Ron Johnson: Get Open, Move the Puck, & Score Goals

Everyone in the game wants to create more offense. The coaches, the players, the fans, the parents (unless you’re a goalie parent of course). So how do we do it?

For the North Shore Winter Club’s Ron Johnson, the answer lies in the question – we need to get players interested in the methods behind scoring goals. Where do they come from? Where should we go on the ice?


Kelvin: We can coach defense no problem. What about offense?

Ron: I think offense relies on understanding what we call the lines to the net. There’s limited variations a defensive player can use against you and once you understand those options, then it’s pretty simple to break down a defensive system because it’s basically just one on ones and converting one on ones into two on ones. You have to play percentages.

There’s 12 basic offensive tactics and if you understand what those tactics are, you can’t cover all of them as a defending player. If the offensive team is primarily squaring off the rush then you don’t pinch in because you create a three on two or you make sure you have a strong back check. One of those offensive tactics is deflections. If the other team members are using deflections a lot, it’s pretty hard to defend against because that player can move anywhere on the ice and still deflect pucks. There’s a lot more deflections in the NHL today and you can’t defend against it because you don’t know where the puck is coming from and you can miss the net by 5 feet on either side. So it becomes more of a man-on-man stick coverage. A lot of players now are becoming screen shot shooters so when you go to block a shot, my research showed last year for example that as much as 76% of all screen-shot goals were caused by the opposition players trying to block the shot and screening their own goalie. That’s ridiculous.

By making teams aware that there’s more than one way to score a goal, it allows the fourth line player to engage more successfully in offense and you’re seeing a lot more third, fourth line guys scoring because they have different ways of scoring where it’s in front of the net getting a rebound and crash and net jams and getting some deflections.

The skill guys are shooting off the rush or doing one-timers and other things and so everybody’s participating in offense now, not just skill guys. Your skill guys are getting a lot of ice time but they are having to generate offense in different ways.

And the coaches running the defense have more headaches than ever. 

From a defensive standpoint, we tend to focus our defense on blocking lanes to the net. When you realize that if you are poor at blocking shots to the net then they’re using screen shots and then unfortunately now you’re creating a nightmare for your own goaltender. A lot of goals are caused by misfortune, going off player’s sticks, off player’s legs, shin pads, and bodies because they’re just not aware of the net lines. And again, it’s an awareness issue.

A lot of the offense in the game these days involves taking risks. It’s a shift for most coaches, but the players seem to be a-ok with taking risks as long as their coaches can live with the inevitable mistakes. 

A lot of it is a reward-based system so if you yell and scream at guys when they make mistakes then they won’t try those plays. When I go to Canucks games I measure an average of 10 to 15 mistakes per shift on the ice. So if you criticize every single mistake, you wouldn’t have anybody playing hockey because nobody would put their gear on.

Repetitive mistakes is a different animal. We need to let kids make mistakes because that way they provide a sense of adventure and that’s the passion of the game – to keep learning. The biggest thing I find with coaches is that they’re constantly criticizing the mistakes that players make as opposed to criticizing the mistakes they keep repeating. And players should know better, I mean shame on me if I make the same mistake three times in a game; what does that say about me as a player?

Bobby Orr said the same thing. Coaches today have little room for creativity and allowing players to develop. So they tend to stop the growth of a player’s hockey IQ because we’re so critical of them and we’re so job responsible – we have to win and if we have to win we can’t afford mistakes and if kids are making mistakes then we can’t afford it. So we pick and choose the players that can make mistakes and the players that can’t.

What do you think of the offense the Las Vegas Golden Knights are putting up? Second most behind the Tampa Bay Lightning last time I checked. 

And second place in the NHL – all those guys were third line players. How is it possible that they’re at the top of the NHL now? Because now they’re in an environment where they have to be played and all of a sudden that star power that was ahead of them is gone and now all these guys are shining. Something a lot of coaches and GMs don’t seem to be aware of, some of the talent sitting right in front of your face is more special than you think.

But most people don’t understand offence. Everybody understands defense but unless you’ve been a goal scorer, unless you can shoot pucks, unless you can understand what goalies are thinking, most coaches are not offensive threats, they’ve always been defensive players, they’ve always been fighters or grinders or third line guys that understand the game but never had the talent. Take a look at the Western Hockey League – how many top elite goal scorers are coaching in the NHL? Or elite goal scorers coaching in the Western Hockey League or NCAA college? Very few.

How do we create offensive confidence in young players, otherwise known as the next wave, the future of the game?

A lot of people today think offense is born, it’s not made. You can create offense with certain players, but it’s still a process. Until you get all those belief systems, it’s never going to change. One of the problems with kids now is it’s always carry first, pass later. We have this alpha male syndrome where parents and kids are over carrying pucks because they want to showcase themselves – they’re showcasing the skill but they don’t showcase their IQ. And what do scouts want more anything? What’s their number one attribute they’re looking for?

Hockey IQ.

Damn right. You scout the Western Hockey League, you know this. I’ve been in the game for a lifetime, and I’d rather have a player who knows how to use his teammates rather than the selfish player who tries to skate through everybody at ten years old.

Players today have to have a higher IQ to play the game so by over carrying the puck and not passing it, it becomes an actual detriment to their own development. And coaches let them get away with it so they’ll tend to play guys that have a higher skill set, let them carry the puck all the time, and don’t encourage passing, because they’re afraid they’ll make a mistake.

Coaches need to work on their player’s IQ, work on the visual system. If the guy’s open, move the puck.

Find the open man, give him the puck.

Makes sense to me.


Huge thanks to Ron Johnson for taking the time to do this series.