Kicking The Breakout Into High Gear: With Matt Carle, Tampa Bay Lightning

As a defenseman it’s my job to kick the offense into gear. That starts with picking up the puck in the defensive zone and starting the breakout. With the speed, skill and strength of NHL players these days, you have only seconds to make the right decision. Having good skills and a keen hockey sense can make all the difference.


Tip #1

One of the keys to a successful breakout is getting the puck and seeing what your options are as quick as possible. I try to take a quick look over my shoulder as I’m skating back and see where the pressure is coming from and figure out what my best options are.



Tip #2

You can use the net as a barrier to lose a forechecker, or you can set up behind and slow the play down a little bit. That’s what I like to do. If I’m on the side of the net with the puck and a forechecker comes behind the net, I can skate out the opposite side. If he cuts in front, I can head back and use the net as a barrier to buy more time and find an open man. The net is a defenseman’s friend and can be used in so many ways.

Tip #3

Sometimes the shortest, easiest play is the best one. Most of the time that involves your defensive partner. Depending on where the forecheck is coming from, 90 percent of the time your defensive partner will skate toward the front of the net. From there he can read the play and have the option of going to the opposite corner or head toward the side of the ice where the puck is. Your defensive partner has to work just as hard as the guy going for the puck because you have to be an option for the pass all the time.


Tip #4

Some people like to chip the puck off the glass and out of the zone. A lot of guys will do that, maybe because they don’t feel comfortable waiting until the last second to try and make a play. You see it all the time because guys are such great skaters. The glass can definitely be a good option. It’s the safest play, of course, banking it off the glass and having it go to center ice. The key is making sure it gets out. That’s the rule as a defenseman, if you don’t have a pass, make sure it gets out of the zone.


Remember This ...

Your first pass is the most important pass. If you can’t make an accurate first pass you can’t break out of the zone. You should practice your accuracy during every passing drill, whether you’re standing still or moving. I practice that every time I step on the ice.

Making hard but accurate passes is what separates professionals from amateurs. You see how hard the guys in our league pass and the accuracy. It can be the difference in winning or losing a game.


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Photo by Getty Images, illustrations by Mike Curti


Who is your favorite 2023/2024 NHL Rookie?
Connor Bedard
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Logan Cooley
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