Charges are a risky proposition, but if successful they are gratifying, especially when stuffed back into your opponent’s goal. In this article I go over the pros and cons of charging, when and how to charge, and discuss a short video. Let’s start with a definition:
A charge is a defensive movement away from the goal toward the centerline or rail that is used to block a shot.
The pros and cons of charging
- A successful charge likely results in a turnover or goal
- Causes doubt in the offense
- Adds a layer of aggressiveness to defense
- Makes defense less predictable
- An incorrect charge leaves your goal completely unprotected
- Even if you do charge correctly a lot can go wrong
Use sparingly, it is a dangerous weapon
The prevailing wisdom, which I think is correct, is that one charge per two games is usually appropriate. When you are learning to play, and even if you are a top-tier player, you should condition yourself to simply not charge the vast majority of the time. One charge per two games means that you are going to charge about one out of 65 shots. That is less than 2% of the time!
When is charging the right play?
A sprinkling of charges is appropriate when you: 1) wish to deter your opponent from a specific shot, 2) are able to clearly read your opponent, 3) would like to “advertise” a charge in a less-meaningful situation, such as being down 5-1 or ahead 3-0. This is intended to cause doubt in your opponent’s shot selection later on when the situation might be more important.
There is a time when you should charge often: when you are being absolutely destroyed on defense and your blocks do not result in turnovers. Even more so if you are being scored on with shots that follow a similar path, such as Left-wall-unders and overs – a charge can block both with equal effectiveness. When you are blocking under 25-50% of shots on goal and getting few turnovers, go ahead and charge. Charging every time in this circumstance is OK. Davis Lee, 2-time world champion, sums it up like this:
… if you are playing against a superior opponent, the correct strategy is to gamble against him. When you are playing a better player, it is correct to take more chances on defense to try to get the puck back.
I agree wholeheartedly, but remember this should not be your typical approach. I have only needed to use this charge-each-shot tactic a handful of times in 20 years. However, I think that as offenses improve, charging will and should happen more often.
How to charge
A charge is an all or nothing tactic that requires total commitment. When you charge, move your mallet in a straight line and push the mallet forward. You should not swing your mallet like on offense; instead shove the mallet from behind. As you do this, lunge toward the centerline as quickly as possible while remaining controlled. This lunge is best accomplished when your full body is used. Lean out over the table by bending at the waist, and as I have talked about before, you should be on the balls of your feet while on defense. This defensive stance is particularly important when charging because you need to rapidly transition from a defensive stance to an offensive stance. The use of your legs will help create additional speed and power. Also remain in constant motion while on the balls of your feet to make quicker movements – similar to the way tennis players bounce prior to returning serve.
When charging straights, meet the puck at the centerline – this will cut off the most angle. When charging banks, meet the puck two to three inches from where the puck will impact the rail – this allows for the largest room of error. If the opponent is hitting obtuse banks that contact the rail on their side of the table, meet the puck at the centerline.
Charges should happen at the last possible moment so that you do not tip your hand, unless you are faking a charge to bait the offense into attempting an early bank. This fake should be a rare occurrence and happen even less than an actual charge. As always it depends on my opponent’s reactions, but I would normally use this play once, possibly twice, over the course of a set unless it is exceptionally effective.
Examining The Doctor
Jesse Douty, a.k.a. “The Doctor”, was one the best chargers of all time. Below is 18-second clip of him making a flurry of text-book charges vs. Bob Dubuisson way back in 1983. Notice that Jesse uses his full body to extend to the centerline as he aggressively pushes the mallet in a direct path to the puck:
These charges were in the finals of the World Championships with the score tied at 6-6 and Jesse was down 3 games to 2. Charging in that type of high-pressure situation takes commitment, and cojones!
Practice controlled aggressiveness
Charging is a skill that you should have, but it needs to be used sparingly in specific circumstances. Polish up your charges by calling practice games in which you must charge all shots, or if you charge successfully three times in a row you are awarded a point. You can even practice the charge motion without a partner; I do this as part of my warm-up routine. Just make sure that charging is practiced in a controlled setting so that it does not slip into your typical game as a bad habit. If you notice that you are charging too often, have a sidebar with yourself and get back to playing solid non-charging defense.