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What's a forward? A wing? Which line is which?

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Question: What's a forward? A wing? Which line is which?

OK, you can't get more basic than this: What is the difference between a forward and a wing, and what is a 2nd, 3rd and 4th line of offense?
- Diana in CA

Answer: Hockey player positions and line combinations can be confusing for the new fan.

Centermen, left wingers and right wingers are all referred to as "forwards." It's a catch-all term and a useful one, because many forwards can switch between the three positions depending on the needs of the team.

Most teams have set forward lines. Broadly speaking, they are arranged as follows:

  • The first line features the three highest-paid, highest-scoring forwards on the team.
  • The second line, not quite as rich or skilled, is also expected to score.
  • The third line shuts down the opposing team's first line and chips in a few goals.
  • The fourth line is counted on to check, fight and take up space while the real hockey players take a rest.

    Those are general guidelines, which teams tinker with. For example, most teams try to spread out the scoring a little by dropping one of their best forwards to the second line. Also some coaches constantly juggle their players, especially when things aren't going well. And line combinations change during power plays and penalty kills.

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