This is one of a series called Hockey 101, addressing the basics of hockey positioning and systems appropriate for a beginner to intermediate player and their team.
Even Strength Defensive Zone Positioning: Centers
The position of the center in the defensive zone is the most difficult position and carries many different responsibilities. The responsibilities may be summed up briefly:
- Cover the third attacking forward (be a third d-man)
- Support your defensemen covering the net front slot.
- Maintain a support position during battles, look for loose pucks in the deep zone (yellow area).
- Attack puck carriers moving through seams and scoring areas (green area).
- Stay “d-side” on the open forward.
- Be available to move up through the middle during a breakout.
A very simple demonstration of a center’s basic support positioning away from the puck is demonstrated in this Hockey Canada training video:
However, it is important to realize that the defensive role of centers varies greatly depending on where the puck is and where the defensemen are.
Puck Down Low & Corners
When the puck is behind the goal line or in the corner and a defenseman is attacking the puck carrier, the centers job is to provide support as well as prevent the outlet pass into a scoring area. He should be available to pick up a loose puck, but he must keep his body facing both the puck and the third attacking forward at all times and maintain “d-side” against that forward.
Support the Near Post
If multiple players are below the goal line, or the play is behind the net, it is common for the center to move to support the near post (on the “strong” side- where the puck is located), while the weak side defenseman supports the far post.
Puck Switches Sides
When the puck moves and defenders switch coverage, the center provides critical support in the scoring area during the switch. If there are any lapses in coverage, he must pick up the open man. If the opposing team has brought multiple players into the scoring area, he should occupy passing and shooting lanes and support the front of the net.
Puck Through the Middle
The center is a critical position for stepping up and attacking the puck carrier in the middle of the ice. When the puck moves through the circles, the center must be aware of which position the puck carrier has come from.
This is a critical position as an attacking forward moving through the middle of the circles is too high for a normal defenseman to cover and too low for a strong side winger to cover.
Puck Carrier Already Engaged
If the puck carrier is in a scoring area already covered or engaged by another player, the center should identify the remaining open position and cover that position instead.
Normally, that means that the center drops to man-on-man coverage to engage in close checking with the uncovered player (usually the third attacking forward). He should become the third defenseman and control the crease and scoring area with “d-side” position.
In a scramble or broken play, the center will generally fall back to the slot and assist defensemen in front of the net.