For many people, the sport of hockey is fast-paced and action-packed. From intense skating to hard-hitting body checks, hockey players need to be aggressive, skilled, and strategic in order to win games. But what about the center? What does a center do in hockey that sets them apart from other positions on the ice?
If you’re new to hockey or just curious about the game, this article aims to help you better understand the role of the center position. To do this, we’ll take a look at some of the most popular and successful professional hockey teams out there and examine how their centers contribute to their success.
From Sidney Crosby to Connor McDavid, there are plenty of NHL stars who have dominated the center position throughout their careers. By learning from these pros and observing their playing styles, we can gain insight into what it takes to play this critical role on the ice.
“Centers are often considered the quarterbacks of the hockey world, responsible for leading their team’s offensive charge and orchestrating plays up and down the ice.” – Justin Morrissey
In addition to exploring various center strategies and techniques, we’ll also cover the basics of the position itself such as faceoffs, defensive responsibilities, and key skills like passing and shooting. Whether you’re an experienced hockey fan or someone looking to learn more about this exciting sport, this article has something for everyone.
Positioning on the Ice
A center in hockey plays a crucial role in both offense and defense. A center must have excellent skating ability, stickhandling skills, speed, endurance, and good shooting ability to succeed at this position. The center is responsible for taking faceoffs, setting up scoring opportunities for teammates, shutting down the opponents’ attacks, and maintaining positional awareness at all times.
Offensive Zone Positioning
When in the offensive zone, a center’s primary responsibility is to create scoring chances for themselves and their linemates. Centers are usually the playmaker on their line, meaning they are trusted with the puck more than their wingers or other forwards on the ice. Their positioning depends on the specific play that is being executed; different strategies require different positions for the center.
- On the rush: If a team has gained control of the puck in their own end and are attempting to move it forward quickly, the center should skate into open space near the middle of the ice and wait for a pass from their teammate carrying the puck. This allows them to receive the pass in a prime scoring area with speed already built up.
- In the cycle game: When one player carries the puck deep into the offensive zone and tries to maintain possession by passing back and forth with their linemates, the center will often set up camp around the top of the slot. From here, they can keep an eye out for any openings created by their wingers cycling the puck down low, as well as take shots if they get fed the puck in the high slot.
- Behind the net: In certain situations, the center may be asked to set up behind the opposition’s net. This can be useful when trying to throw off the opponent’s defenders, as well as opening up shooting opportunities for the center or their teammates stationed in front of the net.
Defensive Zone Positioning
In the defensive zone, a center’s primary task is to cover opposing forwards and prevent them from getting into scoring positions. Alongside other defensemen on the ice, centers must work together to protect their goalie and keep the opposition at bay. The center will often have different duties depending on whether they are playing man-to-man coverage or operating in a zone.
- Man-to-Man Coverage: In this type of defense, each defending player is assigned an opponent who they need to stick to whenever they are on the ice. The center, being one of the best skaters on the team, usually gets tasked with covering the most agile and dangerous offensive player from the opposing team. A center playing man-to-man should always try to stay between their own net and their mark as much as possible while limiting their space to receive passes or take shots.
- Zone Defense: A more passive approach to defending, zone systems require defenders to monitor specific areas instead of focusing on particular players. This system allows the center to play closer to the blue line, anticipating any attempted passes that may be coming through neutral ice. Centers must be quick on their feet and ready to jump in the passing lanes when necessary without exposing their side of the ice too much
“As a centerman you’ll be expected to contribute offensively but must also backcheck diligently and cover your point men.” -Steve Yzerman
A center plays a crucial role in both offense and defense. Their positional awareness and ability to handle the puck makes them one of the most versatile players on the ice. Whether it’s creating scoring chances for themselves and their teammates in the offensive zone, or defending the opposing team’s top players while taking care of their own defensive duties in their end of the ice, centers must possess a keen understanding of positioning as well as both individual and team responsibilities to be successful.
