Change is good. But how does it work? In hockey.
May 20, 2010 7:37 AM   Subscribe

Change is good. But how does it work? In hockey.

Okay, I came to being a hockey fan later in life but have watched it with great regularity for about ten years. (Go Flyers.) I've even been to many games. But even as I grasp things like neutral zone traps and half-wall power play strategy, one seemingly simple thing escapes me: How do they change lines?

I see guys jump over the wall and guys come off the ice but what is the process? Does the coach yell out it's time to change? Do the players just know generally they should come off at their earliest opportunity after 90 seconds or so? How do the players know who they replace? Does the way they line up on the bench play into this? How do they switch up line combinations or skip the fourth line? How do they arrange it so certain players are on the ice when certain players from the other teams are on the ice?

I suppose this is second nature if you've played. I haven't. Can someone help a brother understand?

Oh, and Go Flyers.
posted by lpsguy to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The coaches signal who's going on at a time (you can see them leaning in sometimes on TV to a player on that line.)

Line changes happen at regular intervals (on dump ins, largely) but sometimes players will get "caught" by the play and be unable to change with their linemates. This leads to some players being "desperately in need of a line-change."

Most times, defense and offense change at different times, however a well-executed dump-in can result in the whole unit getting off at the same time.

How do they arrange it so certain players are on the ice when certain players from the other teams are on the ice?

This is a key element of coaching strategy, both before a faceoff and during a spontaneous change. Players often watch for other key players to hit the ice and recognize its their turn to switch at that point.
posted by Hiker at 7:41 AM on May 20, 2010

It isn't always perfectly synchronized. There have been more calls of "too many men on the ice" these playoffs than we usually see. Some player has to take a two-minute penalty if his team is caught with six men in play, even briefly.

(Go Habs Go!)
posted by zadcat at 8:19 AM on May 20, 2010

The coach almost always calls for a line change, telling the players on the bench who's going out next, then signaling to the players on the ice to dump the puck and/or change when they can.

On faceoffs, the home team gets the right to put their line out last (unless they have just been called for icing, in which case they cannot change), which means that they can send out the right matchups. During the flow of the game, it's what Hiker says.

Yes, players will sometimes get caught not being able to change, or a particularly good defensive pairing (Pronger/Timonen) might stay out for a shift and a half. Like Hiker said, all five players won't necessarily change at the same time.

Let's go Flyers (clap clap clapclapclap).
posted by moviehawk at 8:33 AM on May 20, 2010

Response by poster: Okay, so the coach 'signals' for a change. He tells the guys on the bench to get out there. How do the guys on the ice know to dump and head over? I mean I sat by the bench once and thought I'd hear yelling to the guys on the ice to get off. But nothing. It all just happened. I understand getting caught in a change, and even how the home team takes the end closer to their bench in the final period ... but I still can't tell how the communication takes place. I should add I drink beer during all of this so that might have something to do with it. Do they change when they see me drink?
posted by lpsguy at 9:03 AM on May 20, 2010

Well, generally shifts only last a minute or so. When the guys get tired, they dump the puck and start a line change. The play by play guys, and even people who watch a lot of the game, know when a team's gonna change, given the chance.

That being said, players don't always change when they ought to. Ovechkin is known to stay out longer than she should sometimes, just because he's a me-first kinda player. And on the Canucks, the Sedin twins (who have incredible stamina for longer shifts anyway) will often stay out longer if they've been putting the pressure on and feel they have a chance to score, even if their third "twin" (whoever it is, Burrows or Samuelsson) changes.

Of course, with the new(ish) rules, if a team wanting a change doesn't get past center and ices the puck, then they're no longer allowed to change and have to stay on. And then all sorts of line matching comes into play, when one team is on the ice and tired, and the other can change and is fresh.
posted by cgg at 9:53 AM on May 20, 2010

Best answer: It all just happened.

You'll hear coaches who have theories on short shifts and those which don't. You don't hit the ice without knowing your coaches style, and if you stay out on the ice too long, you'll hear it from the coach.

That's all covered before they even hit the ice. Additionally, players yell at each other on the ice, and signal to one another when they're going to dump a puck in so the other players on the ice know what's happening. If you watch carefully, you'll usually see the following:

1) An outlet pass from a defensemen. They'll not rush up to join the play, instead they'll glide towards the bench (but not so fast as to be caught out of position).

2) The forward who receives the pass will largely find some neutral zone pressure and take the puck to the opposite board, just across center, and shoot it in around the boards. This slows the puck a little on its way down the ice.

3) Forwards and defense race to the bench. Often, one player will stay on the ice to pressure the defense a little bit. It's often the same player on each line who does that, simply because there are better forecheckers than others.

4) At some point, the forechecker will find his way to the bench and the replacement forward will hit the ice.
posted by Hiker at 10:28 AM on May 20, 2010

Best answer: I think the players coming off the ice know when to change more from a combination of how tired they are, flow of the game, and how long they have been out there rather then getting called off by the bench. I think coaches make clear ahead of time how long they expect you to be out there, Andy Murray (formerly coach of the Blues) was known for wanting really short shifts and punishing players who stayed out too long. I guess if you're really skating hard you'll be tired after about a minute. actually has really cool stats that show the time and duration of everyone's shifts per game. Ex: In the last Philly game Chris Pronger took 32 shifts with an average duration of 52 seconds.

I also frequently see guys on the ice signal to the bench that they want a change, so the guy replacing them knows to be ready.
posted by ghharr at 10:28 AM on May 20, 2010

Thanks for asking this question. I went to a bunch of hockey games this year and was wondering the same thing.
posted by drezdn at 10:51 AM on May 20, 2010

As a Flyers fan, I just want to add that if you have been watching mostly the Flyers since you started following hockey, they were god-freaking-awful at line changing for a while, so your confusion is justified.
posted by WeekendJen at 10:58 AM on May 20, 2010

My mother watches hockey only for the line changes. She thinks they are beautiful.

She's right.

Go Wings! Tear up that gold course!
posted by QIbHom at 11:31 AM on May 20, 2010

As a hockey player (in-line for 13 years, ice for 1 year), I agree with what Hiker and ghharr have said. It really depends on who your opponent is and the talent that your team possesses.

For example, my beer league team has an average age of about 33 while most teams in our division have an average age in the early 20's. We have to keep shifts at about 30 seconds between changes to keep up with younger skaters. Our captain (no coaches in beer league) is usually the one to signal changes by shouting 'change D' or 'change forwards.' As others have pointed out above, defense and offense almost always change separately.
posted by goalie_dave at 3:37 PM on May 20, 2010

All the best stuff in hockey happens away from the puck. Remember that and the whole game will open up to you, both as a player and as a fan.

One of the best NHL games I ever saw was LA against Vancouver in the early nineties. it was the only time I ever saw Gretzky play. I spent every one of his shifts watching him watch space. Once in a while both he and the puck would arrive in space at the same time precipitating a cleaveage in the universe whereby order joined LA and chaos joined Vancouver. It was truly the most amazing thing I have ever seen in sports and it gave me great insight into why this man was known as The Great One.

The way hockey is covered on TV, the cameras always follow the puck and you never get to see that. You never see the strategic line changes, the different forces at play on the ice, the space opening and closing, the zones changing, the one on one match-ups, the head games, the raw speed away from the puck and the constant circular flow. It is a game made for Taoists to play and Sun Tzu to coach.
posted by salishsea at 10:06 PM on May 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

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