Most any successful team—whether in sports or in business—consists of well-defined roles and positions. If you're wondering what position to play in hockey, or what position your kid should play, a useful start is knowing the ice hockey
positions and their roles.
If you're not already familiar with the positions in hockey, you'll be interested to know a team has six players—three forwards, two defensemen, and a goalie. The forwards include the center and two wing players.
The center has several responsibilities. He or she is responsible for taking faceoffs and for covering the middle of the ice in both the
offensive and defensive zones.
Playing the center position requires excellent skating and stickhandling skills, but a center needs to be a thinker, too. Often a facilitator, the center must understand the flow of the offense, recognize and create scoring opportunities, and set
up the wings for shots.
Since centers are responsible for covering the whole middle of the ice—which means getting back on defense—they need to be in outstanding physical shape.
The wings play along the boards on their respective sides of the ice, their handedness generally determining which side they play. A wing's main job is to score the puck. Since they also often have to mix it up with the opponent's defensemen, they need to be able to play a physical game, too. They often do the hard work of setting screens and blocking shots.
Wings generally have the least amount of defensive responsibilities on the ice, though they must be great at forechecking (applying pressure to the opposing offense to create turnovers.) Instead, their focus is on shooting. They should be fast skaters
with excellent puck-handling skills and able to shoot accurately and hard from all areas in the offensive zone.
Wings should have a great feel for the puck and play opportunistically near the goal. A great winger sees scoring possibilities where others may not, and has the skills to capitalize on their superior vision.
The defense's main job is to stop the other team's forwards from scoring the puck. Defensemen are responsible for clearing the other team's offensive players from in front of the net, for collecting
the puck in the corners, and advancing or clearing it out of the zone.
The best defensemen are tough, willing to sacrifice their bodies, and possess a combination of imposing physicality and smarts. They need to be able to deliver devastating hits, intercept passes, and block
shots. But they also must recognize and understand what the opposing offense is trying to do and counteract it.
When called on to play offense, defensemen must execute accurate, crisp passes and hard slap shots from the offensive blue line.
All positions have a lot of responsibility, but none so much as the goalie. The goalie's job is to stop the puck from going in the net. He's the last line of defense. Goalies stay in their crease for
the whole game (unless they get pulled.)
The best goalies have outstanding hand-eye coordination, and should be extremely flexible, able to contort themselves into awkward positions to protect both posts at the same time, if need be. Bigger players have an advantage at the goalie position,
but must also be quick, with excellent reflexes. Mental toughness is another key attribute of any successful goalie. When a goalie makes a mistake, the other team scores. Successful goalies must have short memories.
They also wear specific goalie equipment, different than what forwards or defensemen wear. Goalie equipment is designed to protect goalies from incoming shots and to help them stop the puck.
So Many Hockey Positions: Which One Should I Play?
Before you make up your mind, try all the hockey positions first. You may find that you like playing defense or that you really love getting suited up for goalie duty. The same is true for your child who might be just getting into the game. Give
them the opportunity to explore the positions and find one that resonates with them. They'll be much happier in the long run and that much more likely to develop a long-lasting love of the game.
As in most sports, the sort of body you have will influence the position you play. In basketball, you don't see many seven-foot point guards or six-foot centers. In baseball, you don't see many beefy second basemen. And while hockey positions don't
depend as much strictly on size, perhaps, as basketball or baseball, body type and general skills do play a role.
Hockey Player Body Size
Centers and defensemen are typically the big kids. Centers will spend a lot of time in the offensive corners and in front of both goals, battling for puck possession and setting or disrupting screens. Defensemen will spend much of their time in
the defensive corners and breaking up screens in front of their net. Aggressiveness, physicality/size, and smarts can be distinct advantages for those who play center and defensive positions.
If you or your child is a speedy, smaller person, a wing position might be a great fit. Wings will spend a lot of time in the offensive zone looking for scoring opportunities, and must be nimble and quick skaters. Wings don't spend a lot of time
below the defensive faceoff circles, but they need a nose for the net.
Skating Speed and Dexterity
All positions require the player to be skilled on their skates, and reasonably fast, too. If you or your child is not particularly nimble or fast, you may not want to make wing the position of choice. Wings
must be exceptionally skilled on their skates and possess the fast-twitch muscles necessary for the quickness, to break down defenses and create open shots. Since creating offense usually has a lot to do with getting ahead of the other team and
opening up the defense, speed's important.
Skaters with relatively heavier feet might do better at defensive positions or as a goalie. Defense is more of a reactive position, with the play coming toward you. Positioning and technique are more of a premium than speed and dexterity.
Even if you're not academically gifted, you may still be an ace on the ice. Much of a player's success comes down to effort and instinct—the elusive ability to be at the right place at the right time, and to make the right play at the perfect
moment. You know the sort of player—they may score hardly any goals, but when they do, it's almost always a critical one. Or they make a decisive play on the defensive end.
If you have an innate sense of what the other player's about to do with the puck, or you can recognize how your team is being attacked, you might do well as a defenseman. Successful defensemen are able to read and react to plays. If you're one of
those players who is somehow always in the right place at the right time, you'll be a desirable commodity for any team, even if you don't score a lot of goals.
If the puck just seems to find you a lot, consider being a wing or center. If you can instantly recognize when you have an offensive advantage; if you have the drive to out-hustle and out-think the other team—and let's not forget: if you love
to put the puck in the net—wing may be your position.
No matter what hockey position you or your child chooses, playing it as well as possible demands a lot of hard work. Before settling on a position, explore them all first. Be realistic about your tendencies and abilities. The position you should
finally play is the one that best exploits your skills.