No matter what level of hockey you currently find yourself at, there’s no doubt you find it more fun to win. And to make that easier, you need to be in the right places on the ice.

We’ve all played with the kid who skates like Duncan Keith but can’t think the game – he’s the one who sees a puck rimmed around the boards and takes this angle…

….instead of this angle.

Don’t be that guy making things more difficult than they need to be.

Today we’re going to take a look at where forwards should go off after a lost draw at center.

Keep in mind, this varies depending on what system your team plays, but very VERY few employ a 2-1-2 in the neutral zone. That’s uber aggressive, and for my money, still less effective than the 1-2-2. D-men won’t have much more of a problem passing the puck by two guys.

So! Let’s get to it.

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In a neutral zone forecheck, the “1″ part of the 1-2-2 has a simple job – he needs to take away the D-to-D pass by getting his stick in that lane, and use proper angling (don’t skate right at the guy) to drive the D-man with the puck up the wall and into the winger, who is on the offensive side of center. That’s just a touch important – if you let that guy gain the red, the puck’s in your zone.

The draw is in the middle of the ice (leaving both sides as options for your opponent), so the centerman goes through after losing the faceoff and angles the puck up the side it was won to (unless they snuck in a D-to-D before he could get through, obviously).

The winger on the strong side locks on to his guy, staying with him until it becomes clear the defenseman with the puck is coming up his side of the ice. When that happens, he releases the opposing forward to his defensemen, and pressures the puck.

The weak-side winger comes across and gets above the opposing center in the middle of the ice (probably should be more “on” that guy in the diagram), leaving the opposing weak side winger for the defense in the event that the puck miraculously makes it across the ice untouched.

In general, the wingers rotate being on the boards in front of the red, and being on top of the center in the middle of the ice, while their center plays Golden Retriever chasing a tennis ball in the middle. He’s not trying to steal it, he’s just trying to influence the play.

Having all five of your players on one side of the ice only happens when it’s clear that the defenseman is coming up the wall – if everything happens in a bang-bang manner without things clearly going to one side, one of the defenseman can step up on the centerman that your center left while the wings hang onto their checks.

The 1-2-2 is basically a neutral zone dare. We dare you to try to go all the way across the ice with a pass. Hockey – North American hockey, for sure – is all about simplicity. Chip the puck a zone ahead a zone ahead a zone ahead…. getting fancy is too risky in a low scoring game like ours. (Incidentally, this is why I value “difference-makers” so much – those elite guys, those above just “very good” players are able to create something where most guys just think “get it a zone ahead and I’m good.” They’re not satisfied with advancing a single zone.)

So overall, you want the puck undeniably coming up one side, and a quick, easy transition into the 1-2-2.

The weak side defensive d-man just reads – if the puck goes up the wall, he sags back to support his partner. If it gets rimmed into the zone, he’s on retrieval. If they work it over to the far winger (almost always via the other d-man), he can try to get up and get pressure on the left-winger before the red line. And, the centerman is always pressuring the puck, since the back d-man is no threat.

How about the job of a centerman? He’s often the “1″ in a 1-2-2. He’s often the low guy in the d-zone. All three forwards are involved in offense low in your opponent’s zone. They play all 200 feet of the sheet, they take draws….if you’re not seeing a trend here yet, it’s this: centerman are very important, and work much harder than any other skater on the ice.