Like others have discussed, handedness can make a huge difference for defenseman. The difference is the reach. The defenseman's handedness will often complement which side of the ice he plays. If, for example, he plays the right side, being a left-handed shooter means his right hand will be at the knob of the stick; consequently, he will be using his right hand to reach for pucks. Such a scenario becomes challenging when facing opposing players, as the defenseman in question will lose quite a bit of reach towards the middle of the ice. A right-handed defenseman playing the right side will be able to reach further towards the inside, though he loses the ability to one-time pucks from across.
The attacking left winger would be more likely to attack from the outside if left-handed and more likely to cut inside if right-handed. Depending on the handedness of the defender, that winger could have an easier time beating the defenseman if the defenseman's handedness does not match the attacker's handedness. For example, a left-handed defenseman playing the right side would struggle much more against a right-handed attacker than a right-handed, right-sided defenseman defending against a left-handed attacker if both forwards in question tried beating their respective defensemen to the inside. With so many advantages and disadvantages depending on the attacker's handedness and the defender's handedness, some defensemen can not adapt as well as others. Those who can skate better, who are better positionally, have more size, or who have longer sticks can try to compensate for being wrong-handed against a forward. There is no question there is an advantage in some scenarios depending on the defender's handedness, however.
Offensive defensemen will often want to be able to one-time, thus they lose some reach towards in the inside. Defensive defensemen will want to have more reach towards the inside, thus will have the same handedness as the side they are playing. A smart defenseman will use the boards to compensate for their lack of reach to the outside, and will use their bodies and be physical to squeeze out the attacker. Open ice hits are much more difficult, and so having a longer reach towards the inside is perhaps more favorable.
Edited by WeatherWise, 26 September 2012 - 12:21 PM.
The greatest segue into a weather segment.