A quick twitter exchange with @67sound (a great follow) today led to me writing this post on how to play the wing position well. I think a recurring feature has been born.

I played right wing back when I played competitive hockey (I now play “rover with d-zone allergies” in rec hockey), and I like to think I understand the position pretty well.

I like to think that, because I’m aware of this fact: wing is the easiest position in hockey, especially in the d-zone.

I mean, holy hell people, if you can’t play this position moderately well, it’s time to switch to bowling.

But still, there are certain nuances in the d-zone that can make one winger more valuable than the next (outside of raw talent), so let’s go over them. Oh, and a qualifier – it’s been said that Tiger Woods’ old swing coach Butch Harmon can’t break 90 himself, so….do as I say, not as I did (which was float).

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While the rule goes that the first forward back to the d-zone is supposed to play low, it shouldn’t exactly work like that. The rule should be “if the centerman has been stabbed in the heart and is at least two zones away and bleeding out, the first winger back should play low.” So assuming the centerman is alive and able to do his job (it’s “his” because centerman work hard and you don’t, lazy winger), let’s let him take care of that.

So first, let’s talk about being the weak side winger.

WEAK SIDE

Here’s a clip of where Mathieu Perreault stood while being the weak side winger from this morning’s Systems Analyst post:

He’s standing in just about the perfect spot.

Basically, here’s the logic for having the weak side winger be so low: you defend in layers. While most d-zone coverage looks man-on-man, you can’t run the risk of having just one guy get beat and it giving your opponent a clean look on net. So, if one of the three low players on your team gets burned, the winger can collapse and help.

Also, that’s the most dangerous shooting area on the ice. If you’re too high, you allow a soft spot right where you don’t want one. You can still always come out and front the shot if they get the puck through to the weak side d-man (as, in this case, Clifford does to Mitchell before Perreault blocks it) .

Ideally, you should have your stick pointing up-ice so as to deter anyone from forcing a pass through that lane. In the pic above, Hendricks and Perreault both have sticks near that lane (they could be better in that regard), making a pass semi-risky. The LAST thing a coach wants is an offensive zone turnover caused by forcing a pass like that -especially high in the zone with solid possession - so most forwards will turn it down the wall, cycle it back, move it to the strong side d-man, run a scissor-play with the strong side d-man or do ANYTHING else before forcing a pass. (Note: being forced by coaches to make safe offensive decisions does not apply to the League’s elite, who are free to try whatever they want, whenever they want.)

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STRONG SIDE

When you’re the winger on the strong side, you’re mostly responsible for the d-man above you. He’s not to get a shot through.

That sounds relatively easy, except to watch the play, you have to face the wall, so you have to be careful that your d-man doesn’t jump by you. Also, if that strong side d-man runs a scissor-play with a forward and tries to pick you, you have to stay soft on the play to avoid that.

Your only other job is helping that defenseman keep the forward with possession from slicing beneath you to get a shot. It’s a simple matter of cutting that guy off.

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ON THE WALL

If you don’t have time to make a play, you eat it until you have help. Worst-case scenario is you panic-rush an attempted clear and essentially move the puck to the guy you’re supposed to be covering, then get hit. Whose team are you on, anyway?

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THE BREAKOUT 

If you do have time to make a play, things are a little more fun. These words need to be beaten into the heads of all wingers: if you’re the weak-side winger, you provide low support for your other winger. You do not just fly the zone, you do not spread out wide, you support the puck. This works from rec hockey to the NHL.

You’re already low and near the slot, so you should come from below the puck to provide a pass option. If the pass isn’t there, than you’re the guy who skates into a chip or an off-the-glass-and-out play. The center should jump and fill the wide lane (he’s usually a little late, given that he’s probably part of the reason you now have puck possession). After the strong side winger moves it, he’s to fill the middle lane.

The world’s crudest diagram:

I just sent the internet back a decade with that attempt. Sigh….

Anyway, that’s your simple job, winger. The strong side guy with puck possession’s only job is to find a way to best get that puck out of the zone, and ideally to you.

The most important thing on the breakout, if I can recall what my coaches taught me, is MOVEYOURFEET MOVEYOURFEET HOLY $#!! BOURNE MOVEYOURFEET.

You can think while moving, so at least get things headed the right way.

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Maybe next week we’ll take a look at the neutral zone, and beyond that, the other positions.

Hope you found this helpful.