How Do Hockey Players Know When To Change Lines?

How Do Hockey Players Know When To Change Lines

Hockey is a fast, swift game that needs high metabolism but being a fast-paced sport, it’s a cerebral game too. So, hockey players take quick action with a fully attentive mind. As the game is super quick, players change quickly after a short time to maintain their stamina to play it best. 

So, how do hockey players know when to change lines? Line change in the game is based on multiple factors. It’s all about their shift length, a strategic match-up against the other team, unit change with line players accordingly, and changes when it will not give a score to the opponent.

Take a closer look at each factor when a player decides when to change lines.

Players change off after 30-45 seconds

The ice hockey game is mainly about timing and prompt strategic action. The NHL shift typically goes about 30 to 45 seconds. Because if the player remains longer on ice, it will affect their performance due to their depletion of game-playing energy, and their game will start to deteriorate. Therefore such a swift-motion game requires high stamina and energy to play. And it’s not some kind of secret that hockey players can keep up their metabolism level for about 30-45 seconds.  

NHL players are professional in their game; they have gone through many shifts and know when to change. It’s their instinct that alarms them at the end of the shift. Still, if you have not exhausted, you have not skated enough. 

During the power play, a player can stay longer than the normal shift as there is not much skating required in the offensive zone in the power play as, at that time, the game becomes of puck passing and controlling. Contrary to that, penalty-kill players instead want to switch every 30 seconds because their side of the game is more like is to pursue the puck, which makes them tired quickly.

Thus, a player knows precisely and is intuitive about changing a shift before losing physical stamina and remaining energy to play, so it’s better to get fresh reinforcement.

Players get changed off when line players change

When one player changes, the linemates on the other side of the ice shift, whether they are playing or not. Shifting off as a whole defense pairing or forward line is common, and each line has its particular function. 

The forward four lines are categorized as the first, 2nd scoring line, shutdown, and energy checking lines. The top two lines are assigned for scoring goals, the shutdown line is responsible for stopping the opponent’s line, and the fourth line is tasked to Forecheck and establishes the other line’s momentum. 

All these players are assigned positions to make a player change when their linemates shift. The coaches have assembled these lines for a clear purpose, making it easier for players to change on and off together as per the game’s situation.

Players change off as a strategic game part

Players change on and off the ice as part of the game strategy to match up against the opponent’s team. It’s possible that offensive mindset groups like forward and defense may find themselves weak in front of the opponent’s forward and defense group. It would be a bad match-up as the others are superiors in defending. 

Instead of wasting time, it is better to change off with their best offensive group so that their best group play at their best level to maintain the game. Meanwhile, the shutdown line will be responsible for dealing with or stopping the opponents for their defensive play.

It is common for the team defense pairing to switch on and off as a game strategy. A deliberate plan to limit the other side’s attack.

Players change off and on only when they feel safe too

As said earlier, players will only change off when they feel safe for the ongoing game. This means when there is the certainty that their change-off will not score against them, they will only switch off and on ice.

When players are confident that this shift change will not put their squad at a loss, this specifies that when the puck is at the opponent’s end and far away from their goalie. 

This often happens when players skate the puck to the red line, shoot it and go for a line change. To get over the red line, players avoid icing the puck (to understand the icing rule read out my detailed write-up), and once the red line is crossed, they shoot the puck deep into the opposing team’s net.

Shooting the puck deep into the opponent’s side end gives the forward man and defenseman an opportunity to change off without making the other team able to kick the puck up the ice before the arrival of a fresh set of players. Usually, they keep one player still on the ice who waits to change until other players change. Then he will make his way toward the bunch.

Depending on how the shift moves, only 1-2 players can change over at a time. Because if a player’s line gets stuck in their zone and the puck bygone the blue line. This will give enough time to safely switch for one or two players, not the entire line.

In nutshell, players always wait for an excellent safe opportunity to change off!

Players change off only when they feel safe to change off

Being a fast and furious sport, it is a dangerous game too. Players on the ice move constantly and are in danger of getting hit, so they change off and feel safe about every point of the game. 

In addition to that, coaches always tell their team about line changes that bad line changing results in inadequate and can cause goals against them. But NHL players are pretty talented and move like flying, allowing their linemates to change unscathed when there is poor line change. To do this, they leave scoring chances that cause goals against them. 

Recreational level change off

Changing lines at the recreational level is almost the same aspect as of NHL except for some differences.

  1. Buzzer: Hockey shifts are of two minutes and are timed at the beginning. A buzzer will signal all the players to shift off the ice arena.
  2. Coaches: Coaches stay active during the match calling the players on and off the ice. They pay attention to the part where everyone gets equal time to play. But at a higher level of hockey like the NHL, players do not get equal time – better to play more.
  3. Pick Up Hockey: It’s a type of hockey that friends play together, unlike league type. And in such type of hockey does not abide by high-class hockey rules. In games like that, you will always spot one guy who likes to take longer shifts, and others do not like these guys as it’s a waste of time. So do not be that guy. Instead, try on ice for a 1-minute shift on and off because longer shifts will not give any benefits but only steal the time of other players.

Who gives the signal for a line change?

Coaches are the one who calls a line change.

In the past, coaches were used to matching up forwards against the opponent’s forwards, a top line against the top line. Now, this strategy applies to other players, too, like defensemen.

Head coaches are responsible for calling forwards’ line changes. And the assistant coaches call a line change for defensemen. It ensures that the defensive pairing matches well against the right forwards and the forward pairings match well against the right defensive pairing.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why are hockey shifts shorter compared to other sports?

Hockey is an anaerobic game meaning all actions are short, like a blink of an eye, and full of energy making hockey one of the fastest and quick games.
Because of the high energy and intensity level of the game, short hockey shifts are required to recover from long breaks.

How often do hockey players change lines?

Players can change lines during the stoppage of the game or on “change on the fly” (while play is happening). In the NHL, professional players usually take 30 to 40 seconds to change lines, while recreational level players take 1 to 2 minutes to change a line.

What are hockey lines made of?

A hockey line is a squad of five players who play together on the ice, three forwards and two defensemen. The coaching staff strategically chooses them.


Hockey players have been in the game for so long, so they can get an idea of when to change off while maintaining possession of the puck and scoring chances. Depending on the ongoing game scenario, they know when to change with their linemates safely and not give the poor line-changing influence.

Related Posts:

  1. How do line changes work in hockey?
  2. Why do hockey players get kicked out of faceoffs?
  3. Can you kick the puck in hockey?
  4. How many players are on the ice in hockey?
  5. What is dump and chase in hockey?
Austin Taylor

Who is Austin Taylor?

Meet Austin Taylor, your go-to source for everything ice hockey! With a passion for the sport that’s as deep as the ice itself, Austin Taylor brings you concise, expert insights and nitty-gritty details on all things hockey. From gear reviews to strategy breakdowns, Austin Taylor is your trusted guide to navigating the exhilarating world of ice hockey. Get ready to lace up your skates and dive into the game with Austin Taylor as your ultimate companion.

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