Icebreakers clear paths by pushing straight into frozen-over water or pack ice. The bending strength of sea ice is low enough that the ice breaks usually without noticeable change in the vessel's trim. In cases of very thick ice, an icebreaker can drive its bow onto the ice to break it under the weight of the ship.
Today, most icebreakers are needed to keep trade routes open where there are either seasonal or permanent ice conditions. While the merchant vessels calling ports in these regions are strengthened for navigation in ice, they are usually not powerful enough to manage the ice by themselves. For this reason, in the Baltic Sea, the Great Lakes and the Saint Lawrence Seaway, and along the Northern Sea Route, the main function of icebreakers is to escort convoys of one or more ships safely through ice-filled waters. When a ship becomes immobilized by ice, the icebreaker has to free it by breaking the ice surrounding the ship and, if necessary, open a safe passage through the ice field. In difficult ice conditions, the icebreaker can also tow the weakest ships.
(Text & photo via Wikipedia)
Icebreaking ships are bad-ass pieces of modern engineering. The Soviets even went as far as building a fleet of nuclear-powered ‘breakers to work in the arduous conditions of its Northern Sea Route. Thankfully the rest of the world hasn’t been crazy enough to follow suit.
But what do these massively powerful naval vessels have anything to do with hockey?
Let me explain.
The Toronto vs. Columbus Play-In Series
In a few weeks the Maple Leafs and the Blue Jackets will be playing to extend their respective seasons in a best-of-five series. As Dan Dukart noted in his article for 1st Ohio Battery, the Jackets will attempt to use its stifling 1-2-2 forecheck to hem the Leafs in their zone, thereby nullifying Toronto’s talent advantage and exploiting their relatively porous DZ coverage.
Above is a simple diagram of a ship. Notice how it resembles the shape of a 1-2-2 forecheck.
For me that would be a worst-case scenario given the positive feelings I have for many of the players, coaches and staff members in the Leafs organization.
In addition, I just don’t like the way CBJ plays. Telling your players to lock the game down and work their butt off just to ensure nothing of interest happens for either team is no way to elevate hockey.
We don’t need more of that in the game.
If the Columbus Blue Jackets’ defensive structure is the hockey equivalent of an atomic behemoth mowing down everything in its path, then there is only one solution: we need to sink it.
Sinking an icebreaker
Below is a drastically over-simplified model of our hypothetical icebreaker:
The front-third (bow) of the ship is the ice plow. It is double-reinforced to cut through polar ice and heavy enough to break through almost any type of surface. Good luck getting through.
The middle (beam) is somewhat more vulnerable. Because of the bow’s heavy-duty construction, icebreakers are vulnerable to rotational instability in the beam area, even in relatively calm seas. In addition, the lighter, thinner mid-ship hull is much more vulnerable to hard impacts than the bow. A constant threat to ‘breakers when working is for its beams to be squeezed between two large ice fields, thereby slowing it down and damaging the hull.
The back third (stern) of the ship contains the engine room (red rectangle), which drives the propellers. These are critical components to the running of the ship. A well-placed strike in that area can incapacitate or destroy the entire structure.
Here is Columbus’ 1-2-2. Notice the similarities:
The three forwards form the plow which pressures opposing defensemen on a breakout attempt. Any turnover is quickly cycled into the slot or back to the point men for an attempt on net.
Now the gameplan is clear:
1) Roll off the bow
2) Target the beam
3) Destroy the stern
Above are some video sequences where the Vancouver Canucks successfully employed those three principles against Columbus. VAN lacked execution of their attacks and fell 2-1 in CBJ’s final game before the season interruption.
Toronto should do a better job than Vancouver. They’ll have to find the correct solutions to beat F1 (deception, stiff-arm, skate away), mix vertical and lateral passing to get through the NZ (2 over, 1 up, or a variation thereof), then take advantage of CBJ’s sagging Dmen (Jones, Savard, etc.) to capitalize off the rush.
How they will do it exactly is beyond me, but I think they will be able to do it. Why? Because Matthews, Tavares, Marner, Nylander, Keefe and Dubas are cut from the same cloth.
They are geniuses.
Want more unique analysis of top professional teams?
If you enjoy this newsletter and want to see more free content, consider ordering a copy of my e-book Hockey Tactics 2020, edited by a legendary journalist and illustrated by an artist whose work you have surely already seen. Eight chapters, more timely insights, more timeless principles. Get it now