Maintaining Game Flow - Changing on the Fly

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Substitutions are one of the most unique aspects of ice hockey. Hockey is different from other sports where players must wait until play stoppage, or check in with an official. In ice hockey, players are allowed to enter and exit play freely in the middle of action.


On the Attack
In general, players should only change on the fly when their team is on the attack. Players should avoid skating to the bench when the puck is in their defensive zone. “On the Attack” means that the team is safely in possession of the puck, or the puck has just been carried/dumped into the offensive zone. Regardless, it is best to instruct players not to change when the opposing team has the puck – this is widely viewed as the most important aspect of any line change.


Play it Safe
Well-timed line changes can often lead to offensive opportunities. However, poorly timed line changes can often create scoring opportunities for the opposing team. Thus, it is important to approach changing on the fly with a defensive mentality. Bench organization is an easy way for a team to maximize the defensive effectiveness of their line changes. Defensemen should sit on the side of the bench nearest their team’s defensive zone. As a result, anytime defensemen changes onto the ice, he’ll be a few feet closer to his/her goal. However, it also means the whole bench arrangement has to change every period when the direction of play is flipped. Don’t forget to rearrange the bench between periods.


Instructional Pointers for Changing Lines
Players should understand that smooth, responsible line changes can often be the difference between winning and losing.
• Track Your Teammates: As players prepare to go on the ice, their focus should be on the player they’re replacing as well as the whatever else is happening on the ice. This is crucial even if the player they’re replacing just started their shift. If he/she gets injured, has a piece of equipment break or just requires a change, it is the oncoming players’ responsibility to be ready to replace them on the ice.
• Skate Hard to the Bench: In any given hockey game players, should be skating their absolute hardest for the duration of their shift. This needs to be emphasized even when making a line change. When players skate slowly to the bench it allows the opposing team to have a man-advantage. Players should be encouraged to skate back to the bench as fast as possible to be effectively replaces by a substitute with “fresh legs.”
• Get on the Ice Quickly: Similar to skating hard to the bench, it’s vital for players to get on the ice quickly. Most leagues allow players to come on the ice when the person their substituting is within five (5) feet of the bench. Players should be instructed to anticipate their teammates arrival, and get on the ice at the earliest possible moment.
• Communication: Players should know the importance of communication as they’re heading off the ice. Players who are coming off for a line change should clearly indicate the position they’ve been  playing to allow the coaching staff and other players to prepare for the next shift. For example, yelling “Centre!” makes it clear that the player is heading to the bench, and informs the players and coaches as to who should be on next.


When to Change
Here are some general rules on line changes for both coaches and players:
• Timing: Changes should take place every 40-60 seconds.
• Puck Location: Puck should be in the offensive zone and/or in the possession of the offensive team.
• Attentive: Players should be attentive and listen to the coach as well as being aware of what is happening on the ice.
• Play Location: Changes should be avoided when the puck is near the players bench to avoid getting a “Too Many Men” penalty.



Line Changing Drills


Drill Name: All 5 Off

• Players execute a 5-on-0 breakout.
• Player with the puck at red line, dumps the puck in corner, all players skate hard to the bench for a change, five (5) new players jump on.
• Coach dumps puck in the other end, and the new players complete the 5-on-0 breakout and line change.

Key Teaching Points:
• Hard off, hard on.
• Make sure players coming off the ice let the outgoing players out of the gate first.



Drill Name: Puck Pursuit and change

• Players execute a 5-on-0 breakout.
• Player with puck at red line, dumps puck in corner, other two (2) forwards head off to the bench to change and two (2) new forwards jump on. Player who dumps puck in pursues on the forecheck, until the new forwards arrive as support.
• Once the new forwards arrive the pursuit player then goes for a change.
• Work on different combinations of changes, with both forward and defense.
o Two (2) change at a time
o Three (3) change at a time
• Repeat two (2) or three (3) times with each line.

Key Teaching Points:
• Hard off, hard on.
• Make sure players coming off the ice let the players going on out of the gate first.