How can you get your team to execute line changes during a game without looking like a Keystone Cops routine? Too many coaches seem to think that players inherently know how and when to make line changes when, in fact, they don’t. During a game there are going to be many times when your team has to execute an On-The-Fly line change and it is very important that they know how to accomplish that task.
At every level the entry to and exit from the bench will tell a lot about your teams cohesiveness and team chemistry. If you can execute timely line changes you can very easily catch your opponent with tired players on the ice. In hockey you want your players skating hard during their entire shift. That expenditure of energy will take a lot out of a player so a shift should be 40 to 60 seconds and no more. Getting your team to understand that concept is one of the hardest jobs any bench coach will face because every player thinks they still have something in the tank at the end of a shift. How often have you seen a player skate slow on the backcheck at the end of a shift only to have him turn on the gas when he picks up a loose puck? Now when he gets into the offensive zone he is completely out of gas and unable to backcheck and causes your team to defend an odd man rush. What about the right wing who doesn’t come to the bench when the center and left wing come? Now your lines are out of whack and the next right wing is on the bench getting angry at the player still on the ice because he is being selfish. Team cohesiveness is an essential part of hockey and the line change is a place where you can make or break that cohesiveness.
As a coach you need to set boundaries of what you feel is the appropriate length of a shift and how to exit the ice without putting your team in jeopardy. A few points to consider
- A shift should be 40 to 60 seconds
- You should change when entering the offensive zone, NOT when returning to the defensive zone.
- On a “Dump and Change” the far side wing and defenseman should hold their ground to make sure the opponent doesn’t have the ability to breakout up the far side. Once they know that the puck is deep and not coming right back out they should finish the change.
- Officials will give a team a 10 foot cushion near the bench when changing. Take advantage of that and have the players entering the ice over the boards as the players exiting the ice reach that 10 foot line. Keep in mind that this is best when the puck is deep in the opponents end, not when the puck is in the neutral zone and able to be knocked over toward your bench.
- When changing lines with the puck near your bench make sure your entering player waits for the exiting player to get to the boards or you could get a “Too Many Men” penalty.
Logic dictates most line changes. The more dangerous a situation appears to be for the opponent to generate a scoring chance the less likely you will begin a line change. As an example when the puck is in the neutral zone you should only change the players near the bench and the rest of the players stay out to defend against a rush from the neutral zone. If it means players stay on the ice a little longer then you would like, that is better than giving up an easy scoring chance. The best thing is to teach your players to be unselfish and get the puck deep into the opponents end when you are at the end of a shift so the team can get fresh legs on the ice.
Quality line changes can keep your team tempo at a high level and put pressure on your opponent. Don’t forget to include this often overlooked part of every game in your practice plan.
Here is a simple drill you can run at practice to work on the line change.
The above drill is a PDF file so it may take a little longer to open.