Ice Hockey Positions

Now that you’ve got your skates, stick, and pads and you’ve learned to skate you need to learn ice hockey positions?

Now that it’s time to start playing a game, you need to know where on the ice everyone should be.

The ice hockey positions are Center, Right Wing, Left Wing, Right Defense, Left Defense, and Goalie.

 Center

The center is a forward position and typically takes the face offs for the team. Center is a demanding position as they are expected to help on defense, carry the puck up ice frequently, and be a leader on the ice. Centers are usually strong skaters who can skate well with the puck and have very good instincts on the ice.

They also tend to be the quarterback or general of the offensive play as a team moves the puck up the ice. The center is frequently the one that carries the puck up the ice, at least initially and looks to make the first play. Often, the center needs to generate openings to pass to the other players by skating with the puck to disrupt the defensive setup of the other team.

Important Skills For a Center

Centers are usually strong skaters who can skate well with the puck and have very good instincts on the ice. At the highest levels, they tend to be somewhat bigger and stronger than their left and right wing counterparts since they carry the puck more often and have to fend off players trying to knock them off the puck. Size also helps in playing defense.

It also helps if the player has good vision of the ice. This means they should be able to identify openings and plays developing and anticipate where the other players on their team are headed. These are skills that come with experience. It also helps to have a center with little bit of creativity on the ice to help generate plays against good defensive players.

Right and Left Wings

There are two wing positions, right and left. Generally speaking, the side a player plays on is determined by whether they are shooting right or left handed. Most players prefer to have their dominant (or bottom) hand to towards the boards closest to them when facing the offensive zone. This allows them to more easily control pucks along the boards and more quickly shoot pucks on goal from a stickhandling position.

However, some players like to play opposite of this. This is usually called playing the “off wing.” It is most common to do during a power play so that a player can shoot quickly off of a pass to them.  It tends to be somewhat more difficult to play defense on the off wing though.

The wings are the most purely offensive positions. They carry somewhat of a lesser responsibility in the defensive zone than the center (although defense is everyone’s responsibility!). Right and left wing players are generally responsible for their side of the ice on defense and don’t often play too deep in their own defensive zone unless they are covering a player with the puck that skates it deep or if they are supporting the defense down low in a critical situation.

While in the defensive zone, the wing’s responsibility is to cover the other team’s defensemen and try to either prevent them from taking a shot from the point or block that show when possible. They should also be the first ones out of the zone when their team get’s the puck back so that they can accept a breakout pass.

Important Skills For a Right or Left Wing

Wingers usually have good shots. They are the players that will be finishing off the offensive play with a shot on goal if everything goes according to plan. They need to have a good understanding of where they should position themselves on the ice to give the player with the puck the best opportunity to hit them with an open pass. Wingers also need to be comfortable going behind the other team’s net and mixing it up with the defensemen to get the puck.

A right or left wing can also be a role player. Some are pure scorers, some are very fast skaters, some are more defensive minded, others are bigger and more physical. Depending on the circumstances of the game, a coach may want to use any combination of those characteristics at any given time.

Defense

It’s pretty easy to figure out what a defenseman’s job is from the name. There are two on the ice normally, the right defense and left defense. Their role is to prevent the other team’s players from getting scoring opportunities in their zone. They work closely with the goalie to keep players out of the best scoring zones and use physical play to move them when necessary. They are also frequently called on to block incoming shots from the other team.

On offense, a defenseman will rarely get deep into the offensive zone. Defensemen typically stay around the other team’s blue line. They are looking to take a slap shot from that position (known as “the point”) if they get the puck and also try to stop the puck from getting out of the offensive zone.

Important Skills For a Defenseman

Defenseman tend to be bigger than the other players on the ice. Many people think the defensemen are slower skaters than their offensive counterparts but often a defenseman has to be every bit as good a skater as the offensive players. They need to skate backwards often at the same or close to the same speed as the offensive players breaking into the zone.

Their size comes in when they are in the defensive zone and attempting to move the offensive players out of the high percentage scoring areas.

Goalie

The goalie is the last line of defense preventing the puck from getting into the net. They are also the only player on the ice that does not come off the ice during the entire game except for some circumstances at the end of the game when a team pulls them for an extra skater. The goalie stays near the net for the most part and stops shots from the opposing team from getting into the net.

The goalie also wears a lot of specialized equipment that no other player on the ice wears. This is both to protect him from hard shots and also to make it easier to stop them from getting into the net.

Important Skills For a Goalie

Goalies have to have tremendous balance on their skates. They need to be able to move very quickly side to side and stay facing the puck. Goalies also need to have good reaction to shots taken by the other team. An often overlooked skill of a good goalie is the ability to understand the proper angles to position themselves at so as to make it harder for the other team to find an opening to shoot the puck through. Good goalies make saves look easy because they were in the right position.

Learning Each Position

As a new hockey player, you should try to take every opportunity you have to play the different positions (even goalie if you know someone that will let you borrow the gear). You often can learn a lot about your own skills in one position by playing a different position. It will help you understand what works best when you go back to playing your original position. You may even decide you like another position better.

Now that you know the positions in ice hockey, it’s time to learn the rules.

Check out our Ice Hockey 101 PART 3: Beginner’s Guide To Ice Hockey Rules.

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