Ah yes, the hockey player that’s always in the wrong place.
He’s the guy that’s in the corner when the action is in front of the net, and the guy that seems to always get in your way right before you shoot.
He just always seems to get caught out of position.
Maybe this sounds like a teammate or a linemate.
Then again, maybe it sounds like you.
Getting caught out of position in hockey is a big no-no. It can lead to bad plays, penalties, odd-man rushes, and the dreaded ‘goal against’.
The truth is however, that it isn’t all that hard to be in the right place—at least the majority of the time.
Now, if a player doesn’t have at least average hockey sense, his ‘getting caught out of position’ is probably due to not understanding the game well enough.
On the other hand, a player that understands the game and still gets caught out of position might just need a few tips to help him out.
Regardless of how well you understand the game, here are 9 tips that you can use to your advantage to reduce the amount of times you get caught out of position in hockey.
How to improve your positioning in hockey
Some of the following tips are actionable tips that require you to adapt your play style, and others are mental tips that’ll help you be more aware of what’s going on around you.
Implement even just a few of these into your game and you’ll find yourself playing better hockey in no time.
1. Stop the curling
You heard right. Curling might help you keep your speed, but it’s extremely bad for everything else.
By curling, you essentially create a ton of room for your attackers to take advantage of. Great attackers know to use the empty space, and by curling you’re creating a playground of opportunity for them.
Curling opens up passing lanes, creates seems for skaters, and is just all-around dangerous for putting you out of the play and getting caught out of position.
Instead, aim to use stops & starts most of the time. Sure, you’ll lose a bit of speed, but you’ll be a lot quicker to take off in another direction if need be.
This makes getting back into position much easier, and also makes your attacker’s job a lot more challenging.
Minimize the curling, and maximize the stops & starts to not only improve your positioning, but your game as a whole.
2. Head on a Swivel
Another quick tip to help you not get caught out of position—imagining your head is on a swivel.
Sounds weird, right?
It’s actually one of the better pieces of advice you’ll ever get. Too many players ‘puck-watch’—it’s like they have blinders on and only focus on the puck.
As a hockey player, you have to be aware of what’s going on around you at all times.
By imagining your head is on a swivel and able to move freely both to the left and right forces you to scan your surroundings more often.
By doing so, you’ll be able to notice opponents trying to sneak in open areas, take off on breakaways, and walk in for back door passes.
It’s all about scanning your surroundings so you know exactly where everyone is.
Put a little less emphasis on the puck, and pay more attention to the other players on the ice by having your ‘head on a swivel’.
You’ll make better decisions due to taking in more information. As a result, you’ll be ready for whatever your opponents try and send your way.
Just use ‘Head on a Swivel’ as a keyword when you’re away from the puck—it’ll remind you to scan the ice.
3. Always position your body properly
Very much in line with having your head on a swivel is the notion of your body positioning.
Simply put, you should almost NEVER turn your back to the play. Turning your back to the play is much like curling—it gives the opponent a reason to attack you as you’re making it easier for them to do so.
No matter your position, always place your body where you can see the puck and the player you’re defending against.
For example, if you’re a winger protecting the front of the net and the opposing team has control of the puck behind your net, you should place yourself in a way that you can see both the puck AND the player you’re covering (which is most likely the opposing defenseman at the blue line in this case).
In this case, you’d position your body so that you’re facing the side-boards so that to one side you can see the puck and to the other side you can see the opposing defenseman.
If you were to simply face the puck carrier, you’d have no clue what the defenseman behind you was up to—he could easily sneak in for a back-door scoring chance.
Always consider your body positioning, especially when defending!
4. Time your efforts
If there’s one thing I wish I could have learned earlier on in my career, it’s this—you don’t have to go all out all the time.
In fact, it’s actually stupid to do so. Any coach who tells you to ‘skate your hardest each shift’ is doing you a disservice.
As an energy player, I used to skate all out all the time. I was fast, and my job was to hit hard, win puck battles, and use my speed to create scoring chances.
It only made sense to me to skate all out for my entire shift.
Boy was I wrong. My coach sat me down one day and told me not to go so hard and that it was hurting my game.
He made me understand that my body and my legs were going much faster than my mind—I needed to think more and skate less.
I took his advice and it turned my game around—I had my best season that year.
I learned to ‘time my efforts’—skate all-out only when it was the time to do so, and use my head more than my legs.
As a result my positioning improved, I got more scoring chances and more ice time.
Yes, play intense—but only when it’s time to be intense. The rest of your game—when you’re away from the puck—is all about your mind, not your legs.
5. Improve your speed
Improving your speed is a simple way to improve your positioning.
If you’re faster than the average, you’ll be able to catch up when you’re behind the play and make up for positioning mistakes by getting to where you’re supposed to be before it’s too late.
A slow player that has average hockey sense is going to get caught out of position more often than a fast player with average hockey sense. It’s only normal.
If you can improve your speed, your entire game will improve. You’ll also get caught out of position less often as a result.
If you need to improve your speed, you can either improve your skating technique or improve your leg power. Improve both, and you’ll see a drastic change in your game.
6. Be ready on Face-offs
Hockey games can be won or lost on Face-offs alone. They’re extremely important, and if you’re not ready to react once the puck drops, chances are you’ll get caught out of position.
Regardless of your position, you have to know what your job is whether your team wins or loses the draw.
It has to become second nature. Within a half-second of the puck dropping, you should already be in movement towards your proper position.
It’s a simple tip, but an important one nonetheless.
Games can be won or lost on face-offs alone. Be a hero. Not a let-down.
7. Be aware on the bench
This one goes without saying. You have to be ‘in the game’ at all times—even when you’re on the bench.
You need to be aware of the score, the time-clock, who’s on the ice and when they’re coming to change-up so that you can be ready.
All of these factors dictate what you’ll have to do when you get out on the ice.
I mentioned earlier that games are won & lost on face-offs—they’re also won & lost on line changes. If you’re not ready to jump the boards when it’s your turn, you’ll be behind the play.
All it takes is half a second to score a goal. Being ready when your teammate comes to the bench for a change up can mean the difference between being at the right place at the right time to stop an opposing goal or adding a minus 1 to your stats sheet.
8. Know your system
If you play some level of competitive hockey, chances are you have some kind of team system in place.
Be sure to know your system inside out for every game situation—defensive zone plays, neutral zone regroups, breakouts and offensive zone plays.
By knowing your system well (and assuming your teammates do too), you’ll know exactly what your task is in each situation.
This takes much of the guesswork away and lets you focus less on positioning and more on making the right play.
Getting caught out of position is much less of an issue when you stick to the system and play within its framework.
If you play hockey non-competitively and your team doesn’t really follow a system, at least try and talk with your teammates so that you know where they’ll be playing—you can react and fill the gaps from there.
9. Manage your energy
Another easy one—but it’s a biggy.
Most mistakes in hockey come about when a player is tired and fatigued. The more tired you are, the more likely you are to make bad puck decisions, take lazy penalties, and be out of position.
By managing your energy, you can keep your fatigue level in check and stop any of this from happening.
You can do this by keeping your shifts short, eating a good pre-game meal and drinking enough liquids to make sure you’re well hydrated throughout the entire game.
Don’t let your shifts run too long—you’ll find yourself fall more and more behind the play, and that’s when bad things start to happen.
Sometimes it’s better to change earlier rather than later. Keep that in mind next time you’re out for a skate.
That’s it for your 9 tips on helping you stay in good position out on the ice! Got a friend that needs some positioning help? Share these tips with him to help improve his game!