As might come across, I'm a bit fascinated by the different styles teams bring and when they mix together at a worlds its a great thing.
There's a trick to even being able to see what people are actually trying to do, which often seems like a bit of a mirage... there's so much going on in a game of hockey, fins everywhere, bodies twisting in all directions, if you don't know another team it's hard to tell who is who, who on earth is even playing what position? What positions do they have?
Where the hell is the left forward??!!
Well, it's all a bit of a guess really but you just do the best you can to see patterns. The french love to take a tonne of notes from the surface, where fouls happen, redzones and weak spots of various teams etc, areas to push and avoid. Jolyon Van Daalen, a famously avid video watcher, reckons it's best to watch a vid on fast-forward to see patterns in play, which is a nice approach. Unfortunately for me, I tend to go the other road and watch a game in frame by frame to see what's happening when things seem confusing. This takes up time.
Ultimately, the question when you watch a team play is this... what are they being forced to do, what decisions are reactions, and what dynamic decisions are they making to shape their play. If the puck comes off the wall, did the white team push it off? 3 meters off the wall a black player is swimming wide but was the direction from the white team, is that swim simply the best option from that point when the black teams gameplan is actually to shut the puck down on the wall? Who is doing, and who is reacting for given movements of the puck. It's tricky!
Anyway, so let's say it is possible to see things without imagining them. Let's look at GB men. Why them? Well, these guys are a great example of a team doing it's own thing, not trying to copy anyone else and changing their play significantly to try to tweak to get constant improvement. It takes a lot of balls to make big changes.
I remember back in the day when I first lived in the UK. In 2002 I was there for I think a year, and I played as much hockey as I could. The level was really good, the players were very strong individually and there were a lot of guys with seriously good fades, they loved that. Lots of skills in front of the body going forward, very swashbuckling and quite similar in that way to the kiwi skillset, we do that too.
I remember playing the highest level sessions available around London in Ealing, and if you were on a team that was winning one night, sweet. Halftime, breaks in play everything just stayed the same. But if you were down a couple of goals, I found it amazing that generally the team would start swapping players through different positions... we never did this at home, or not nearly as much. It was as if there was a belief that somehow, there would be a perfect combination of the different skillsets in the team in different positions to unlock the defence of the other team and crack the game. And, it's plausible too, that makes sense right?
These were just kick-around sessions, but maybe that's a good indicator of the GB mindset that is quite happy to adapt and problem solve, is that part of the British uwh culture? I think so.
So anyway, the GB mens team. These guys under master-motivator coach Bernie Tarling have been quite prepared to change things up and try new things that maybe haven't been seen before at international level. I don't know what they were doing prior to Eger, but in 2013 they rocked up with a very distinctive take on 2-3-1 that seemed new.
They basically had a midfield line of 3 really tight to the wall, a wall forward, and an open forward who was wide enough to get outside and turn an opposition fullback back to the wall. When the opp turned to go wide, their outside forward was like...
They played like a U shape and tried to keep the puck on the wall, or in the U. A goalie floated around as backup... (A very good left-handed one. Gotta give a shout to Fletch when you talk GB.) This made them really strong on the wall and channel. The drawback was, the midfield line was really tight, had to be to remove gaps in the channel for the driving game, but this meant their widest guy was only a pass away from the wall at times, and if an opposition could get outside it there was trouble, and ultimately they lost the semi against us when we managed to get outside them consistently. But, this tight channel game worked pretty well and they had some landmark games against very good teams.
So, they then changed things up a little and in SA in 2016 they still had the midfield line, but only 1 roving forward in front and another backup in behind in a 1-3-2.
This was pretty interesting, we have had teams in NZ try this formation but never quite get it working very well. GB were still able to put lots of driving pressure on the wall, but they weren't so worried about it going wide because they had an outside back out there covering for it. This worked a lot better for them, and although we scored a bunch of goals in the quarter-final they made the famous comeback and went into the semi past us. I imagine they would have been a lot happier with the setup they were using even though the semi didn't work out for them, because toss a coin and that game could have gone either way. As so many games these days!
So, fast forward to Quebec and another tweak and now they were using the same setup but with at least one twist, rolling the outside winger into the center spot, trying to keep a player on the bottom holding ground in that center position the whole game.
It is cool to see someone doing this, I have heard of teams swapping their wall players from side to side but never seen it, lateral rotations for some reason are pretty rare to see apart from the good old 3-way goalwall rotation in the defensive corner.... or, I suppose, in the attacking corner sometimes too.
Here is a snap of the GBvsUSA game...
GB has 5 in right now so imagine a forward up front if they had 6, but you can see number 7 holding center spot and the outside wing above and outside him.
Every time they were on the wall in this game they were doing this, and obviously being really careful with it because they are checking and doing an eye-to-eye thing before switching.
So, maybe a small adjustment for the 3m? They have a great facility in Ponds Forge to use at camps so no surprise to see something for the depth. This means it makes it that much harder for opposition teams to get started moving off the wall as the time without an active center in that spot is cut drastically. Interesting!
GB aren't one trick ponies, they are quite capable of playing all around the pool and scored a nice 2nd goal with pressure up the middle from a free puck before Scott Allen dramatically saved a penalty shot to keep them ahead 2-1, this game was madcap.
The goal USA scored though, was interesting too because it went basically like this...
USA went wide but the outside GB wing had just rotated out, overshot wide to cover and USA cut through unexpectedly and scored. Maybe the downside to the rotation is that the wide guy has a little less breath and harder to cover? Of course the upside is he isn't sitting out there un-used when you are playing the channel, only useful if the opp manage to bring it out, he's going in constantly and adding to the workload of the team. And when you are playing someone like Turkey who might not try to come wide but just go up the pool, maybe makes sense to keep everyone involved.
Interesting to see anyway, I'm not sure if GB kept this rotation all the way through the comp, maybe it'll be apparent in the later games. (edit: they were doing it in their last game too)
.....or maybe it's just a mirage.