One of the things I noticed when I started playing rec hockey was that guys really, really liked to play their position.
It’s a generalization of course, but it seemed that for forwards, there were three lanes – left, center and right – and that was the area of ice players occupied. Guys would come off the ice yelling “right side, right side!” and the right winger would jump on to take the other right winger’s place.
In pro hockey you still change for your position, but once you’re out there you’re generally just a forward, with a starting designation on faceoffs, and a lane to cover in your neutral zone defense.
On the forecheck, the first guy on the puck is F1, regardless of his actual designated position.
The second forward in the zone – F2 - will read the play. If F1 got body on the d-man and is in a puck battle, that second guy will try to fish the thing out. If the d-man got solid possession, he’ll take away the strong-side boards. With “keep it out of the middle” drilled into everyone’s head, it’s the most likely place the puck is going.
F3 also reads – he heads to the slot area and stays above the opposing center, but if the puck goes corner to corner, he’ll go down on the puck while F2 will rotate wall-to-far-wall (he’s reading to get the jump on that), and F1 will come up to the slot (again, above the center).
You always need that guy high.
Once you get the puck, any thought of positioning outside of “keep a guy high” is basically thrown out the window.
On defense, it’s not necessarily the center who goes down low, as is often thought. It’s supposed to be whoever is back in the d-zone first, F1. If the natural center is covering for a winger who was F1, they can switch whenever they read it to be a good time. If there wasn’t one, then you’re stuck, but coverage is perfect.
F2 goes directly to the slot, no conversation. If you’re a right winger coming back as F2 and the puck is on the right side, congrats, you’re heading to the slot and are now a left winger.
It’s also why players who can’t think the game kill your team. You come up through minor hockey and don’t learn rotations, so some guys have the lane thing burned into their brain. Suddenly you’re all scrambling to cover for a guy in the wrong spot.
It’s not a cut at rec players in any way – I damn well don’t care about rotating on the forcheck now that I don’t have to, so it makes sense to stick to a lane.
Right wingers, left wingers and centerman – they’re all just forwards.