option I described in the previous message was probably the best available. I am also of the opinion that his action was way over the ‘edge’ of legal, it was certainly obstruction – and I believe he knew perfectly well it would be before he took that action and he also knew it would not matter at all to the umpires if he did obstruct an opponent. (very poor picture quality)
      This passage of play from a World Level Tournament match ARG v NED (the Dutch player is in his own 23m area) resulted in the ward of a free ball for obstruction from an umpire who had so little an understanding of the Rule that he ought not to be umpiring at all.

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