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From Maxim Balmochnykh to Mike Babcock: Keep the Puck

A quick hit look at the philosophy differences between North American and European hockey.

Christian Petersen

Patricia Teter alerted me to an interesting interview with Maxim Balmochnykh on the KHL website. The interview features a frank discussion of Balmochnykh's failed North American career, but one quote grabbed my attention:

"...I had to play the kind of hockey I hate, where you just blast the puck anywhere into the zone, give your opponent a hit and charge around the ice. That’s not what I’m skilled in, and not what I’d been taught. Now I can see that I should have followed Datsyuk’s example. When he went to America he was already a fully-developed player, so they didn’t try to change anything, but they tried to change my game and I resisted."

Balmochnykh is plainly referring to dump-and-chase hockey and it's stranglehold on the North American hockey psyche. While Don Cherry, Mike Milbury and their obdurate legions decry the weakness of European players who won't "dump it in and go get it" and espouse the virtue of the players who are willing to "grind" in the corners, to Balmochnykh and other European-born, raised and developed players, the entire concept of dump-and-chase is absurd.

In order to score goals, players have to shoot the puck. In order to shoot the puck, players have to possess the puck. In order to possess the puck, players have to acquire the puck. If all of hockey is built on possessing the puck, what madness is at work when entire generations of North American players are uniformly taught to give the puck away in order to pursue it again?

Balmochnykh is, of course, correct. Blasting the puck anywhere into the zone, and charging around the ice to get the puck again is a terrible strategy: carrying the puck generates more than twice the offense of dumping it in.

"...having the puck in the opponent's zone headed towards the goal is a lot better than trying to outrace the opponent to try to get the puck in the corner."

"Carrying the puck in is way better than dumping it in, more than twice as good -- and it's not because of odd-man rushes or player skill or any other external factor; it's just because having the puck in the opponent's zone headed towards the goal is a lot better than trying to outrace the opponent to try to get the puck in the corner."

--Eric T, The Advantages of Puck Possession over Dump-and-Chase

I don't know Balmochnyk's specific story, but it doesn't matter. The mentality that breeds coaches who coach dump-and-chase also comes with a dogmatic approach to to breaking thoughts and play that go against the dump-and-chase, grind it out style, something Balmochnyk dealt with in the AHL.

Being asked to reinvent your game when your know your game is far more contributory to scoring goals and far more responsible for winning hockey games would be nearly impossible to deal with from a player's point of view. Eventually the silliness of "dump it in and go get it hockey" will become widespread and the men who teach the philosophy will be forced out. Carrying the puck is the way to go, even when it's labeled "dangling" or "east-west hockey."

It all comes back to the simple axiom:

"Puck possession is everything."
--Mike Babcock

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