Thread: Playing Center
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11-03-2012, 12:47 AM
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I don't know what level you're playing, but based on the phrasing of the OP I assume you're in a beer/rec league situation. Everything below is written from that perspective.

One thing I found out early is that centers should be the most legitimately good all around hockey players among your forwards. So often I see guys playing there who have no business doing it, because they have winger teammates who are harder working and smarter and better skaters. Those teams lose a lot, because Mr. "I like taking faceoffs and touching the puck a lot" is still crossing the blue line while an opponent is scoring right in front of his goalie. A center who can't make it to the low slot at both ends on every trip up the ice is going to sink his team all by himself.

It took me a little while playing center to realize the importance of providing puck support for your teammates. Defensively you literally have your defenseman's back; you can't afford to drift around looking for guys to cover. Basically you have to play defensively as if you're in a 3-on-5, maintaining that triangular position and restraining yourself from rushing out to the point or corners (unless, of course, you're coordinated with your teammates in doing so). Not only will you force your opponents away from the slot, but the important thing I didn't realize early on, you will get a LOT more chances to start a counterattack. Being the second guy from the puck means you're the first passing option on a turnover. Again, bush league centers will go sprinting ahead rather than provide that important short pass for their teammates, which kills their teams' transition games and leads to even worse defensive efforts.

Offensively, it kinda depends on your wingers. If you have good skilled teammates who can create their own chances, life is pretty easy at center. Just don't turn the puck over and give your wingers the same level of support you give your defense at the other end. If you have to carry more of the offensive load, communication is hugely important. I would recommend telling your wingers to crash the net from the weak side, which means you always know where they are going to be if you run out of options and just need to put the puck on net. It's tough to be a playmaker unless you know where your wingers are, and beer league environments aren't the most coordinated situations.

The biggest takeaway: seriously, give your teammates puck support all the way up and down the ice. It's amazing how often the puck comes to you if you're simply staying in good position and providing proper outlet passing options.

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