Faceoffs and Winning Possession
As one of the most important positions in hockey, centers have a lot of responsibilities beyond just scoring goals. One of these responsibilities is being able to win faceoffs and gain possession of the puck for their team.
Stance and Technique
The first step in winning a faceoff is having the right stance and technique. A center should start with their skates shoulder-width apart, with their back foot slightly behind the front foot. They should also have their stick blade flat on the ice, ready to make contact with the puck as soon as it’s dropped.
When the puck is dropped, the center should use their entire body to push forward and try to win possession of the puck. This includes using their legs, arms, upper body, and even their head if needed. Practice makes perfect when it comes to finding the right balance and technique to get an edge over the opponent.
Reading Opponents and Anticipating the Puck Drop
Winning faceoffs isn’t just about physical strength and skill, though; mental preparation and strategy play a big role, too. Centers need to be able to read their opponents and anticipate when the puck will be dropped, so they can position themselves properly and react quickly.
This means studying opposing players’ tendencies and moves during past games or in real-time while observing them from the bench. By anticipating their movements, a center can increase their chances of winning faceoffs and putting their team in a good position to score.
Winning Possession and Getting the Puck to Teammates
Once the center has won possession of the puck, their next goal is getting it to their teammates. This means passing quickly and accurately, while staying aware of the opposing team’s players and their moves. Centers must also be able to skate quickly down the ice, past defenders, and into scoring positions.
One important skill for centers is being able to “draw in” opponents by faking like they’re going one way, then quickly changing direction and heading towards the net. This can open up opportunities for their teammates to score, or even give the center a chance at a shot on goal.
Defensive Strategies for Faceoffs
Winning faceoffs isn’t just about offense, either; defense plays a key role as well. When taking defensive faceoffs in their own zone, centers need to focus on clearing the puck out of danger and moving it up the ice to prevent the opponent from getting a shot on goal.
One strategy that centers and their teammates may use when defending against an opposing center is called the “tie-up”. This involves both players tying each other up so neither can win possession immediately after the puck is dropped. The rest of the team then swoops in to try and gain control of the loose puck.
“It’s 90 percent mental, 10 percent physical when I’m taking a draw.” – Jonathan Toews
As the captain and center for the Chicago Blackhawks, Jonathan Toews knows firsthand how important winning faceoffs can be in leading his team to victories. By focusing on the mental aspect of faceoffs, he aims to gain an advantage over his opponents and bring the Blackhawks closer to another championship title.
Playmaking and Assists
A center in hockey is often responsible for creating plays that lead to goals. This involves playmaking and providing assists to teammates.
Passing Techniques and Timing
One of the key skills a center must possess is excellent passing techniques. They must be able to provide quick, accurate passes to their teammates in order to create scoring opportunities. Additionally, centers must have impeccable timing. Understanding when to make a pass is crucial to successful playmaking.
“A good center needs to have excellent vision as well as soft hands. His mind has to work quickly so he can make instant decisions on whether to shoot or distribute the puck” -How to Hockey
In addition to these technical skills, it’s important that centers build strong relationships with their linemates. Building trust and understanding between teammates allows for more effective communication and coordination on the ice.
Reading the Ice and Anticipating Openings
The ability to anticipate openings and read the ice is a critical skill that all good centers must develop. Essentially, this means assessing the movements of opposing players and identifying potential gaps or weaknesses in their defense.
“Great centers are always thinking about where they need to place themselves offensively to maximize the chances of making a big play. They’re also thinking constantly about the opposition and how they can exploit any vulnerability.” -Hockey Reference
By anticipating openings, a center can position themselves advantageously and prepare to receive a pass from a teammate. Center’s role in attacking seems simple enough–get behind the defenders, break out ahead of the opponents, get into their defensive zone and then start trying to score goals.
All of these elements come together to enable a skilled center to take control of the game and drive their team to victory.
- Passing Techniques: quick, accurate passes are key
- Timing: centers must know when to make a pass for maximum impact
- Anticipation: reading the ice and anticipating openings allow centers to position themselves advantageously
- Playmaking: effective playmaking requires strong relationships with teammates that build trust and understanding
These skills require years of dedication to develop and hone. However, by committing time and effort to improving, anyone can become an effective center in hockey – whether it be in professional leagues or just friendly neighborhood matchups!
