Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Hockey 101: Position, position, position!

If you’ve read Hockey 101: Absolute Basics, then you’re already familiar with what a hockey rink looks like and what most of those lines mean. If you’ve seen a hockey game, then you know that players have a tendency to skate around with the puck. But what are they all doing? It may look like a bunch of guys with sticks punching each other, but you’ll be pleased to know it is all done in an orderly fashion.

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.

Centre (Forward)
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.

Offensive Lines
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.

Defensive Pairings
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.


  1. One thing to note:
    A "usual" hockey team has two scoring lines, then one checking line, then an energy line.

    On the Leafs, the scoring lines are:
    Kessel-Bozak-Versteeg and MacArthur-Grabovski-Kulemin (I think they switched these up now, but whatever). You'll hear the phrase "top six forward" thrown about sometime and this is what they're talking about. The top six forwards are the ones who carry the offensive responsibilities.

    Then there is the checking line. For Toronto, this is Armstrong-Brent-Sjostrom. The checking line might be able to pot the occasional goal, but mainly they're there to prevent the other team from scoring. The third line is usually two-way guys or defensive specialists. They might match up against the other team's top line and they'll also usually see some time on the penalty kill.

    Finally, there's the energy line. That's Brown-Zigomanis-Orr in Toronto. These guys don't hit the ice often, but when they do, they bring the pain. Their role is to provide that extra boost of energy, hitting hard and yes, dropping the gloves. The fourth line is also where a team might have a specialist. In the Leafs case, Zigomanis is a bit of a faceoff whiz, which is always good to have handy.

    Usually your top line will see 20 minutes+ of hockey and see shifts on the powerplay. Your second line will clock in 16-18 minutes and maybe some powerplay time as well. Your third line will see 15 minutes or so and penalty killing time and then the fourth line will see under 10.

    With defensemen, you'll have your top pairing who might see as much as 30 minutes/game (half the game on the ice), with time on the powerplay AND the penalty kill. Your second pairing will clock in around 20-25 minutes and the third pairing makes up the remainder. Again, you might hear the phrase "top-four defenseman" and that just means he's a guy who gets the bulk of the work on the blue line.

    You usually see two real roles for defensemen: the stay at home guys and the offensive guys. The top pairing guys can play both roles, they can move the puck, jump up on a rush and keep things under control in their own end. Usually your bottom pairing is stay-at-home guys. They might not be able to score many goals or carry the puck up the ice, but basically you just want them to go out, keep things simple, take care of business in their own end and not screw up while the main guys get a rest.