A crack in the great Pyramid Defense

I will blog a few more of my articles that were initially posted, before starting Say AH, on airhockeyworld.com‘s forums. This is one of my favorites:

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The Pyramid Defense is the most widely used defense and the most successful. Every top-25 player, save Jose Mora and Mark Nizzi, uses this defense. It is successful because the Pyramid Defense operates on the premise of defending all straight shots with one outward position of the mallet. The defensive focus of stopping straights is effective because it is more difficult for offenses to execute banks. Or simply put, it takes away your opponent’s natural strengths.

The Pyramid Defense, at its basic level, is easy to understand, but there are fundamental cracks in the defense that you should be aware of. The Pyramid Defense should not charge straights or pull back when straights are executed against it. However, the Pyramid Defense’s worst error is not being positioned directly between the puck and center of the player’s own goal. This concept is known as “recentering”. When the defense does not recenter correctly, this is when the greatest amount of goal is left unprotected. Case in point: Pulling your mallet back to the goal when a straight shot is hit against you is a lesser mistake than using a Pyramid Defense that is not recentered.

A Crack in the Pyramid

In the middle example above, 75% of the goal is unprotected. If the puck is further off-center, 100% of the goal may be open.

As a defensive player, you should always be recentering  based on where your opponent has drifted the puck, while at the same time not overcompensating based on the puck’s movement. The recentering should should be constant and occur prior to the opponent striking the puck. The recentering range is only about 2-3 inches to the right or left depending on where the puck is located – this recentering movement is to ensure that the defense’s mallet is directly on the path between the center of the their goal to the center of the puck. The recentering adjustments are minor, but vital. If the defense does not make these nuanced movements, a large opening (as you see above) is left for an easy score.

As an offensive player, you should consistently use tactics that cause the defense not to recenter. An example is to drift the puck from right to left-of-center. As the puck drifts across the center of the table, the offensive player pump fakes a cut shot, thereby freezing the defense, then the player continues to drift the puck further to the left and executes a cut shot from the left-of-center while the defense remains frozen at the center of the table.

Patch the cracks

What can you do to improve defensively on this weakness of the Pyramid Defense? And conversely, what on offense can you do to take advantage of this weakness? One of my favorite drills is to play a set in which both players use only straight shots: Backhands and forehands, cuts and crosses. The defense may not charge or play out past its normal distance – usually about 14-16 inches from the goal. This drill forces the offense to become very creative in using tactics that cause the defense to off-center. From the defensive player’s point of view, it builds discipline and constant focus on recentering based on the location of the puck.

So, the next time you are playing, always be recentering on defense. And when on offense, drift to the left and right of the table, looking for those easy goals.

*Originally published January 5, 2012

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