Game-Planning For An Elite Offensive Threat

How do you solve a problem like Elizabeth Giguere?

Between 2014 and 2017 Elizabeth Giguere was among the best players in the Quebec CEGEP Hockey League. The Limoilou Titans forward averaged an obscene 2.41 points per game over three years, finishing fourth in league scoring as a freshman, second as a junior (to Dawson’s Jade Downie-Landry, a future McGill Martlet) and first as a senior (two spots ahead of Kellyane Lecours, who also plays at McGill).

After graduating from Limoilou, she starred at the NCAA Division 1 level with Clarkson University. The epic offensive production continued to the tune of a record-breaking 71-point freshman season, plus a national title with the Golden Knights. Three years into her collegiate career, she is scoring at a higher clip (1.78 pts/game) than Hilary Knight (1.63 pts/game) and Marie-Philip Poulin (1.63 pts/game) did in their NCAA careers.

(Photo Jim Meagher/Clarkson Athletics)

Having followed her career from afar, I was curious to examine the details in her game. From a scouting perspective, I wondered if anything could be done to neutralize her undeniable skills. From a player development standpoint, I asked myself if there was anything holding her back from achieving even greater success.

Style of play

Giguere is somewhat of a throwback in her style. The right-handed right winger works best on her strong side, using her unusual combination of elite size (5’10”), elite speed and elite stick skills to beat defenders one-on-one. She prefers to push up-ice and play behind opposing Ds, less like a modern-day NHL winger than a classic #9 in soccer such as Ronaldo or Ruud van Nistelrooy. Her sterling individual numbers are facilitated by her abilities to either carry the puck up-ice herself or to hunt in open space and make a killer play off a pass.

On the breakout Giguere looks north right away. She seldom wanders from her side of the ice and usually receives pucks at the right half-wall or in the neutral zone after having sprinted out of her zone early. Like a striker she is looking to get on the same level as the last defender, then use a burst of speed to threaten a breakaway.

This approach leads to many high-danger rush chances, but also reduces her availability to help in DZ coverage or to win pucks in low battles. She does not appear comfortable attacking the middle of the ice or changing sides with a lateral play early in her possessions unless she has open ice in front of her. Her speed and skill allow her to be effective nonetheless, but this can become an issue against better competition at the professional and international levels of play.

In the neutral zone, Giguere is one of the most dangerous attackers I’ve seen in any league. In offensive transition, Clarkson plays a conservative scheme, with wingers generally sticking to their side of the ice and the defensemen sitting back rather than up in the play. This gives Giguere space to make individual plays and build speed on OZ entries.

On the defensive side of the puck, her straight-line speed gives her ample opportunities to steal pucks and turn the other way. Off broken plays, her gift of finding soft spots on the ice and making quick reads make her devastatingly effective. You cannot turn over pucks in the NZ when #7 is on the ice. This is a powerful deterrent for possession-oriented teams as they may need to simplify (i.e. make themselves less effective) against Clarkson.

In the offensive zone Giguere has some opportunities to improve. She is a volume shooter with enough power and deception in her release to beat goalies from range. Her strength and aggressiveness also give her an advantage in net-front battles. But her wall play and her ability to create passing sequences for teammates leave to be desired. In small areas, she sometimes gets stuck on her inside edges, unable to cut back and extend the play in the face of pressure. After getting off the wall with the puck, she too often defaults to attacking the net by herself instead of identifying a open teammate early and establish a dual threat (shoot or pass). Hayley Wickenheiser talks about being a bull in her early career and reinventing her game in her late-twenties to be like a spider, and that’s something Giguere will need to consider in order to grow her OZ game.

How to Shut Her Down

  • Be aware that she is on the ice - know that she likes to get pucks in specific spots

  • Jump on her and get tight early when she is on the right half-wall in her DZ

  • Expect her to make individual plays on her side of the ice - she is not likely to change sides

  • Be your best self! She will get her looks because she is a great player but if we just break even with her on the ice, we can win the other half of the game and come out with two points.

Beyond Clarkson

Clearly Giguere’s DZ and OZ game have room for improvement. But I still find it peculiar that the 23-year-old has not been asked to represent Canada in international competition after scoring seven points in five games at the U18 level. Offensively she already compares favorable to Poulin and Knight, the best of the best in the women’s game for the past decade. Any gains she makes in her fitness, defensive play and attitude will simply make her even better, more like Wick.

Let’s put it this way: Canada is doing every other country a favor by not forcing them to game plan against this atomic-level threat. American, Swedish, Swiss and Finnish coaches are sleeping easy tonight knowing they won’t have to account for #7 in future competitions. They won’t have to modify their systems to play safer. They won’t have to take on less skilled players just so that they can try to intimidate Giguere physically. If you don’t want Giguere on your team (and work with her to help her reach her potential), I trust that it means you don’t want to win. And that would be such a shame, because she has every opportunity to become a great Canadian scorer, player and leader - like Wickenheiser, Poulin and soccer’s Christine Sinclair before her.

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