Last Change in Hockey: How Does it Work, and What are the Advantages?

Hey, hockey fans! You have watched lots of hockey games and probably noticed one particular scene. There is a distinct order change, one team substitutes before the others. However, for the last change: 

The last change is the advantage provided to the home team, enabling them to send their players on and make final changes after the opposing team deploys its players. This rule allows the home team coaches to make a strategy and send the match-up players against the others either in the attacking or defensive zone.

Well, let’s break down the last change in hockey and try to determine its advantages and disadvantages of it.

When does the last change work or happen?

NHL teams substitute their ice players with bench players in two cases:

  1. After the game stoppage
  2. During the course of the play

The Line Change official 82.1 NHL rule states that: 

After the play stoppage, the visiting team shall place its line players on the ice for the play, and no change is allowed until the play resumes. The home team then makes their strategic change of players on the ice. Except for the offside call or during icing, there will be no substitution, resulting in a game delay. 

At the stoppage of play, the linesman walks into the ice center, faces the visiting team, and raises his arms, signaling them to make the player’s substitution within five seconds. When you watch the hockey game, you will see the change happens fluidly, not like of robotic machine process.

After the visiting team substation, the linesman lowers his arm and does the same with the home team. Now the home team will change its players at the same five-second time. Since the home team changes last, that is called the ‘last change’.

If there is a delay by any team in changing players in the designated time, then the linesman is permitted to stop the remaining players on the ice, but this seldom happens as players are fast enough to play. After this change, no substitution is allowed until the faceoff with the puck is in play on safe or in the case of the penalty before the faceoff. 

How the last change gives an advantage?

The last change is a unique advantage for the home team as it allows coaches to tailor their strategies and send their best forward line and defensemen to match the other team’s best offensive players.

Understand it like this, in basketball, and the manager will bring the best pitcher against the best batter. Similarly, the hockey coaches will place their best defense and forward lineups against the best lineups of the other team.

The home team gets the advantage of substitution when on defense or offense between each game stoppage. In a power play, the team brings out their best offensive men to score more, and while on a penalty when they are shorthanded, the home team also uses this chance to substitute their best defensemen to counteract the away team playing.

Almost every team has players deemed as ‘shutdown defensemen’ or ‘shutdown forward’. These are the most reliable players that coaches deploy against the top offensive and defensemen of the opposing team. 

The last change advantage becomes effective only when coaches can forecast what type of game is coming up and what type of players are coming so they can counter appropriately with either personnel substitution or a fundamental change of gaming plan.     

How does the last change give protection to the players?

Coaches use the last chance to benefit the protection of players who have past injuries or are suspected of getting hurt. Also, to protect the inexperienced or weaker players from facing other teams’ top players, as not every player’s skill or talent is equal to other top-rated players.

To protect these players, the coaches always try to put them in positions where they will not get exposed or change them in the last change so that the away team can get the hint of them and use it to their advantage. 

For example, if one team lines up its defensemen, the coaches will make sure that they will not on the ice at the same time when there is Connor McDavid or Sidney Crosby. These superstars are experts and know who they are playing against. If they get a hint of weak players or their vulnerability, they will use it maximum to their benefit and exploits others’ weakness.

Another way of last-change protection is to make players less tired and give more energy to other significant parts of the game, for instance, power play and penalty kill.

Consider if team A top center counters team B’s top center during overtime. They will get tired quickly from staying on the ice longer, and then they will be prone to mistakes.

So, the last change gives them a chance to change, and none of the team will feel fatigued as they play with their equals on the ice. Thus, it is to increase the scoring chances of players while considering the feelings in check!

How does the last change affect the win or loss?

What does the last change have to do with a win or loss? Or does it matters for winning a game? 

No, there is no surety of winning a game. The last change does give the home team a quality advantage, but it’s not guaranteed that they will win. From the data standpoint, this variable is immeasurable. But with the experience and witness, it’s not easy to discuss against being there has no effect.

There might be an unmistakable air of guessing win when there is a shutdown of the great offensive player, and there is the least opportunity to score. It is often seen that the best offensive players have a terrible scoring graph on the way when playing at home. The simple reason is that they have to play with equal top defensive players of other teams. Henceforth, both give each other tough times, which makes one of the scores low. 

That is why to say that matching up your best defensive player against the top offensive player is key to having the game! 

Frequently Asked Questions

How does the last change happen in ice hockey?

The home team makes the last line change. The visiting team puts five players on the ice first, and the home team coach looks at the visiting team players and puts on its five well-matched players against the other team players.

How many players are there for change in hockey?

In hockey, there are five bench players for change and no restriction on how many times players change.

When is a player not allowed to change? 

At some points, players cannot change lines. And the most important is when a team does icing, when a player pucks down the ice, they shoot the puck from their red line to the opposing team’s end of the rink.

Conclusion

The last change brings a decisive moment for the home team to come up with strategic players and win a game. The home team also gets the chance to bring fresh legs to play and give others rest during the line change. It’s time for the home team to make good strategical changes to defend or attack the opposing team players.   

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