Today we’re going to talk about positions. You may have noticed that there are always (baring any penalties) six men on the ice. Like every sport known to man, each player has a specific role in the game. Let’s start with the easiest to understand, the goalie.
The goalie is positioned in the front of the net and, yep, tries to keep the puck from getting in. That’s about the gist of it for now. I sometime wonder, though, about the kind of person that signs up to have frozen rubber shot at them at high speeds…
Defensemen are usually paired up, and spend a lot of their time in the defensive zone. As you can tell by their clever name, they help defend the net from any goals. When the puck is in the defensive zone, you’ll see the defensemen hovering around the net, helping to block shots. When the puck is the offensive zone, defensemen will usually be on the point, which is close to the blue line. This way, they can contribute to the play, score, and be ready to return to their defensive positions should the puck turn over.
The centre is one of three forwards on the ice. He’ll be the one going back and forth in the zones the most, as well as setting up the wingers for goals. The centre is also responsible for assisting in defense when the opposing team has possession of the puck. Typically, these players are the most rounded of the bunch, as they contribute both offensively and defensively. Some of the most well known players are centres, such as Gretzky and Crosby.
Left/Right Wing (Forwards)
Left and Right wing players will usually be in the offensive zone more than any other players. While you’ll see the centre go back and forth between zones, the wingers will typically stay close to the opposing net when playing offense, and close to the neutral zone when playing defense. They are organized by what side of the centre they play on, if the centre is facing the offensive zone.
The astute among you will realize that while there are only six players on the ice at any given time, there are far more than six players on a hockey team. For the purpose of the game, players in any given position are organized by line. Typically a team will have four offensive lines on their team. That means that there are four lines of three forwards, with each line consisting of a left winger, centre, and right wing. Got that? Each line has a different specialty. The first two lines are typically your “scoring lines”. In the Leafs, for example, our first line consists of Phil Kessel on Right Wing, Tyler Bozak on Center, and Kris Versteeg on Left Wing. Kessel and Versteeg are two proven scorers, while Bozak is a face-off winner and play maker (at least on our team). The third and fourth lines are usually filled with grinders (players who work hard, fight for the puck, and get in “dirty areas”, e.g along the boards or in front of the net) and the goons that like to punch people.
“What’s up with the lines? Is there any rhyme or reason to when and why they are on the ice?” you’re probably asking. Good question. We have lines filled with high scoring players to get us goals, and lines filled with not so high scoring players to shut down the other team. For example, when Sydney Crosby is on the ice there is no point in pitting Kessel against him. Kessel cannot stop him. At all. Colton Orr, on the other hand, is a big, strong, strapping fellow with a penchant for punching people, and can toss Crosby around a bit to keep him from getting a goal. So when the opposite team’s first line is trying to get a few points you can usually count on seeing our third or fourth line getting in their way.
Like the offensive line, defensemen are also paired up, usually according to their playing styles. This means that “blueliners” (defensemen) who complement each others’ game play will often be on the ice together. Note that defensive pairings will not always be playing with the same offensive lines.
What About Goalies?
Goalies will play for the whole game. Unless they’re playing poorly. Then they’re pulled for sucking.