Center (centre in Canada) in ice hockey is a forward position of a player whose primary zone of play is the middle of the ice, away from the side boards. Centers have more flexibility in their positioning and are expected to cover more ice surface than any other player. Centers are ideally faster skaters who can backcheck quickly from deep in the opposing zone. Centers usually play as part of a line of players that are substituted frequently to keep fresh and the game moving. First liners are usually the top players, although some top players make the second line to allow for offensive scoring opportunities.
Offensive zone play
Centers position themselves in front or behind the net.
Front of net positioning If the defense has the puck, the center should use the opportunity to screen the goaltender. A shot can then be taken by a defenceman and the centre can step out of the way or try to redirect the puck on its way to the net with his or her stick.
The centre can also use front of the net positioning to draw a penalty (i.e., cause the opposing team to commit a penalty). This is usually done by maintaining his or her position in front of the net. Because the opposing defence's job is to remove players from the front of the net, the centre's perseverance may force them to become too aggressive in removing him or her, leading to a penalty being called. Centres usually stay out of the goal crease in order to avoid taking a penalty themselves.
Back of the net positioning' When a centre's winger is being attacked along the boards, the centre can position him/herself behind the net to receive the pressured winger's pass. Once the centre receives a pass behind the net, he or she can make a pass to a teammate moving toward the front of the net. The centre can also look for a pinching defencemen to pass to.
Neutral zone play
During a rush, if the winger carries the puck towards the centre, the centre should replace that winger's position and expect a pass. This causes confusion for the opposing players. If the centre is rushing up the ice with the puck he or she should initiate the crossover by heading towards a winger's side.
Defensive zone play
Centres position themselves in front or behind their net.
When the puck is in the defensive zone, the centre usually plays deep and is expected to help the defencemen along the boards. The centre is the extra player in the defensive zone who is expected to pick up any opposing player left open in front of the net or along the boards behind the net. If the centre gains control of the puck deep in his or her zone, he or she usually looks to pass to a winger waiting along the side boards.
The centre should always be prepared for a quick breakout pass by the opposing team. The centre is expected to play the deepest in the offensive zone but also the first of the forwards to backcheck. On the backcheck, the centre should take the first opposing player not covered (usually "the third man back").
It is almost always the centre's job to handle faceoffs for his team (i.e., the referee drops the puck between two opposing players to commence or resume play). Two methods of winning faceoffs exist. One is to look down at the spot where the puck will be dropped, using your peripheral vision, when the referee begins to drop the puck, quickly sweep the puck back to your defenceman. Another method is, rather than looking peripherally, look directly at the referee's hand, and as soon as he moves to drop the puck, try to swiftly sweep the puck to a teammate (usually a defenseman). It is also very important that the centre tie up (i.e., hold or block temporarily) the opposing centre immediately after the faceoff is won or lost. Otherwise, the opposing centre can pressure the opposing puckholder, join a rush, or create a scoring chance.
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