When he was hired in June, new Heat head coach Troy Ward promised to install an aggressive puck-possession style. He took a break from training camp to share some of the principles of his offensive system.
The Heat played a more defensive-minded style last season under former head coach Jim Playfair. Ward’s reasons for moving to a more up-tempo system are two-fold. For one, it’s a style that jives with his coaching philosophy. And since the Heat have a more veteran roster this season than last, he has the personnel to run it.
“Last year, at times, we were in a school zone,” he said. “We played at 10 or 15 miles an hour. This year, we’re going to be on the highway.”
Playing an up-tempo system requires up-tempo practices, and during the early part of training camp, Ward said the players were still getting acclimated.
“I demand execution through fatigue,” he explained. “We’ve still yet to figure out that practices are harder than games.
“Practices have got to be way more intense than they currently are, way more physical and at a higher speed, for us to be a winning team. And we’re not there yet.”
If the Heat are to be a good offensive team, Ward says it starts with how they break out of the defensive zone. A hidden element to success is how well the goaltender handles the puck.
“The biggest difference in today’s game, for me, is your goalie involvement and how he can move things around,” he said. “That’s where (Leland) Irving was better last year than the year prior. He made better puck decisions behind his own net.
“If we can exit out of our end fairly well at a high speed, then I think it sets us up for a better offensive year.”
As the Heat transition from defence to offence, Ward wants his team to attack through the middle of the ice.
“The No. 1 premise of playing really good defence, or securing your home, is to lock the front door,” he explained. “The opposition is trying to make sure we can’t penetrate through the middle.
“At the same time, if we’re going to be a really good offensive team, we want to penetrate through the middle.”
Ward would prefer his team maintain possession heading into the offensive zone, via skating the puck in or passing it, but dump-ins will be necessary at times. The trick is to do it effectively.
“We’re not going to put it behind the net or at the net very much, like we did last year,” he said. “If the net is the green on a golf course, it’s Hole 9, we’re probably going to put the puck in the sand traps. And we’re going to go get it.”
In the offensive zone, puck security is a huge priority for Ward. Blind passes often become turnovers that kill offensive efficiency, and the Heat bench boss won’t tolerate that sort of decision-making.
“The mentality is, we’d always like to have the puck and be patient with it, versus just throwing a blind pass away or giving it to the opposition,” he said. “I’m not going to be very forgiving on soft turnovers. Soft turnovers will result in no ice time.”
Ward wants his team to put a lot of pucks on net and get pressure in the crease in the offensive zone. Once the shot is stopped, it’s all about puck retrieval.
“We’ve always got a plan in place for how to keep our pucks,” he said. “On a shot, everybody has an area to get the puck back. If it’s in your area, you’d better get the puck back.”