Tactical Breakdown: EV Zug (Swiss NL)
Workshop 47 Recording
Nicknames can be ironic.
When I was a kid, I read about the late NASCAR driver “Tiny” Lund, who got the moniker from being 6’5”, 270lb in a sport tailor-made for the vertically challenged.
Nicknames can also be hyperbolic.
Take “Riverboat Ron” Rivera, the NFL coach who got a reputation as a gambling man simply for punting slightly less often than average on fourth downs.
Today I’ll introduce you to a man little-known outside of European hockey circles, and tag him with a nickname you’ll hopefully never forget.
I didn’t know anything about Dan Tangnes until Thibaud Chatel of NL Ice Data turned me onto the Norwegian-born, Swedish-developed coach who has a knack for getting the most out of a middling roster. A former third-division forward in Sweden, Tangnes transitioned to high-level coaching at 26 and has been at it ever since.
Tangnes’ most recent tenure is his most successful.
The defending Swiss NL champs suffered a significant talent drain to the off-season. Top transitional forward Gregory Hofmann signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Captain and No.1 D Raphael Diaz, a Zug native and former NHLer, jumped ship to HC Fribourg-Gottéron.
Still, Tangnes has his 2021-22 team punching above its weight in all areas of 5v5 play.
To prove a point, Thibaud sends me some proprietary data from NL Ice Data’s exceptional online platform. At the time of writing, Zug is the fourth-best possession team in the NL (53.6% xGF). The team achieves that result with effective puck and player movement in all zones.
Zug leads the NL in controlled DZ exit percentage while maintaining an above-average success rate.
Zug only completes passes to the slot at an average rate, but is the second-most active NL team at attempt high-danger passes.
Zug’s OZ forecheck is a major weapon, stopping opposing breakouts on a regular basis while accounting for 38% of the team’s offensive threat (as measured by xGF).
In terms of NZ forecheck, Zug is the most hermetic team in the NL.
Across the board, Tangnes’ team grades out as a conventionally strong one.
The way he gets his players there, however, is unusual, idiosyncratic, and dare I say a little mad.
DZ Coverage: Box + 1
By NHL standards, EVZ’s in-zone play is a unicorn. Tangnes’ team overloads the strong side of the ice on low cycles and pressure the puck on high cycles, but there is an old-school wrinkle to how Zug does DZ coverage.
DZ Breakout: High Wall, F3 wide, WSD Active
Compared to its DZC, Zug’s breakout is far more elegant than it is chaotic. Players stretch the ice vertically first by pushing out of the zone and by playing the puck north, but the F3 and the weak-side D are very much present, leading to interesting change-of-side opportunities in the NZ.
OZ Forecheck: 2-1-2+
The Madman from Olso earns his nickname. Zug employs the most aggressively deranged OZ forecheck I’ve seen in my career, one that’ll surely get an NHL coach fired by New Year.
OZ Play: Behind the Net/Short the Zone
The pattern of maximum risk taking is perpetuated in Zug’s OZ possession. Below is an explanation of why playing behind the net can lead to scoring chances for both teams, and how I would do things differently.
NZ Transition: D Inversion/Activation
The most interesting, valuable and applicable part of Zug’s possession play is how it gets Ds involved in the rush. A throwback to the Soviets’ transition patterns, but with a modern twist.