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Hockey FAQ: Forwards, Defensemen and Goalies, Oh My!

Another installment here, for the fundamentals of who does what. Enjoy.


The forward lines are composed of two different types: centers and wingers.

Centers are the players who take the majority of the faceoffs (i.e. Brayden Schenn, Ryan O’Reilly). This is one of the most important and hardest skills to learn, as taking faceoffs can be practiced, but it does a center little good; each centerman on each team has his own way of taking a faceoff, and it is only by playing a game, against another center from another team, that a player can learn another center’s unique style, and can win faceoffs against him. Winning faceoffs is imperative for gameplay, as all plays begin with possession of the puck, and winning the faceoff normally guarantees that your team has possession of the puck first. Centermen are usually the playmakers of the group and direct the plays. Some centers have the unique ability to play both the center and the wing; they are good all-around players. Most find it easy to switch to wing if necessary. They make good wingers because they already know the plays being made. However, due to their natural affinity to “make things happen”, they may reach their highest point of success in the center position, instead of the wing.

Wingers are usually specialists (i.e. Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz). They are on the team for specific reasons, depending on what their speciality is. For example, Tarasenko is a shooter: he takes slapshots and focuses on getting the puck to the net as quickly and efficiently as he can. Schwartz is a “puckhound”: he chases the puck, retrieves the puck, and steals it whenever possible. His smaller size and agility account for faster speed. By outpacing and outmaneuvering his opponents, it creates space for him to dish it to his centerman (Schenn), or his shooter (Tarasenko), or to make a play for a goal himself. Wingers can play center. However, unless they are good at faceoffs, they’re not usually used in this fashion; taking faceoffs is one of the hardest skills to learn, as it can only be done during gameplay, and wingers do not focus on that skill as much as centers do. Also, like a centerman, a winger’s natural affinity for his specialized role can lead to better results at the wing.


Defensemen are just that: defenders (i.e. Alex Pietrangelo, Vince Dunn, Colton Parayko). They prevent the other team from making plays and scoring goals. They disrupt, interfere and break up plays, using their bodies, sticks, skates, and the perimeter of the ice (known as the “boards”). These players were traditionally some of the tallest and heaviest, “big bodied” players on a team, but because the game has become more streamlined for speed and dexterity, some defenders are smaller, faster and more agile. Smaller and faster defenders can still defend their own area of the ice, but they are also fast enough to join in on a play and participate as an unofficial “fourth forward”. These same defensemen can quickly fall back into their area of the ice if gameplay reverses.

Defensemen are not known for their goal-scoring prowess persay. However, their effectiveness in doing so helps the team win games. Most goals are scored by forwards (as that is their job), but goals from defensemen can be the difference between a win or a loss, as every goal counts to win a game.


Goalies have the hardest task: they have to keep the puck out of their net (i.e. Jake Allen). They do this by using their sticks, skates and pads. They have specialized gear: their goalie masks are to protect them from incoming pucks; they wear larger pads on the outside of their uniforms to stop pucks; they use a special catching glove, to catch pucks; their goalie sticks are shorter and wider at the bottom to deflect and play pucks; and on their stick-holding hand, they wear a special padded glove called a blocker. Typically, the bigger the goalie, the larger the leg pads, and the more room they take up in the goal. However, goalies can be of any size, and sometimes, the smaller the goalie, the faster and more agile they are when moving around, which is hugely beneficial during gameplay. Goalies can move anywhere on the ice in front of the net, or in the “Brodeur trapezoid” behind the net (this area was added after the 2004-2005 lockout, and is known as the “Brodeur Rule”. It is to prevent goalies from playing a puck behind the goal line that extends from the goal posts outward to the boards), with restrictions. Goalies cannot go past the red center line. They cannot leave their crease during an altercation. They can go retrieve a stick behind the goal line, but they must return to their designated goalie area. However, most goalies typically stay within their designated goalie area on the ice (known as the “goal crease”).


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