A center in hockey is often responsible for scoring goals and contributing to their team’s success on the ice. Scoring goals requires a combination of shooting techniques, positioning, creativity, and strategy that are essential skills any top-performing center must master.
Shooting Techniques and Accuracy
To score a goal, centers need to have strong shooting techniques and accuracy. Centers should practice different shot types such as wrist shots, backhand shots, slapshots, snap shots, and deflections. Shot selection depends on various factors like distance from the net, angles, and positions of the opposing defenders. A reliable technique with accurate aims could help them achieve more goals.
One way to improve shooting accuracy is to aim at specific targets. Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews uses small tire holes as targets during his practices, hitting the target 10 times before moving onto the next one. This technique offers precision and concentration benefits while aiming for more profound locations.
Positioning for Rebounds and Deflections
The ability to position oneself effectively allows the center to be in the right place at the right time to receive rebounds and deflections off the goalie pads or other players’ sticks. It also helps them anticipate passes, creating scoring opportunities. An offensive player who knows how to put themselves in ideal scoring positions (i.e., high slot, net front) can make all the difference for their team.
For this reason, many coaches stress the importance of being quick at spotting chances by teaching their team’s centers pay attention to open areas around the net they can exploit to their advantage when given the opportunity.
Creating Scoring Opportunities for Teammates
An excellent center does not just focus on scoring on their own but has the vision to create chances for their teammates. They must be proficient in both passing and stickhandling to play effectively offensively.
One crucial ability of accomplished centers is knowing when, where, and how hard to make passes. Accurate passes, particularly around the net or powerplay situations, can set up goals and help their team win games. For example, Wayne Gretzky earned over 1,900 assists by being opportunistic with his smart passes.
Strategies for Beating Goaltenders
The goaltender might be every center’s nemesis, but there are a few strategies that effective ones employ to give them an advantage on the ice. Centers will often watch film of opposing goalies to figure out their playing style and adjust their shooting accordingly. Some prefer aiming low on the corner side rather than aiming directly at the goalie as it gets more challenging to track pucks through screens.
Pavel Datsyuk, who won two Stanley Cups while playing center for the Detroit Red Wings, was known for using deceptive moves against goaltenders, such as fake shots, dekes, and backhanders, to confuse them before releasing the actual shot. This technique makes it tougher for goaltenders to predict the direction of the puck making it harder for them to block it.
- Key Takeaways:
- – Scoring goals requires proper shooting techniques, accuracy, positioning, creativity, and strategy.
- – Centers should practice various shot types and aim at specific targets to improve accuracy.
- – The importance of positioning allows them to receive rebounds and anticipate passes creating scoring opportunities.
- – Accomplished centers also know how to create chances for their teammates with accurate passing and stickhandling skills.
- – Strategies to beat goaltenders include studying their playing style, aiming low on corner-side shots and deceptive moves before releasing the shot.
Backchecking and Positioning in Transition
As a center, one of your important defensive responsibilities is backchecking. Backchecking involves coming back on defense to help out your defensemen and pick up the opposing team’s forwards who are trying to get into scoring position. It is crucial that you maintain good positioning when transitioning from offense to defense. This means keeping yourself between the puck carrier and the net while staying aware of where your teammates are on the ice.
An effective way to improve your backchecking abilities is to watch video footage of NHL games and study how experienced centers track their opponents without sacrificing their defensive coverage. By understanding and practicing proper backchecking techniques, you’ll be able to limit your opponent’s chances in the offensive zone.
Defensive Zone Coverage and Clearing the Puck
When playing as a center, it is essential that you contribute defensively in your own end by covering zones and clearing the puck. You will need to support your defensemen by effectively defending your assigned area during play. Knowing your role and communicating with your teammates will make all the difference as everyone works together to shut down an opponent’s attack in the defensive zone.
