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To the casual observer, face-offs may seem like an unimportant part of hockey. But they are actually an essential part of every hockey game. Are you struggling in the face-off dot? Or maybe you’re new to hockey and curious about how to win a face-off? Look no further. This helpful article tells you all you need to know about face-offs and the top tips on how to win them.
You win a face-off in hockey if your team gets possession of the puck off the draw. This occurs when a centreman either wins the puck to a teammate, or if the centreman initiates a puck battle that their team wins off the face-off. The centreman can win a face-off using strength, quickness, and hand-eye coordination. A mix of all three yields the best face-off approach. But if you lack one of the skills, you can still lean on particular strategies to win a draw.
What Is a Hockey Face-Off?
A face-off is a play in hockey where the referee drops the puck between the centremen of the opposing teams. Face-offs occur to begin each period of a hockey game as well as after every stoppage in play. A face-off is also sometimes referred to as a “draw.”
The phrase “puck drop” would also refer to a face-off. Each face-off is either won or lost by one of the two centremen. The victor of the face-off is determined by which team recovers the puck off the draw.
What Are Face-Off Rules?
Face-offs are held on one of nine spots (usually called “face-off dots”) on the ice. The dots are all the same size except for the one at center ice, which is smaller than the others. Face-offs that open a period or that come after a goal is scored are always taken at the center ice dot.
On an offside or neutral zone puck out of play stoppage, face-offs will occur at one of the four dots in the neutral zone just outside of the blue lines. For stoppages in the two team zones, there are two face-off dots per team zone where face-offs can happen. Face-offs also automatically begin in the penalized team’s defensive zone when it takes a penalty.
Face-offs occur when the referee drops the puck. The play clock resumes, whether to start a period or after a stoppage, only once the referee drops the puck at the face-off. The two centremen taking the face-off must keep their feet within the designated width and proximity from the face-off dot that is allowed by the markings surrounding the dot.
Their sticks also must not begin at a point further than the small marking that is cut into the red face-off dot. The referee will police the stick and skate the positioning of the two centremen.
If a centreman repeatedly violates these rules, the referee will kick them out of the face-off. At that point, one of the centreman’s teammates steps in to take the face-off. Centremen must also not go for the puck or attack their opponent’s stick until the puck has been dropped.
If a centreman attacks early, the referee may blow the whistle and drop the puck again with the centreman replaced for the new draw.
Why Are Face-Offs Important?
Face-offs happen dozens of times in a game. Each and every one of these face-offs functions as a puck battle that one team wins and the other loses. Teams that win more face-offs begin to play with possession of the puck.
Puck possession is a pivotal component of the game – without puck possession, you’re not going to get any shots or goals. In other words, puck possession wins hockey games. Face-offs contribute to puck possession.
Face-offs are always important, but they’re especially relevant when you are in either the offensive or defensive zone. A won face-off in the defensive zone means that you’re on your way to suppressing an offensive zone opportunity for the opposition. A won face-off in the offensive zone means you’re on your way to creating a scoring chance for your team. Each statement gains double importance when there’s a power-play.
A power-play face-off win can lead to more time for high-quality scoring chances for an offensive team. But a win for the defensive team means they can ice the puck quicker and kill off more penalty time.
How To Win A Face-Off
1. Have A Clear Goal.
Believe you can win every face-off and take enormous pride in it. You win a face-off when your team gets possession of the puck off the draw. A face-off is won if a centerman cleanly draws the pucks to a teammate and the team gets possession. Sometimes the two centremen scramble the face-off, and the puck is only recovered by one team in the scrum. This still counts as a face-off win for the centreman’s team.
2. Create A Face-Off Strategy.
A centreman may also technically “win” the face-off even if their team loses possession of the puck. This could occur if the center pushes the puck to their winger, but the opposing team’s winger jumps in and steals possession.
3. Learn How To Win At All Locations.
Keep in mind that centremen try to win the face-off to different spots in different areas of the ice. Most of the time, the center attempts to simply win the puck back to one of the defensemen. A face-off win to your defenseman is always the safest play because defensemen don’t line-up beside an opposing player like the wingers do on the face-off.
But especially when a team is in their defensive zone, the centreman will try to win the puck away from their own net. This means that for defensive zone face-offs, the center aims to win the puck to their winger on the boards or straight back to their defenseman behind them or in the corner.
4. Know Your Strength and Establish a Power Position.
It is also important to keep in mind your “strong side” when taking a face-off. Nearly all players will say that their strong side for face-offs is their backhand. This is because players have more strength when drawing the puck back rather than trying to dig it backward on their forehand.
