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Neutral Zone Trap
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Toronto Hockey - Neutral  Zone TrapFor those not familiar with the neutral zone trap, it is a defensive strategy employed by teams in an effort to clog up the neutral zone and if successful cause turnovers. The word 'trap' became a dirty word in the NHL throughout the 1990's. Although we hear much less today about the dreaded trap then we did a few years ago, it can still be seen being deployed by many NHL teams on many nights.

In many ways the neutral zone trap is the victim of a bad reputation. Many hockey pundits have blamed the neutral zone trap for ruining the game. While the real culprit was probably all the clutching and grabbing. Imagine Micheal Jordan trying to dribble down the basketball court while being held onto, hooked, and carrying two seven footers on his back? Even the great Air Jordan would have a hard time getting airborne. So why the bad rap? Critics claim the trap takes the life out of the game and wraps up its skill players. There is no doubt the trap does slow the game down when compared to a hard forecheck, but it can also be a more effective system then a hard forecheck when deployed properly.

The trap by design is generally used to clog up the neutral zone, prevent odd man opportunities, and create turnovers. The trap can also be used by teams simply looking to protect a lead late in the game. If you combine this strategy with obstruction, you have a very effective defensive system. The end result is many low scoring hockey games.

What does the 'trap' look like?
It's a basic 1-2-2 formation. The center sits at the top of the trap and pressures the puck. When the opponent decides which direction to attack, the two wings and defensemen collapse to that side of the ice, clogging most of the passing lanes.The most recognizable implementation of the trap sees the defense stationing four of their players in the neutral zone and one forechecker in the offensive zone, just inside the oppositions blueline. As the offensive team starts to move up the ice, the forechecker will cut off passing lanes to other offensive players by staying in the middle of the ice, forcing the puck carrier to the outside. The defensive wingers, usually on or near the red line, will then move to challenge the puck carrier, attempting to keep opponents from moving through the neutral zone. Thus forcing the puck carrier to move the puck now that he has been forced to the boards, and his space has been taken away. The two defencemen (who are positioned on or near their blue line) and weak side winger will attempt to step into the passing lanes and cause a turnover.

The New Jersey Devils are probably the most famous example of the neutral zone trap. The Devils mastered the trap and brought it to prominence with their 1995 Stanley Cup. The Devils ran the trap so effectively they once held the Toronto Maple Leafs to only 6 shots on net for an entire game. Still the trap has been around hockey long before the New Jersey Devils even came into existence. The high flying Montreal Canadiens, with the legendary Scotty Bowman at the helm, used the neutral zone trap very successfully during the 1970's. Its origins traces all the way back to the 1960s when Swedish teams used it to defend the mighty Soviets in international play.

The trap, when combined with obstruction, developed into such an effective defensive system that the NHL implemented new rules during the 2004-05 players lockout. Because it is easier to trap when engaging in obstruction and restraining fouls, such as hooking and holding, the NHL ordered officials to call all obstruction penalties. The NHL also removed the two-line pass rule in an attempt to open up neutral zone play.

How do you attack it?
It's not easy. But quick defensemen who have precise passing skills can help matters. Often a team will use the dump-and-chase strategy. In this system, the attacking team sends the puck into the offensive zone from center ice, forcing the trap team to reverse its course. If the attacking team gets a step on the defenders, it might be able to get to the puck and set up a play in the offensive zone.

Even with ultra talented defensemen and the new rule changes in hockey the trap is likely here to stay. As long as the trap is an effective means of thwarting enemy attackers it will be implemented by bench bosses throughout the NHL. Randy Carlyle and the 2007 Stanley Cup Champion Anaheim Ducks are proof that the neutral zone trap is a very effective defensive system.

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