(Note: with their being no actual hockey games over All-Star weekend, the features “The Whiteboard” and “Systems Analyst” are trading days this week - Systems Analyst will run tomorrow.)

This isn’t the most advanced topic in hockey, but it’s certainly an important one: what are the responsibilities of each defensive player off a lost faceoff in your own zone? A breakdown there often results in a quick goal.

Let’s run through every position.


For starters, the obvious: don’t lose the draw clean. If you can’t win it back, you’re best just tying up the opposing center and let the winger coming through help out. But for the sake of today, let’s say the centerman loses it clean. Here’s what things look like to start:

The centerman that won the draw, the big bad “X” there (or possibly a “K?”), he’ll be doing one thing: heading to the net. The d-man that he won the puck to will likely walk it off the wall (or at least he’s supposed to), and try to get the puck on net, so that center wants to provide a screen or to redirect the puck.

That defensive centerman has to stay with him, plain and simple. He has to lift his stick on attempted tips, maintain body position, all that stuff. Since the opposing center is going to become a low player, it’s only natural that the forward who usually defends low, the center, would stick with him.


The left winger’s job in this situation is the most Usain Bolt-ish, and possibly the most important. He’s lined up on the inside, and his job is to get out to that defenseman who’s about to get the puck. You don’t line up on the wall because you always defend inside-out. You want to keep that d-man on the wall, and out of the middle of the ice.

The LW’s job is also to front, and hopefully block the coming shot. The problem is, the winger lined up on the offensive side of the puck also has a job: to pick you.

Of course, “picks” aren’t legal, but you’re allowed to have an area of the ice and make someone go around you. So that winger will line up “off” the hashmarks, as he just needs to get in your way, and that provides him a better angle. That’s why it’s Usain Bolt-ish: when that puck drops, you have to be ready in those starting blocks so you can hit the hole between him and the center before it closes.

The good news is, he can get some help in that race…


His check just happens to be that pesky guy that’s about to try to close off the left winger from getting out to the point, so he (the RD) can line up a step ahead of the left winger, and help create a hole like a blocker. Obviously “picks” and “creating holes” aren’t legal plays, so you have find a way to do it with some body position, some sneaky stuff.

After the initial flurry of activity, the right defenseman just stays with his guy there, wherever he chooses to go. Pretty simple.


As a reminder, wing is a pretty damn easy position. The weak side winger stays low near the slot, and since the puck is on the strong side, he’s….well, in perfect position. More or less, anyway.

You do want to drift up a little in case the draw isn’t won perfectly clean and your left winger is able to grab the puck so you have some momentum to go support him. Also, you don’t want to make a d-to-d one-timer look too appealing, so you want to front a little higher than you normally would. But still…hard strides aren’t exactly in your near future.



The left defenseman is lined up directly across from his guy, but he has a tough read to make. That wall-side forward he’s covering is likely also going to the net, assuming the other team isn’t running some trick play. So if that forward chooses to go above the pile of centerman, he runs the risk of getting picked and losing his guy:

That means that playing him “soft” is the right option, and going underneath the pile, and picking him back up on the other side:

BUT, you can’t plan on doing that every time, because if he grabs the puck off a slowly won faceoff, you need to go stop that shot.

Also, that forward may choose to go under the pile, so all in all, it’s a read play – that’s your guy, be sure to stick with him.


It’s pretty basic when all goes according to plan, but when one thing breaks down – the left winger can’t get out to his guy, the left d-man loses his… – it can put your team in a tough spot awfully quick.

Any questions? Maybe someone wants some art advice?

Comments (14)

  1. What if the centre wins it back to the other D-man in the middle? I usually play right wing, so I typically rush off the faceoff (win or lose) towards that D (to block, or prevent a clean shot/pass).

    Also, I do this no matter what happens in the circle, but if I notice we have won the draw, I immediately angle towards my boards to be ready for the D to wrap it around. That way I am always quick off the draw, and basically heading in the right direction, win or lose. Does that sound ok?

    • Yeah, you definitely want to be aware of staying in your d-man’s shooting lane – I’d be careful about “rushing” out, just because if there is a play at the net and there’s a breakdown, it’d be good to have you there for help. Also, you don’t want your d-man to jump past you if it’s won to the other side. Annnd, you don’t want to put yourself in a bad position for the break-out – getting too far ahead of the play isn’t great for support.

      I’ll say this: you’re fine in your thinking, it’s just that a little patience can go a long way sometimes. I’d say slow it down a step.

  2. Where’s the defensive-zone centre trying to win the puck to in this case? We usually have the left defenceman playing farther back in case his team wins the faceoff…is that totally wrong?

    • No, you’re not wrong at all – it depends on the hand of your centerman, what break-out you’re intending to use, and how much you want to cheat. You can stand all the way deep if you like (as some guys do), but if the center wins the puck to the wall-side forward, he’s got all the time in the world to make a play while you’re trying to play catch-up.

  3. Awesome! Thanks!

    Now I just have to convince everyone on my team that the LW isn’t supposed to be on the wall for the face-off :)

  4. Hey, Justin: ever thought about asking the folks at the Score for some sportsboard software that you can use to draw up these posts? It’s not tremendously expensive (around $40) and it’ll let you create some better graphics.

  5. I have one suggestion – can you use a different color for each team, and not just the Xs? Makes them easier to pick out.

  6. Great teaching as always Justin! I really enjoy the explanation segments, and have been forwarding them on to my Rec League squad.

    Ironically, we gave up two goals directly from faceoffs in our D-Zone last night (still won), so this topic could not have come at a better time.

    Keep up the great work!

  7. JT what do you think of having 1 D back at the bottom of the circle? I ask because I find in minor hockey leagues I watch/coach, a lot of the “top-end” centres usually try to push the puck ahead and create something behind the goal line, or look for the straight pass across the goal mouth. Like I said, I only bring it up because sometimes in minor hockey there can be such a disparity between players that it can be extremely difficult for an inexperienced centre to cover his responsibility on his own.

  8. wait, so if i tell my beer league team that when we have a face-off, they are sposed to win it by pulling it back to our players, not whack it hard to the opposing players?
    hmm, maybe that had something to do with us going 0-10 in our last session….

    i am so going to make them read this. May even print it out and make them all read it…

    great stuff

  9. great piece. Keep it up.

  10. The yellow scribble on the white background is about impossible to read. all the positions look like the same incomprehensible yellow blobs. Use a contrasting color and use real text and arrows.

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