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Hockey School
the professorThe neutral-zone trap

What is it?: An effective defensive strategy designed to push the offense to the boards, where the attacking players are pinned by the defensive wings.

When is it used?: Many NHL teams use a trap in some form during the season. Some wait until the playoffs, simply because it is one of the best strategies in protecting small leads. The Flames, for instance, threw the trap at the Lightning in Game 1 of the final series.

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What does it look like?: It's a basic 1-2-2 formation within the zone. The center sits at the top of the trap and pressures the puck. When the opponent decides which direction to attack, the two wings and defensemen collapse that side of the zone, clogging most of the passing lanes.

How do you attack it?: It's not easy. But quick defensemen who have precise passing skills can help matters. Often a team will use the dump-and-chase strategy. In this system, the attacking team sends the puck into the offensive zone from center ice, forcing the trap team to reverse its course. If the attacking team gets a step on the defenders, it might be able to get to the puck and set up a play in the offensive zone.

Why does it get so much attention?: Although its origins trace back to the 1960s when Swedish teams used it to defend the mighty Soviets in international play, the trap started gaining publicity in the 1990s, when Jacques Lemaire installed it with the New Jersey Devils. In Lemaire's first two seasons, the Devils went to the conference final twice and won the Stanley Cup once. But critics claimed the trap took life out of the game and wrapped up its skill players. Lemaire left the Devils in 1998 and is now coach of the Minnesota Wild. But he took the trap with him. The Anaheim Mighty Ducks, New York Islanders and Montreal Canadiens also use primarily trap-based systems.

– Compiled by Tim Sullivan

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