To clear the puck from your end, you can use a number of techniques such as making a hard pass off the boards, carrying the puck out of the zone yourself or using a reverse sweep check along the boards. Ideally, clears should be clean and go the length of the rink so your team has time to changes lines.
Blocking Shots and Taking Away Passing Lanes
In addition to backchecking and maintaining proper positioning, another key aspect of playing solid defense as a center is taking away passing lanes and blocking shots. Your job is to reduce the space for players looking for a shot on net, and disrupt their passing game. If the opposing team can’t pass the puck around you, they will not be able to create scoring opportunities.
When blocking shots, it is important to keep your stick down so that the puck doesn’t go over or under it. In addition, use proper technique when sliding to block the shot to prevent getting injured. By taking away these options from opponents, you’ll force them to take low-quality, inaccurate shots which are easier for your goaltender to deal with.
Penalty Killing Strategies and Techniques
“A wise man once told me we win as a team, and lose as a team.” -Mike Modano
Lastly, penalty killing is critical at all levels of hockey, especially in professional leagues where referees’ calls tend to favour power-playing teams. As a center, you may have to fill this role along with other members of your team when a teammate draws a penalty. An effective approach is to effectively communicate with your teammates as an early help defender during penalty kills.
You must be aware of how much time has elapsed while shorthanded, and exert pressure quickly with short passes when breaking into the offensive zone. This combination of quick passing and aggressive checking prevents the opposing team from setting up structured attacks and creates more room for counter-attacks. Success in defending can lead to confidence building momentum shifts creating great scoring chances.
As a center focusing defensively on your duties like backchecking, transitional positioning, clearing pucks, blocking shots, taking away passing lanes, and penalty-killing helps limit opponent’s opportunities providing reliable support throughout every aspect of the game.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the responsibilities of a center in hockey?
A center in hockey is responsible for several tasks, including winning face-offs, setting up offensive plays, and taking part in defensive plays. They must also communicate with their teammates to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Centers are also expected to score goals and make assists, making them an essential part of the team’s success. They must be able to read the game and react quickly to changes in play. Overall, a center is a crucial player on the ice who must be able to perform multiple roles to be successful.
What skills are required to be a successful center in hockey?
Being a successful center in hockey requires a range of skills, including good skating ability, excellent stickhandling skills, and a strong understanding of the game. Centers must also have good communication skills and be able to work well with their teammates. They must have strong endurance and be able to maintain their energy levels throughout the game. Centers must also be able to read the game and predict where the puck will be, allowing them to make quick decisions. Overall, a successful center must have a combination of physical and mental skills to excel on the ice.
What is the role of a center in offensive and defensive plays?
A center in hockey has a critical role to play in both offensive and defensive plays. On offense, they are responsible for setting up plays, making passes, and taking shots on goal. They must be able to read the game and anticipate where the puck will be, allowing them to make quick decisions and create scoring opportunities. On defense, centers are responsible for backchecking and helping to prevent the opposition from scoring. They must be able to communicate with their teammates and work together to defend the goal. Overall, a center is a crucial player in both offensive and defensive plays on the ice.
How does a center work with other players on the ice?
A center in hockey must work closely with their teammates on the ice. They must communicate with their wingers and defensemen to ensure that everyone is on the same page and working together towards the same goal. Centers must be able to read the game and anticipate where their teammates will be, allowing them to make quick passes and set up scoring opportunities. They must also be able to provide support to their teammates and help defend the goal. Overall, a center must be able to work well with others to be successful on the ice.
What strategies does a center use to win face-offs?
Winning face-offs is a critical skill for a center in hockey. To win a face-off, a center must have good timing, quick reflexes, and a strong understanding of the game. They must be able to anticipate the drop of the puck and use their stick to gain control of it. Centers may use different strategies to win face-offs, such as tying up their opponent’s stick or using their body to block their opponent. They must also be able to read their opponent and adjust their strategy accordingly. Overall, winning face-offs is an essential part of a center’s role on the ice.