The three forward positions on a hockey team are generally known as center, left wing, and right wing. And up until the 1980s, the players in those positions generally acted as if the names themselves dictated where they should play: The left wing generally stayed on the left, the right wing on the right, with the center between them. Even today, in beer-league hockey, you might hear a player yelling at a teammate to “Stay on your side of the ice!”
But the weaving, free-flowing style of the dominant Soviet hockey teams of the 1980s showed the limitations of that rigid left-right system, and over the ensuing decades, North American hockey came to adopt more and more of the Soviet philosophy. Today, the term “left wing” describes little more than where a forward stands during a face-off.
Instead, most coaches prefer to describe the forwards as F1, F2, and F3, and a single player might occupy all three positions over the course of a single shift. That’s because the F-system describes where a forward is in relation to the other two in a given situation, rather than which part of the ice they are responsible for covering.
Today’s F-System in Hockey: Playing the Zone
F1 is the first forward to enter the offensive zone—no matter where on the ice they’re ‘supposed’ to play. The next forward to cross the blue line is F2, and then F3. The same system applies in the defensive zone. That means that during a transition, the player who was F3 in the defensive zone, may become F1 in the offensive zone because their starting position was higher up the ice. A similar situation often happens in reverse, as a player goes from F1 on offense—perhaps digging for the puck in the corner—to F3 on defense. So a forward’s role in both the offensive and defensive schemes is determined by when they entered the zone.
F1 is usually carrying the puck, chasing a dump-in, or forechecking. In the first two scenarios, F2’s job is to put themselves in position to help or receive a pass, while F3 supports the other two. Depending on what F1 does, F2 might set up in front of goal or at the face-off circle. F3 might hold in the high slot or skate to the back post. So the roles of F2 and F3 are to react to whatever F1 does.
While they are in the offensive zone, the three forwards should think of themselves as the points of a triangle. By doing so, they create a formation in which anyone with the puck has two possible passing options. The triangle may continually change shape, as long as the options remain open. So the players without the puck should be constantly moving into open space as F1 and the opposing defenders move. Don’t simply skate into the offensive zone, take up a position, and wait for something to happen. Instead, continue to get yourself into the best position to receive a pass and support your teammates.
These are basic tactics, and there are many variations on and deviations from this setup. We’ll cover situational tactics and formations in later posts.