From the very first game of our very first Novice year, Boy #1 knew which of the hockey positions he wanted to play. Unlike his teammates, he wanted defense. He likes defense. He understood defense.
And I’ll be damned but he is good at defense. The first season, someone on the team nicknamed him “The Wall”. Nothing got by that kid. Over the next two years, I learned the strategy of defense while he did. I learned that the blue line is the line to live on. For the first year, he would skate no further than the blue line. Never did he approach the other team’s goalie. This year, he’s been bringing the puck deeper into the offense zone and getting back into his position at the first opportunity. He’s learning to carry the puck just a little longer or a little farther. We’re refining those defense skills.
Defense is easy to understand. You keep the puck in the zone and in play. You make sure that you are inside the zone enough to not be playing with offside calls. When the puck is in your zone, you keep the puck away from your goalie, if possible, without blocking the goalie’s sight.
Now this year, we’ve added in a layer of complication. Boy #2 has chosen to play right wing.
Dude, I say to him, I know defense.
But the hockey player heart wants what the hockey player heart wants. And Boy #2 wants right wing. Time for the hockey mom to take her hockey knowledge to the next level.
So here’s what I’ve learned about hockey positions.
First, the offensive zone is where your team wants to be. It’s where your team goes up against the other team’s goalie. It’s where goals for your team are scored. The defensive zone, then, is where your goalie and your defense line work to keep the puck out.
Now with that in mind, we get to the individual positions. There are six players on the ice at any given time barring penalties. As a side note, if you have too many players on the ice, the team has to serve a penalty. And if you are Boy #1, this is a sad and tragic thing that results in you exclaiming to your mother after the game that “it’s like being on time out”.
Ok, so six players. One is the goalie. And that job is fairly straight forward, stop the puck from going in the net. There are five key areas to be able to block. The four corners and the five hole, which is between the legs of the goalie. See? Straight forward…until you are staring down a breakaway and have to decide in a blink of an eye whether to drop or stay up, to move to the right or to the left. And while you’re making this decision, you’d better time it right. A move too fast and you give the opponent the chance to adjust and respond accordingly.
No wonder goalie moms feel nauseous during games.
Next comes the defense. They are typically just inside the blue line to help keep the puck in the offensive zone, as discussed above. And they prevent the other team’s offense from moving the puck to the defensive zone. When playing defense, they are meant to flank their goalie and keep the puck away. It’s almost a mirror of the offense line where your wingers (I’ll get to them in a minute) flank the centre.
Speaking of centre, they start things off at the faceoff and work with the wingers to score. The centre player is often the “lead” of the team, being well into the offensive zone and defensive zone during the game. They play the middle of the ice and they are strong skaters and can handle the puck well.
Your winger positions, both right and left, play along the boards on their respective sides. The majority of the goals scored are as a result of the offense line. The three work as a team passing the puck in a way to optimize opportunities for shots on goal. The wingers move to cover any gaps in the offensive line, based on who is involved in what play. I’ve found it difficult to teach this concept to Boy #2, because a lot of it is based on instinct and the circumstances of the game. When Boy #1 was learning positional play, there was an emphasis during practice on stop-play scrimmages where they would blow the whistle during the scrimmage and then would adjust each player’s position and explain why they needed to be there then.
There is strategy and more in depth explanations around but this is the basic. This will get you started in hockey so that you aren’t sitting in the stands wondering what the heck is going on. As you get comfortable with the basics, know that there is a specific strategy and skill set involved in each position and nuances to each to learn. But that is a lesson for another day. Until then,
See you at the rink,