The 6 Positions in Hockey: What they do (Explained)

Positions in Ice HockeyIf you are new to this great game, you may be wondering what the positions are in hockey and how they work together.

So what positions are there in hockey? Hockey teams need to have at least six players to put on the ice. This normally includes 3 forwards, 2 defensemen, and 1 goalie. Since the sport is so fast-paced and physically exhausting, teams tend to have several groupings of players so they can all take breaks and perform at their best.

One position player, the goalie, stays on the ice through the entire game, but the other players rotate on and off the ice.

Hockey teams need players who are strong on offense and on defense. As hockey players move through the ranks, they tend to specialize in a certain position. This is based on their speed, strength, and puck-handling ability.

The Goaltender Position

Despite the fact that the goalie usually does not leave the ice doesn’t mean that the goalie is an easy position.

ice hockey goalie positionActually, the goalie position is one of the toughest positions to play. The goalie is the last line of defense and is tasked with keeping the puck out of the goal. Teams with the best goalies tend to be the league champions (see this article on goalie importance).

What do Goalies need to be successful?

Goalies need to have top-notch hand-eye coordination because they have to be able to stop the puck both in the air and on the ice.

They need to be able to follow offensive players who move the puck up the ice and they need to have the ability to predict what the players are going to do. While goalies do not necessarily have to be the best skaters on the team, they need to be able to cover short distances quickly. They usually skate side-to-side and forwards and backwards.

Goalies also need to have body positioning awareness to know where they are in the crease and net at all times. They need to know how much space is behind them and what is on either side of them. They also need to be able to have players shoot pucks at incredible speeds, too.

Finally, goalies have to be able to do all of this while wearing heavy pads over their legs, arms, chest, and head. With all of that gear on, it is difficult to maneuver, let alone do it at lightning-fast speeds.


defense in hockeyEach hockey team has two of them and they serve as support for the goalie.

Some teams will employ three defensemen, but two is the minimum number needed on the ice during a regulation game. The traditional defensemen will cover the left and the right, but the third is a creative player who not only can defend the goal, but can handle the puck, too.

One of the greatest creative defensemen to ever play the game was Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings. As a creative defenseman, he handled the puck like a forward, but he was also able to change the course of the game through his defensive prowess. He set the standard for this type of defensive play.

The “Defensive” Defenseman

The other type of defensive player is the big bruiser who is incredibly physical. This is the player who will smash a player into the boards.

Usually, the bruiser defensive player stays in the defensive zone. While this type of player does not have the same agility as the creative defenseman, he is still a highly desirable type of hockey player.

Occasionally, hockey teams will luck out and find physical defensive players who also have agility, speed, and killer puck control.

The Center on Offense

center in hockeyOn the offensive side of the puck, there are three positions that need to be filled. If a team is looking to win games, these three positions must be filled with outstanding players who can manage the puck and skate well.

The center should be one of your best players and most knowledgeable players. This is the quarterback or pitcher of the team. The center deals with face-offs and has to be able to get the puck to teammates. This player needs to have speed and to be able to stop on a dime and fire off a wrist shot.

Often, the centers are the captains of the teams, simply because they are so darn good at the game. They should be able to move the puck and plan out the next several moves on the ice without slowing down. The other players rely on the smarts of the center to get the win.

The Right and Left Wing on Offense

The right wing generally covers the right side of the ice and deals with the left-side defenseman. This player should be able to handle the physical nature of the defensive players and not be afraid to check a player, too. They should be good at receiving pucks and making shots on goal. Most of the right wings are right-handed players.

wingers in hockeyThe left wing does the same thing, but on the left side of the ice. The right-side defenseman is this player’s responsibility. In the past, a left-handed player generally manned this position, but more left wings are shooting with their right hands. The left wing should be able to handle getting into the corners and should be speedy enough to avoid checks from the right-side defenders.

Winger Responsibilities

The left wings and right wings should be able to get into the net and cause some problems for the goalies. They should also be able to protect their own nets by disrupting the play of the opposing teams.

As offensive players, the goal is to get the puck into the net. The best offensive players are those who can break the other team’s ankles on the ice. They should be able to go forward and backward with speed and to quickly move from side to side when needed. They should also be able to move the puck and make it look easy.

Offensive players should be able to make all types of shots.

From speedy wrist shots to powerful slap shots, offensive players should know their ways around the stick and the puck. They should be able to execute any plays that the coaches and the centers devise. And, they should be able to move around the ice despite the defensive players constantly trying to get in their ways.

The best hockey players should also know how to avoid penalties. But, they should also know when it might be okay to spend a few minutes in the box – especially if the penalty is acquired while preventing the puck from going in the net.

How the Players are Organized During the Game

During the game, hockey players are organized into lines and shifts.

The forward line includes the center and the two wings. The defensive line includes the left and right players. Play continues as the lines are substituted. Usually, the offensive lines are substituted more frequently, because they are moving all over the ice. On many teams the offensive lines play for up to two minutes. The defensive lines will stay on the ice for up to five minutes.

Importance of Player Chemistry

Lines are built around players who have strong chemistry together. As teams play, lines are constantly evaluated. Usually, the best players are on the line with the captain and it’s generally called the first line. The highest number line doesn’t usually mean the players are the worst on the team, but they are generally more physical than agile, so they tire out the other team just as the speediest line is getting ready to play.

Conclusion on Ice Hockey Positions

As described above, a main regulation hockey game will consist of 6 players on the ice at a time with the following positions:

  • Goalie
  • Left Defense
  • Right Defense
  • Left Wing
  • Center
  • Right Wing

Each have their own respective skill sets and styles that make up a hockey team.

Want to learn more about the game of hockey? Check out our up to date articles on the Ice Hockey 101 page.