Many centers also prefer to overturn their bottom hand on the stick for the face-off. This adds strength to the backhand face-off motion and puck battle on their strong side. This means that right-handed centremen are on their strong side for face-offs at dots on the right side of the ice. Left-handed shooters are on their strong side for face-offs on the left side of the ice.
Centre ice face-offs are neutral because the centremen can win the puck to whichever side they prefer. It is not uncommon to see NHL teams exclusively use players to take face-offs on their strong sides – especially in the defensive zone. This means that sometimes even wingers will substitute in just for the face-off to relieve centreman on their “weak side” face-offs.
Face-Off Win Tips
The act of taking a face-off can be a mix of strength, speed, and hand-eye coordination. A combination of all three will make you the best at taking face-offs, but all three aren’t necessarily required for success in the face-off dot.
1. Hand-eye Coordination
Hand-eye coordination comes into play on the face-off because you’re timing your stick with the puck as the referee drops it. Centremen try to dig in for the puck with their stick just as it’s about to hit the ice. A face-off win can depend on this hand-eye coordination and how fast a center can touch the puck.
This timing and race method is the most standard approach to a face-off – though it is not always the best one.
Face-offs often aren’t as smooth as one center outracing the other to a clean win. This is why strength is a major factor in face-offs. Face-offs routinely become puck battles between the two centremen.
The puck may bounce as it hits the ice. Or, more commonly, both sticks will arrive at the puck at nearly the same time, causing a battle of strength with the sticks. Once the face-off becomes a puck battle, winning the draw may come down to the centreman who is stronger. Wingers may also converge on the face-off dot in support if the puck drop turns into a scrum.
How to Win a Face-Off with Strength
If a centerman knows that they’re not fast enough or skilled enough to win a clean face-off, they may deliberately turn the face-off into a battle of strength.
1. To do this, the center attacks the stick of the opposing centerman when the puck is dropped, rather than only going for the puck. This move can surprise a center who would’ve otherwise just tried to outrace you. This attack move can include lifting the stick of the other centerman or quickly trying to drive it out of the way with your stick.
2. The strength move is also largely foolproof because if you get the opponent’s stick, there’s no way they can entirely win the puck before a 50/50 battle ensues. Just make sure you don’t jump the gun too early, or you’ll get kicked out of the face-off.
3. However, if your opponent notices that you consistently use the attack method, they may lift their stick away from your attack and steal the puck when it’s dropped. So you may need to change things up if they catch on.
4. If you’re using this attack method, you can also work your skate into the technique. When the puck is dropped, you can cut forward with your stick and turn your body with your skate into the face-off dot. Your skate will be a stable force to either block your opponent’s stick or end up kicking back the puck to win the draw.
How to Take the Face-Off Forward
There are a few occasions when players can try to take the puck forward right off the draw.
1. One is to try to take advantage of the opposing centreman. You can try to chip the puck just in behind the center as the puck is dropped and pick it up on the other side. This can be an effective move because you know you’re doing it as the puck is being dropped, while the other center is probably just trying to win the puck backward.
Good centremen won’t allow you to make this move, however, because they will also be mindful of keeping body position with you on the face-off. But not all will be ready for the move.
2. If there is very little time remaining on the clock for an offensive zone face-off, the center may try to shoot the puck on the net as the referee is dropping it. This is usually only attempted with a few seconds left in a period because it’s an unlikely -- and desperate -- scoring strategy.
3. Centermen can also try to ice the puck off of a defensive zone face-off while killing a penalty. This isn’t all that common of a move, but it can be mixed in to surprise the opposing center. If you’re trying to ice the puck off a penalty kill face-off, make sure you see a lane to clear the puck out of the zone. This strategy will also require good timing.
What Are Good Face-Off Statistics?
As a centerman, you should always aim to win at least 50% of your face-offs. A number above 50% is seen as successful, while anything below 50% is seen as ineffective. This type of stat can vary depending on the level of hockey that is being played. But for example, in the NHL, the very best centreman usually win up to 60% of their face-offs. But very few actually win 60% and above. Numbers in the high 50%-range do typically lead the league.
Players who especially struggle with face-offs can fall as low as 40% and below. However, if a regular centerman produces a face-off win percentage in the 30%-range, they will usually change positions, spend time practicing face-offs, or have a different linemate take their draws.
Every face-off in hockey is a chance for your team to get possession of the puck. If you’re a centerman, you should recognize the importance of face-offs and devise a strategy based on your abilities. A mix of strength, speed, and hand-eye coordination is a good skillset for taking face-offs.
But strength is often the most important aspect of face-offs. Speed can sometimes outrace strength, but most face-offs come down to puck battles and scrums.