Dave Cameron has never seen him before. He’s never coached a team with eight defenders who all shoot a certain way.
But it is the (left) hand that was given to him.
“I don’t have a choice whether I like it or not because it’s reality,” said Cameron, head coach of Canada’s National Junior Team who will try to win the gold medal at home in the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship in Alberta. “The challenge is… for four defenders to play their offside. We had to identify the guys who gave us the best chance to do it and make adjustments as we go. It is probably more a matter of awareness than of execution.
Ask the youngsters who made up Canada’s defensive core and you’ll feel like it’s not too bad. Many players grow up fortunate enough to play both sides as defenders. Canada has long been known to have an overabundance of left-handed shooters (estimates are in the range of 60-70% of left-handed sticks bought domestically compared to right-handed), but this year’s junior team focused on this on another level.
Eight defenders. Eight left-handers. Four players training or always playing on their offside or weak side.
Olen Zellweger, one of those lefties, gives a good overview of the pros and cons of missing out.
“I’m going to start in the offensive zone,” said Zellweger, who is from Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., About a 34-minute drive from Rogers Place in Edmonton, where Canada’s games will be played. “If you put a puck on the wall it’s probably harder to pick it up on your backhand, but once you have it on your forehand it’s easier to walk down the middle to shoot. With your strong hand, you would pick it up more easily, but it will probably be more difficult to draw and draw it at the same time. This is the most important thing.
“In the neutral zone, obviously coming back to pick up the pucks when you’re offside, you get the puck and you can turn on your forehand and start going up the ice, which I think is an advantage. In the defensive zone, I don’t really think there is much downside or advantage. Either way, you quite often find yourself on opposite sides of the defensive zone.
Zellweger is a skater and considered an attacking defenseman, although this label can sometimes take away from players who are also responsible and effective in their own goal.
Zellweger, 5-10 tied with Lukas Cormier for Canada’s smallest D, is having a fantastic season so far, with 27 points in 22 games, including seven goals with Everett Silvertips of the Hockey League. ‘Where is. As an attacking defender, Zellweger sees a lot of advantages in playing on the right side.
“Anytime you can put the puck on your forehand and there’s a gap between you and the front checked players and you can skate, that’s an advantage,” he said, adding that he has played on the right side often this season at Everett. “Having the opportunity to do that multiple times during the game – getting the puck on my forehand – whether I pass right away or have time to skate is something that’s good for me.
Yet he knows that righties have value. Any NHL GM will agree on the lack (and therefore the high value) of a right-handed shooter defenseman.
“Yes, it’s true,” Zellweger laughs. “Right-handed D-man, they’re very valuable. I have a younger nephew, I say “make sure he’s right handed and defender”.
Fans watching Team Canada shouldn’t notice much with a group of lefties trying to keep the puck out of the net. Anyone who has played the post, trained it or studied it, knows that defenders move into area D, depending on where the puck is and where the opposing players are. Left-handed people are found on the right side of the ice, just as right-handed people can occupy the left side of the ice.
Carson Lambos of Winnipeg is another D from Canada who will play offside this tournament. He admits he hasn’t played on the right side as often as Zellweger but has no hesitation or concerns about making the move.
“We have a really good D squad this year and obviously we have eight lefties, but I feel pretty comfortable with that offside,” said Lambos. “I haven’t really played there for a little while, but I trained there and changed all the time. Even when I’m playing my fort, I don’t like getting stuck on this side of the ice. I like to go wherever I need to go, regardless of my position.
And what about the Canadian forwards? What do they think of lining up with all those lefties behind them?
“At that level, growing up, you have to be able to learn to play on both sides and all the players here are so good that they can play on both sides of the puck,” said Dylan Guenther, a left-handed shooter who will play. to the wing. at the World Juniors. “Learning and practicing how to make plays, whether it’s on your backhand or on the other side of the puck, is always very important.