Winger in hockey is a forward position of a player whose primary zone of play on the ice is along the outer playing area. They typically work by flanking the centre forward. Originally the name was given to forward players who went up and down the sides of the rink. Nowadays, there are different types of wing men/women (wingers) in the game — out-and-out goal scorers, checkers who disrupt the opponents, and forwards who work along the boards and in the corners.
This position is commonly referred to by the side of the rink that the winger normally takes, e.g. "left wing" or "right wing."
Offensive zone play
A winger's responsibilities in the offensive zone include:
- fighting for the puck in the corners
- positioning themselves in front of the net
- making plays to open teammates
Wingers should (typically) not:
- fight for the puck in the same corner as his or her fellow winger
- chase the puck down low in his own zone
Aggression is key to being a winger; games often hinge on the grit and determination behind players who relentlessly fight for the puck and harass opponents. This is not always how a winger plays. He could be a winger that only plays for assists and goals. This sort of play holds the immediate goal of keeping the puck deep in the offensive zone, and the longer term goal of exhausting the defense and scoring a goal. This is usually referred to as hemming the opposition, as in "the opposition is hemmed in their own end". Wingers who play very physically are known as grinders for their ability to literally grind opposition against the boards until the puck squeezes out.
Wingers tend to "plant" themselves in front of the net, usually to distract or screen a goalie, attempt a deflection, throw the defense into disarray, or draw a penalty. It is a common tactic for teams on the power play to plant a winger in front of the net and attempt to deflect a slapshot past the goalie.
Defensive zone play
A winger's responsibility in the defensive zone is to:
- wait for a pass from his or her teammate
- intercept a pass to the opposing defenceman
- attack the opposing defenceman when he/she has the puck
A winger should (typically) not:
- play deep in his or her zone
- help out his/her teammate along the boards
Wingers should be playing high in the zone, and always be vigilant for a breakout pass or a chance to chip the puck offside. When a winger receives a pass along the boards, they can exercise a number of options:
- Bank the puck off the boards or glass to get it out of the zone
- Redirect or softly pass the puck to a rushing forward
- Shoot the puck out to the center line to another forward who can either set up an attack, or dump the puck into the offensive zone to summon a line change
- Carry the puck themselves to attempt a breakaway or an odd man rush
Wingers are usually the last players to backcheck out of the offensive zone. On the backcheck, it is essential that they cover the last free opposing player rushing in. Once the puck is controlled by the opposing team in the defensive zone, however, wingers are responsible for covering the defenseman on their side of the ice.
During faceoffs, it is essential for the wingers to occupy the opponent they have been assigned. Although the centres are the only official participants in the faceoff, anyone can charge in for possession of the puck once it hits the ice, thus making it essential that every opponent is too tied up to fight for possession.
Once the faceoff is clearly won, wingers can set themselves up into appropriate position.
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