Learning the tactics of the defense position in air hockey is extremely crucial because an offense position is not enough to win. Each opponent is different and knowing your opponent is the key to winning.
Without a proper defense strategy, you cannot block different shots and prevent your opponent from scoring. Even experts make the mistake of thinking that playing well on offense is enough to get them to win. But what if your opponent has a good defense strategy? You won’t be able to score a goal and your best bet will be to hash out your own defense strategy to prevent your opponent from winning. Only then will you have a chance at coming out on top.
Positioning Your Mallet
Positioning your mallet perfectly is one of the biggest elements of getting your defense right. This is because some opponents will play very fast and there are generally some shots like drifts that are too quick to be judged by reflexes. Hence, your mallet needs to be positioned in a way that it can block any kind of shot.
At any point in the game when the puck is in possession of the opponent, make sure your mallet is placed on an average of 30 cm in front of your goal at a 90 degree angle. This distance ensures that your mallet is not placed too near nor too far from the goal.
Placing your mallet too far will leave too much space, making it extremely easy for your opponent to score a bank shot. While that is obvious, amateur players make the mistake of placing their mallet too close to the goal under the assumption that it will be easier to block shots. This is exactly what allows your opponent to make trick shots that hit from an angle and score easily. By placing your mallet a little further from the goal, you can block these shots as they come at you.
It is the same concept that is applied in field hockey. Goalies stand a certain distance from the goal in order to properly block shots. Standing anywhere too close or too far from the goal results in an easy score for the opponent.
Keep Your Eye on the Puck
Just like the phrase ‘keep your eye on the prize’, you have to make sure never to let your attention get diverted from the puck. Air hockey is a game that involves quick reflexes and reactions, which is only possible if you don’t lose sight of the puck.
The biggest tactic that you can use to make this easier is to judge your opponent. In the first few minutes of the game, notice which shots they prefer and their style of playing. This will allow you to follow the puck more easily as you’ve already predicted the movement of your opponent.
However, do not make the mistake of following the puck with your mallet. This is exactly what your opponent can take advantage of. In the time that you follow with your mallet, the puck will have already changed position and the right shot will allow your opponent to score.
Thus, the idea is to follow it with your eyes only. See where it goes. Judge if it's a straight shot, a circle drift to try to confuse you or other various shots. This will allow you to react and block the shot accordingly.
Keep in mind that air hockey is not just a physical game but one that requires thinking and intellectual skills. Following the puck with your mallet without knowing where it goes will only require more exertion and result in decreased chances of blocking the goal.
To ensure the best results, make sure you keep your mallet at 30 cm and study the puck as it comes towards you. An entire round consists of only 7 points, so blocking even a single shot can be enough for putting you in the lead. This counts for everything when you’re playing a professional game; thus, it is important to curate the best defense strategy.
Use the Triangle Defense Strategy
The triangle defense strategy is something that is either a hit or a miss. As an air hockey player, it is important that you know about it, but it is even more important to know when to use it.
In the triangle defense strategy, the mallet is placed a good 35 cm away from the goal. The purpose of this strategy is to block both straight and angled shots as soon as the opponent hits them.
However, the trick is to move the mallet backwards when required, for example, if your opponent hits a bank shot. This requires a lot of exertion and you may not even realise it before your opponent scores. Thus, you can only use this strategy when your opponent is shooting straight and angled shots. If he/she is good at bank shots, this strategy is a no-go. Plus, they may even catch on to what you are doing and begin switching up their shots, so you will also have to look out for that. This is why it is important to know the player before you decide on a strategy. Another alternative is to keep switching your defense strategies as well so that your opponent does not catch on and remains off guard as to what your next move would be.
This piece and the illustrations used act as proof that winning a game of air hockey is not possible without a strong defense strategy. An offense strategy might win you points on its own, but it will not stop your opponent from scoring more.
However, as with everything else, these tactics take practice and time to get right. Make sure to use a mid or preferably large sized table as that is what is used in professional games. Practicing on the same size will help you position your mallet better and more accurately judge spacing.