Colorado Avalanche Running A Trap Of Their Own


The Colorado Avalanche have recently adopted a new neutral zone trap that is working wonders. Let’s take a look at why it’s so effective.

To be honest, I never thought the Colorado Avalanche would adopt any kind of trap under Patrick Roy.

A trap by definition means sitting back and guiding the opponent into an area where the Avalanche will have numbers and better positioning. It is the opposite of what Patrick Roy normally teaches: fast, aggressive hockey.

But the Avs have definitely been running a trap in the neutral zone the last couple games. Before we get into the trap itself a couple of quick notes:

  • They have only been running the trap when the other team has time to set up and regroup. If there are even two players available to forecheck the Avalanche have still been aggressive in putting a forecheck on.
  • That being said, when they do fall back into the trap it is a pretty passive trap, even by trap standards. That kind of dichotomy between all out pressure and aggressiveness to a passive trap can be very disorienting for opposing teams.
  • It is a pretty simple, and standard trap. But I will say it’s being run with discipline that is very impressive.

The System Itself

First, I want to emphasize that the trap isn’t being run consistently. The Colorado Avalanche are not playing boring hockey — they’re playing smart hockey. Anyway, the trap is a pretty simple 1-3-1 blue line trap. This means there is one guy up front making sure the puck carrier has to pass it, 3 guys across the blue line ready to make a play on the pass, and one defenseman back in the high slot of the D zone to retrieve dumps quickly and to cover if there’s a breakdown.

It looks something like this:

                                                Neutral Zone


D-Zone                     D1                   F2                  F1                  O-Zone


See this graphic.

The first guy up in the play (F1) is perhaps the most important player. The key to the trap is forcing the other team to make a pass up the ice where the trap is in place. Otherwise, the trap is supposed to guide the skater to one direction or the other. If the opposing team is allowed to carry the puck with speed through the neutral zone, the defending team is in trouble because their “3” at the blue line is largely standing still.

The Colorado Avalanche have added their own spin. They’re not even guiding the puck carry to one side or the other, they’re simply making sure the skater has to make a pass up the ice.

So the F1 is just assuring there is a pass up the ice. If the opponent tries to start carrying the puck up, the F1 player has to put a check on him to prevent him from building speed. If the puck carrier makes a backwards pass or regroups, the first player just resets on whoever the new puck carrier is.

The three players at the blue line are the ones that spring the trap. They’re usually a couple feet in front of the blue line, and that’s important. Being two feet in front of blue line might not seem like it’s important, but it is vital to the success of the trap.

If the the trap players come up too far from the blue line, they risk having an opposing player catch a puck behind them. This can lead to an easy 1 on 1 if not 2 on 1 against the D1. If the trap players sink back under the blue line, the other team has room to catch the puck and then get their heads up and look to make a play.

With the Colorado Avalanche, the trap players are spread out pretty evenly across the blue line because, as mentioned before, the Avs aren’t really steering the puck carrier, just forcing a pass. So it’s been a player about on the dot on each side and a player straight up and down the middle.

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So, opposing players must pass to either side because they’re usually unable to hit the middle since the Avalanche’s F1 is in that lane. When the opponent passes to the side, the closest trap player jumps the puck immediately and the F2 goes to help. The F2 must read the play well because if he gets to aggressive on the puck, all the opponents have to do is lay it to the middle of the ice and anyone coming with speed will have a good opportunity. So the F2 must be aware of not only the puck, but any potential passes coming through the middle as well.

This leaves the far side player to read the play, picking up trailers if the Avs lose the battle, or flying up the ice for a quick counter attack if they can force the turnover. Lastly, as discussed below, if the opponents dump it in and third guy back goes to retrieve it this far side player can be low in the zone to be a passing option when the forecheck comes.

The last player back has two roles. First, and hopefully his only role is retrieving pucks. Back when we discussed the Wild’s trap we talked about how the easiest way to beat it was dumping the puck in early before the Wild could step up and sending two hard to forecheck. That’s why the the Avs have a guy far back — if the opponents dump it and come with speed he can make sure he’s the first to the puck and move it as quickly as possible up the ice.

He is also the safety of the play, ensuring that if a player does manage to break through the trap with speed there is someone back to take the rush.

Next: Avalanche Playing Their Style of Hockey

The Success and Dangers of the Trap

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So now that we have a handle on the trap, let’s talk about its success and the ways it can go wrong.

Obviously the Colorado Avalanche enjoyed a five-game winning streak, so it was working pretty well. A part of this is simply because it’s a new system that other teams haven’t had time to fully scout out yet. But another big part is the aggressiveness of the 3 Avs players across the blue line. They have done a great job of jumping the pass and tying the guy up with puck right away, keeping him from making a play.

However, this trap scares me a bit because everyone in it is stationary, and a stationary hockey player is often referred to as a cone.  If opposing teams hit the trap with multiple players having speed the Avalanche are in trouble. The 3 at the blue line are largely moving horizontally, as they maintain their distance from the blue line, and thus aren’t prepared for taking guys with speed. The last guy back is floating high in the zone, and is really stuck in a 1 on 1 scenario as you don’t want your D backing into the goaltender, but at the same time he has no space to match oncoming speed.

So if opposing teams are able to get multiple players going with speed, and carry the puck through the neutral zone, it can get ugly real fast. But if the Colorado Avalanche are able to keep playing the system well — forcing passes instead of letting the other team skate, jumping passes quickly, and having good awareness of any trailers — this system will keep carrying them to victories.

What have you thought of the 1-3-1 trap so far?