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).

***

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?

***

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.

***

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

Hope you found this helpful.

Comments (29)

  1. This is wunderbar.

  2. I’m forwarding this to all the wingers on my rec team. Myself included. Thanks Bourne.

    • Sent this to everyone on my men’s league team – more please – this is perfect!!!! Now can you teach them how to NOT TURN THE PUCK OVER AT THE BLUE LINE WHILE ATTACKING THE ZONE OR BAD THINGS HAPPEN!!!!!!!?!?!?!?!?

    • rich…ur a turd…

  3. Wunderbar indeed. Keep em coming!

  4. My six-year-old will understand this (clear writing, easy-to-follow diagrams), and will learn from it.

    Now, if he’ll just stop dropping the gloves with nine-year-olds…

  5. On behalf of the worst hockey player in the world, what is a scissor-play? Where you cut up the other guy with a lame joke? Cause if so, I got that down pat.

  6. Good Winger 101 with some small 300 level details.

    Loved the extra comments about where to place a stick on the weak side etc. Anyone winger who’s been in organized (coached) hockey has heard the basic gist of all that but the finer details are things I haven’t heard before and I’ll do my best to practice.

    Neutral zone piece requested. :)

  7. Great stuff here. It’s a crude diagram but it definitely shows where people should be. Thanks!

  8. Unfortunately I don’t have the intuition of a 6-year old so I don’t get some of the terminology.

    For example, I thought “turning it down the wall” and “cycling it back” were the same thing.

    Does turning it down the wall mean doing a tight turn and heading back into the corner while cycling it back means passing it back along the wall to Fraser in this case?

  9. Fantastic. I’ll be going over this with my U10 [it may sink in eventually]. Right now I’m just trying to get him to stop cherry-picking.

  10. Um…sorry to harp on a point so far from ebing relevant to the ones you were making, but Butch Harmon won a PGA Tour event in th 70s and his father once won the Masters, so yeah, he, um…he breaks 90.

    • The article said “can’t break 90″, not “has never broken 90″. It’s commonly known (and quite common for teaching professionals) that Butch’s game ain’t what it used to be. Most of those guys are semi-awful these days, due to various reasons.

      It’s not like Jacques Lemaire wouldn’t blow a coverage or three if he tried to take a shift in practice. Whiteboards won’t try to hit you nor do they move at 20mph.

      • I admit to this being a silly comment and non-debate, lol, but Butch Harmon can still break 90 in his sleep…he’s a scratch golfer. Occasionally plays with students in tour practice rounds, etc…I’ve followed golf passionately for my entire life and must admit, I’ve never once heard that Butch can’t break 90. Not denying someone said it…but it’s hardly a prevalent belief. So there…more wasted, pointless words from me!

  11. Yes please more please.

  12. I wonder if any of the guys on my team will read this and then apologize to me for all the years of yelling at me to cover the point. Hmmm….pointman or cut of the backdoor pass and guard the slot. Seems obvious.

  13. Justin, thanks for another great article that I will be adding to the “Justin Bourne” binder I created for my 12-year-old who I make sure reads, and then re-reads the various articles that you’ve written that I have printed out.

    If you ever find you way to shrink yourself so you can be implanted into a younger player’s brain, we’re willing to be the beta tester…

    Thx,
    Jeff

  14. Excellent post Justin. Keep these and the Systems Analyst column coming. I may not be able to skate, shoot, pass, stick handle, or any other physical thing, but I’ll know what I’m supposed to do!

    Just curious, but have you ever thought of coaching?

  15. soon after dining, swimming inside swimming, using winer, seems a little bit of difficult if you have less time to exercising. However, people today want to find a way to maintain healthiness easily free of paining. All the sports jerseys was became the best choice.

  16. This is exactly the kind of smartassed informative writing that keeps me coming back here!

  17. Even as a goalie I love this! More please!

  18. nice piece….keep them coming!

  19. Nice stuff Bourne. Do you still live anywhere near Hershey, PA? My rec team needs a player like you – badly.

  20. Thank you ! This is exactly the kind of Xs and Os that beer leaguers like me never learned – great stuff. (but next time, please use the Detroit Scum as your bad example – I know it might be hard to find. Ideally, one where Toews scores. Thanks ! )

    -Stephan

  21. It’s probably too late for a follow-up question, but here goes. In the first screenshot Perrault [a right wing who shoots left] is standing in the right spot with his stick pointed up the ice. As a left wing who shoots left, if I were in that spot my stick would be pointed the wrong way, unless I turned away from the play. What do you do in that situation? Slide farther up the slot or try and reach across your body?

    • Hi Cliff-
      I believe what you saying is correct- it is better to have your stick bent the wrong way to cut off the cross-pass.

  22. Keep doing these Justin. We’ll all let you know when it runs its course. (That won’t be for quite some time.)

  23. thanks bryan, great info

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