The first key to stopping a breakaway is to be prepared for them beforehand and to be keenly aware of certain situations where they normally happen.

When to be ready

1) On your power play – How many times have you seen a shorthanded goal scored on a breakaway? All the time! Breakaways frequently happen when point shots are blocked or when your defense tries to make risky D to D passes.
2) Rink wide Passes – When one of your defensemen tries to fire a rink wide pass you must be ready for a breakaway. These passes are fairly easy to pick off and some defense try to get cute by trying these passes over sticks or through legs. Be Ready!
3) Bad Line changes – If your team makes a lazy line change a smart team can catch you with a long breakaway pass.
4) Last man heroics – When the last man back on your team tries to deke around fore checkers be ready. One little poke check and Pavel is off to the races.

The Shooter’s Options

In the section on puck positioning I touched on the basic dekes you might encounter on a breakaway. The shooter can, and often does, try to shoot on a breakaway. It is our job to prevent a shot if at all possible. The reasoning behind this is simple. If you give a shooter too many options on a breakaway they will dress you up in a skirt and call you “Alice”. To all you politically correct people out there, this means that the shooter made the goalie took foolish. When we know a deke is the only probable option our job becomes much easier.


How to force the deke

Once you realize a breakaway is in progress you must challenge out 5 to 10 feet out of the blue crease. Your skating ability will determine how far you can challenge.

You want to challenge for two reasons and the first is net coverage. When you are out this far you have taken away most of the available net and to the shooter, a shot here would be risky.

The second reason you challenge is to give yourself some momentum space. This basically means that you now have 5 to 10 feet of space that you can use to back up in so that you will have ‘MO” ( MOmentum ) on your side when the deke happens.

The path you follow on a breakaway resembles an inverted Y. At the top of the crease you can see the "magic spot".


Closed Stance

When you challenge out on this initial angle you must use a closed stance as the shooter approaches, If you have a big five hole and your trapper is resting on your knee you will be surprised with a quick shot. Think about this from a shooter’s point of view. In the split second that they have to make a decision, they will take a look at you to determine if you can be beaten with a shot.

If your gloves are in proper position and your legs are fairly tight they can’t risk wasting the opportunity on a shot. They are now firmly stuck in the web you have spun with them.

Advanced Tip

Shooters who try to freeze you with a fake shot. NHL goaltenders are frustratingly patient and very adept at waiting out these little fake shots. They have developed this ability to sift through these fakes after years of falling for them and years of study.

Another point to consider

If you are challenging properly anything that looks like a shot is probably a fake so try not to bite on it. How do you know? They aren’t going to risk a missed opportunity with a pin point shot as I mentioned above so no matter how cute they get, it is likely just window dressing.

The Retreat

Once you have established position at the top of the initial angle you must begin to retreat back towards the net. The timing of this backwards movement is difficult to master but there are some cues to use. When they get within about ten feet you must begin to back up maintaining a fairly tight stance. If you back in too soon they will have net open up to shoot at and if you are too slow backing up then they will easily deke around you. The perfection of this timing takes years of practice and careful study of the shooters.

The Magic Spot

When your backwards motion takes you to the top of the blue crease it must be transferred in a lateral , diagonal direction as illustrated above. (The inverted ‘Y’) If you fail to explode laterally at this magic point you will cause several problems:

1) You open up the aerial angle – Even if you make a nice lateral push, it will be easy for the snipers to roof it on you. Some goaltenders try to explode diagonally back to the post but this leaves lots of room over your pad and gloves.

Wes has slid back to the post on the breakaway and has therefore left a great deal of the top shelf open.


To cover the aerial angle properly you must slide across the top of the crease as pictured here.

2) You open up the whole net – When the deke happens some goaltenders fall into the trap of sliding straight back into the net with obvious dire results. Ideally, no part of your body should be in the blue crease when you execute a save on a breakaway. Mike Richter was a great goaltender to study for his approach to the breakaway. Textbook!

Save Selections on a Breakaway

The most common save you will use on the breakaway is the sliding half pad save. When you reach the magic spot your backwards motion is explosively transferred in a lateral, diagonal direction as you drop to a perfect half pad save. You MUST keep your stick on the ice and in the five hole at all times. The snipers live by the five hole goal and they will try to catch you with a lazy stick. Lead with your stick and quickly get the knee on the ice. There is nothing more frustrating than being in perfect position and having the puck go through you or underneath you. You should move in a tight controlled package.

Sometimes a two pad slide is used here because it really takes away the lower portion of the net and if it is done at the top of the crease, most of the upper net as well. There are two drawbacks with the two pad slide that you must be aware of:

1) Quick hands will slide the puck under you as you are dropping.

2) You are in a poor position to play a rebound if there is one. I must admit a two pad slide save looks quite glorious when it is successful but you will have more luck with the half pad slide.

Poke checks

Poke checks on dead on breakaways are very risky and should be avoided unless your name is Bower or McKichan ( Ha HA Ha ! ). For each of the saves I made with poke checks on dead on breakaways, I probably gave up two goals on missed poke checks. They really are an all or nothing attempt and hugely embarrassing if you miss. If you are foolish enough to try a poke check on a dead on breakaway here are a few tips:

1) Start your retreat and make it look like you are going to play the breakaway properly.

2) You have to hide your intentions Don’t telegraph the poke.

3) You will have more success If his stick is closed and if you can quickly stop your retreat and lunge explosively forward. Expect a poke check to work about one time out of five on a dead on breakaway. You have to ask yourself that famous question Clint Eastwood muttered, “Do you feel lucky? ”

Advanced Tip

A good fake poke works almost as well because you don’t commit yourself If your fake is realistic enough the shooter will flinch and go to their deke early.

Breakaways off the wing

Breakaways off the wing are handled virtually the identical way as a dead on breakaway.

Challenge – Retreat – Read – Explode on the inverted Y

There are a few notable differences however:

1) You can force them to cut in front to the far side which will buy you some time and give the back checker a chance to help out. To force them to cut in front, simply shade over to the short side a little as you retreat. This fools them into thinking you lost the angle. A diving poke check is now a solid option if it is executed property. The diving poke check must be a surprise and held until the perfect moment. As you dive out extend the stick and lay your body down flat, which will form a pretty big pylon.

Watch that you don’t try this too often or too early or that metallic sound you hear will be the puck slamming in off the crossbar.

2) The inverted ‘Y’ shape is still the path to follow but it has slightly changed in shape.

The inverted Y pattern shifts on a breakaway off the wing.


HOW ARE YOUR NERVES? (Use this at your own risk!)

I have taught you the proper way to play a breakaway but you must never underestimate the power of surprise. Shooters know that goaltenders are taught to challenge out and retreat so they are comfortable when they see the goaltender come out. This next tip is EXTREMELY risky but oh so amazing if it is successful. It takes nerves of steel and the approach of a gunfighter. Who will blink first? I tried this on the 5th shooter of a tied THL shootout in front of 15,000 fans.

Instead of coming out, I stood right on the goal line in a perfect stance. As the shooter approached I could tell he was panicking. He probably had a plan beforehand and now all he could think was, “What the &%$* is this goaltender trying to do? “As he got closer, he saw a lot of net as I patiently stood right on the goal line perfectly still. As he began to shoot I dropped to the perfect two pad slide. The gamble paid off as his shot sailed a foot over the net. Surprise is a goaltenders best friend! (Besides his jock)

Copyright © 2005 Stephen McKichan