Hockey Line Changes
December 29, 2009 by admin
Now, this entry was inspired by a coach asking for some guidance when it comes to changing on-the-fly. More specifically, he was wondering if there is a certain age or level when players can be expected to learn this. So, let me give that a whirl, and let me add as much as I can about making those kinds of changes…
– Dennis Chighisola
Hockey Line Changes
Getting right to that coach’s main question here, my feeling is that the time to teach changes on-the-fly has an awful lot to do with a team’s overall game awareness. Said yet another way, I’ll suggest that youngsters who have their basic skills under control, and those who are able to understand basic positioning should also be able to learn how to make exchanges while the game is in progress. So, I’m guessing that decent Squirt or Atom players should be able to learn it.
As an aside… I asked for some input on this subject, and I received a couple of good suggestions — about things I’d want to be sure to include here. And first to arrive in my inbox was the suggestion from Mike M, who said, “Do them quickly and often to win games.”
Ya, quickly and often, which brings me to the timing of our shifts.
Now, I have to chuckle a bit as I think about how the earliest levels of our game frequently start-out by playing 2-minute buzzer-hockey. The reason I’m laughing to myself is that an awful lot of kids, parents and even coaches believe that sort of timing should continue through later years, with the players staying out there on the ice for several minutes at a whack.
Of course, watching just one pro or college hockey game should change that impression. For, teams at the highest levels probably play something closer to 30- or 40-second shifts. Yup, go out, bust your buns, and then get-off!
When it comes to the timing of shifts, I’d like to insert this personal feeling, as well… You see, while most folks are (rightly) concerned about the length of time players are out on the ice working, I’m as concerned for the players who are sitting. This is a three-pronged thing with me…
- First, players who are sitting for any length of time are physically cooling-off, and I think this gets worse with the length of time they’re off their skates. So, while there’s definitely a need for players to rest and catch their breath, I believe there is a point where time away from the ice becomes a negative. (Is there a greater chance for injury as players sit for long stretches? I don’t know, but I think this ought to at least be considered.)
- Secondly — and this is probably something most members haven’t thought about before… I honestly believe that a player can get mentally out of the game if he or she is away from the action for very long. In other words, I think there’s the real danger that a player can lose his or her focus and intensity during a long stretch away from the ice. Consequently, I think a coach can keep his or her players more alert by quickly getting them back out there — quickly and often, as Mike M says.
- Then, maybe my third point is really a combination of the previous two. For, I know that players like to stay in a certain kind of rhythm over the course of a period — especially my good players, and it’s hard for them to do this unless there’s a reasonable sort of rhythm to their shifts.
So again, as Mike M might say, “Do them quickly and often!”
As another sidebar when it comes to keeping my players in the flow of things… It’s always driven me crazy when my team has suddenly taken a string of penalties. All the above points come into play when that happens, with a number of my guys sitting and getting cold, getting themselves out of the game, mentally, and also getting out of that proverbial rhythm.
Oh, I might add one more thing to the timing of shifts… I usually like to keep the earliest shifts in a period a little on the short side. I want to get everybody a quick taste of the action, and I also want to delay the build-up of lactic acid as best I can. I might lengthen the shifts just a tad in the middle of a period, and then go back to shorter ones as the period winds down. This approach is really just a personal thing with me, but I’ve sensed through the years that my players have benefited from it.
Now, as for going about the teaching of line changes, I recommend that members next watch my brief video on “Dumping the Puck“. As you’ll see there, the right kinds of dump-ins provide units the “time” to make changes without getting caught shorthanded.
I also believe bench decorum plays a big part in effectively getting changes on-the-fly. So, I highly suggest these things…
- During each period, all defensemen should sit on the defensive end of the bench, while all the forwards sit on the offensive end. Getting our guys (or gals) even closer to their end of the ice, the next defense pair will sit closest to the defensive zone, and my next forward line sits closest to the offensive zone.
