Archive for November, 2011

Feature story: The Box Defense

November 6, 2011

(The basic box defense.)

By Eric Krol

Editor, “The Score”

Welcome to this issue’s feature story. The topic is the box defense. Supporters say it helps a beginning player avoid getting blown out. Critics suggest that ultimately it’s limiting to a table hockey player’s growth. At times it can be frustrating to play against.

We asked five expert table hockey players to weigh in: Ken Dubois, multi-board superstar from the Boston area; Reggie Stefaniszyn, a skilled traveling player from Edmonton; Bjarne Axelsen, the Danish Stiga champion and familiar winner on the North American Tour; Edgars Caics, a young Latvian sensation who is ranked #2 in the world; and Thomas Petersson, a highly-ranked Swedish player perhaps best known over here for his tablehockeyschool.com site.

Here’s what we learned:

History

While the exact genesis of the box defense on a Stiga game is unclear, the panelists generally think it originated in Sweden, where the game is made.

“I don’t really know if you can credit one person invented it,” Dubois said. “It’s a strategy that is non-existent on Munro tables due to the net being so big in comparison to the goaltender.”

Dubois recalls the first time he saw a box defense used in North America was during Benej tournaments. The first player Dubois saw use it was Fraser Strain, who likely picked it up from Coleco 5380 players in Quebec. At the same time, Swedes were developing it on Stiga.

“My guess is that players were getting tired of giving up 10 per game to Jacob Lindahl and had to do something. I’ll bet that Daniel Wallen had at least a little to do with it,” Dubois said.

Petersson said he thinks the box defense started around 1984 or 1985. “It might have been players from Gothenburg (Goteborg) who were first. But I am not sure,” he said.

Pros and cons

The Stiga box defense at its most basic sees a player place his goaltender in the middle and keep his defensemen down low to try to cut down the resulting open space on either side. It’s similar to what some Coleco players did back in the day, keeping the defensemen down by the goalie and making it virtually impossible to score. Modern Coleco leagues require defensemen to be outside of the crease to avoid that “turtle style” of defense.

On Stiga, the defense has some advantages.

The panelists said the box defense is a good move against opponents who aren’t adept at fintars (center shots). And Stefaniszyn points out the box D is “very strong against players who cannot or do not try to shoot on the short side.”

“My box defense is quite strict, but it depends on who I am playing against,” Stefaniszyn said. “I look at the box defense as ‘cutting down the angles.’ ”

It’s a good defense for Stiga newbies.

“I think that most new players fail to spend enough time on learning the goalie. Playing ‘box’ means more shots (against you), but the defender’s focus is more ‘between the pipes,’ where it belongs,” Dubois said.

Observed Caics: “That is how you defend better against an average player. A top player will score a lot anyway.”

Axelsen recommends that new players try the box defense, but says they shouldn’t become wedded to it. “Adapting and renewing your way of playing is the most important thing,” Axelsen said.

The box D also is a safer option.

“You can’t make a lot of mistakes when defending like that. Active defense has bigger potential to make a mistake,” Caics said.

During a day-long tournament, the box defense may provide another advantage. “You are not using too much energy when using the box defense,” Axelsen said.

Defensive tips

Dubois said he thinks that all successful Stiga players use the box D, but not exclusively. “It’s about ‘how’ you use it.
“It can be a good way to dictate a slower paced game, but you must have the goalie to back it up as well as an ability to get puck possession after making saves,” Dubois added. “You could either win a lot of 3-2 games, or lose a lot of 3-2 games.”

Petersson and Caics both said they change it up and mix box D with active defense. “Probably that is the best way to play defense,” Caics said.

Caics suggests baiting the opponent into trying a direct shot with the wing by moving the defensemen up and down to try to cut off the pass. “At the very last moment, drop the defenseman back down and ‘close the hole.’ ”

“Start with the box and then move the defender to try to block the pass when it comes,” Petersson said.

Stefaniszyn, however, points out that you have to have a fast defenseman to pull that off. Or a fast goalie. Or both.

“I think the biggest hurdle is mindset,” Stefaniszyn said. “I have seen some players use the box defense and then give it up because perhaps it doesn’t feel right for them. Perhaps it’s the old Coleco/Munro positioning that still influences them?”

So how to best position your players in the box D?

“Be calm and calculated and don’t move the goaltender too much,” says Axelsen.

But Stefaniszyn argues the Euros play a more modified version of the box D. “If you watch them play, you see that their goalies are constantly in motion,” Stefaniszyn said. “North Americans tend to play the goalie in the middle, perhaps influenced by our Coleco/Munro positioning.”

Dubois suggests experimenting with the box defense. Move the goalie 1/8 of an inch to the left, and the right. Try it with the goalie forward. Try it with the goalie backward. Note the angle of the stick.

“If you give a guy a center shot, can you make him shoot where you want and get the puck back?” Dubois asks. Possession, of course, is key in table hockey. Your opponent can’t score if he doesn’t have the puck.

Ultimately, the box D gets the endorsement from Caics.

“Players who struggle with active defense should use it,” Caics said. “That is probably the best way to defend against average players. Unless I have a good read on an opponent and can predict the passing liens to the center and feel confident I can cover them.”

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Protected: Player Q and A: Mike Hubbard

November 3, 2011

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