This one falls under “The Basics,” because it really doesn’t take that long to explain.
When your team has three forwards in the offensive zone and solid possession of the puck, you have a lot of leeway from your coach to get creative, and have very little positional rules. Still, when the puck changes sides you want to do it as efficiently as possible, so there’s a rotation.
Priority 1A is keeping a guy high. Let’s take a look at where players will typically be to start, and where they eventually go.
Of worthy note: the more you can change sides (go east to west, as coaches put it), the tougher it is on the defense. They have to rotate, they have to switch checks, and the center becomes like a dog chasing a tennis ball, who you can wear out. Confusion is a plus, so you want to be able to do this well.
Here’s where you would typically start.
F1 has the puck, while F2 supports him low. He can use F2 to cycle, he can use him for picks, either way, they’re playing out their little 2-on-2 down low against the opposing D and center.
F3 is staying high in case of a turnover, but he’s also trying to find a soft spot in the defensive coverage where he can take a ceiling-scraping one-time on a quick pass from F1.
The D, as always, are where the D are. Good D. /ear scritch
So let’s say the puck goes around behind the net to the other corner – maybe the opposing team thwacked it there, or a bad pass sent it that way. Either way, it goes there and your team momentairly loses the puck.
F3 is to become F1, as he’s the closest to that side of the ice, and therefore the puck (I probably have him starting a little heavy on the strong-side in my diagram. You want to be somewhere near the top of the circles though, not in the middle).
F2 is a little tougher to draw because he has reads to make. I had a coach who preferred we went side-to-side without the puck in front of the net; that way if F3 doesn’t win the race to the puck, you’re not trapped as deep on the backcheck. Once he gets there, he has to decide if A) he’s going to be in on the puck battle, or B), his teammate is going to get solid possession and he should pick a side to support him on.
And F1 simply heads out of the corner to become the high guy, the new F3. No odd man rushes allowed.
All in all, it looks like this:
The only time this would be different is if F1 and F2 are in a puck battle while the puck goes side to side (or they just take it side to side), in which case F3 would just come straight across the tops of the circles.
F3 is precisely why teams are so good when they get the lead. When you’re down, coaches often “activate” F3 more, allowing him to take more chances, out-number your opponent on the puck, and get more creative. Once you’re up, well, you just remain dilligent about keeping that guy high, and your opponent never has much of a chance to create off the rush.