- I make it a rule that players who are going out next should keep a very close eye on the man they’ll replace. In other words, the instant a centerman enters the play, the next centerman must keep focus on him (or her). Why so soon? The idea is for us to never get caught shorthanded — should a player limp to the bench with an injury, should he discover an equipment problem, whatever. The point is, unforeseen things can happen seconds into a shift, and the next player up has to immediately notice if or when he’s needed.
Then, there’s the matter of the actual exchange of personnel…
As much as I like having players go over the boards as they enter the ice, we coaches must take into consideration the height of the boards in comparison to our players. Under normal circumstances, this probably suggests that those at least below Pee Wees aren’t going to be able to make the climb. However — and believe it or not, I’ve actually coached at a few rinks where even high school players weren’t able to get over the unusually high boards. That in mind, I think all players should learn to properly enter and exit through the bench doors. And for more help in this area, I suggest that members refer to my article on “Buzzer Hockey Line Changes“. (Don’t let the title fool you; there’s valuable information there about older players changing on-the-fly.)
Next, there’s the matter of when to change. And for this, I have the following suggestions…
- You’d think that growing-up amid farms would have provided a great atmosphere for a young boy to hone his whistling skills. Or, perhaps, that the powers that be could have had a course on whistling in my long ago Phys Ed studies. The truth is, I can’t whistle a lick. If I could, I’d use that as a signal for my guys to change. Instead, though, I’ve had to resort to calling-out loudly, “Get a change! Get a change!” (Oh, well…)
- Now, the lengths of shifts can’t be totally dictated by the timing we’d like. No, conditions for a successful change aren’t going to fall exactly every 35-seconds or so. That said, I’ll usually opt for less than the desired time if it looks like going any longer is going to trap my guys out there. For example, I have to know there’s the possibility that a unit heading down-ice on the attack is going to ultimately have to backcheck, and then breakout again in order to get a change on-the-fly. And, presuming they’re not going to have the juice to accomplish all that, I’ll probably call for the early change.
- I might also call for an early change if a unit has been bogged-down in their own end for an extended period of time. Hey, it’s just better to get fresh legs (and minds) out there, and to give the unit coming-off a little time to regroup.
- Of utmost importance is the need for the players on the ice to be absolutely sure the puck is safe before they turn and head-off. I mean, even though they see the puck being dumped, they mustn’t head to the bench until they’re absolutely sure that it is going to safely get through rival players and land deep in their opponents’ end.
Now, despite the fact that the next players up are supposed to be watching the man they’ll replace, I also like my players yelling their positions as they come-off. In other words, as the left winger comes to our bench, he yells, “Left wing! Left wing!” I don’t know; it’s just a safety measure that makes me feel good.
Then, Deb K inspired the next suggestion… You see, she’s not only a youth hockey parent and coach, but she’s also a referee. So it should make sense that she’d joke a bit and offer, “Tell coaches about the changes so refs aren’t having to educate from the ice “
Deb’s comment in mind, this biggie… From my perspective most of the “too many men on the ice” penalties are caused by the players who should be coming-off the ice, and these usually come about because the man coming-off either changes his mind or he fools the player who is supposed to replace him. In other words, the guy coming to the bench gives every indication that he’s coming, the new player hops over the boards and onto the ice, and then the player who is supposed to come-off doesn’t. (I don’t know of any way to actually practice this key communication, but I surely do beat it to death in conversations with my players. I mean, I make it a very big deal that guys coming-off shouldn’t fool their replacements or change their minds at the last second.)
Finally, if a hockey coach feels that line changes are an important part of his or her team’s game, then it should make sense to practice these as often as other plays. And, once established, it wouldn’t hurt to review them on occasion, and to also frequently talk about the principles involved.
A lot of things go into proper line changes, and I almost fear I’ve forgotten a few. If you think I have, please add a Comment so that this topic is eventually covered as thoroughly as possible!