One of the reasons I like playing rec hockey these days is that there’s no coach on the bench to berate me when I make a horrible change. You get some teams (I’m told) where that’ll piss the players off, but fortunately for me, I do not (and likely wouldn’t) play for a team that serious.

But for those teams that are, here are the important things to note about the proper line change. (Note: this is mostly directed at forwards.)

A) The Exchange

Before we get to when to change, we need to discuss how to change. Rec hockey players change with the efficiency of a Rube Goldberg machine. There’s nothing more painful than watching two grown men at one small door going in opposite directions utterly befuddled by the dilemma. It’s the equivalent of holding a two-by-four horizontally and trying to walk inside.

The obvious solution: jump.

If you’re athletic enough to play hockey, you’re athletic enough to jump onto the ice (you can jump off it you feel like it, but the guy on the bench shouldn’t have a choice).

I’m not going to “fix” all rec hockey benches here, but it really is hilarious how inefficient they are. A guy comes off the ice and into the bench, then does the “excuse me, pardon me, sorry” shimmy past all his teammates to sit in the middle of the bench, then waits until he schooches closer to the door for his next shift, all the while getting up and pulling back for everybody else coming off the ice.

Pro teams (and college, and junior) come in the door and sit down. Everybody slides to the middles while the change is being made, and the guys who come off can sit right down. The guys going on don’t have to deal with a “nonono, after you sir” situation at the door.

At the higher levels, this also allows the coach to have the guys who haven’t been on in awhile right in front of him, which makes his decisions a little easier. This is where the term “grocery stick” comes from, incidentally – when a guy comes off after a shitty shift, he works his way to the middle until he should be “up” again, and the coach leaves him there. Thus, he sits there and divides the forwards and the defense like a grocery stick.

(I should note before we move on – if the coach isn’t rolling lines, it never looks as smooth and tidy as I’m making it sound. Guys will be jumping from all over the bench in tight games.)

B) The Decision

I would guess that something like 98% of hockey players are aware of this, but the goal is to change while the puck is in the offensive zone, or heading towards it. At the very least, your team should have possession of the puck.

Most coaches would prefer to see a tired body head back into the defensive zone than have a guy make a change going the wrong way and leave their team short-handed for a few seconds. Hockey’s a fast game, and breakdowns like that can cost your team.

There’s always exceptions, and in rec hockey, a tired player may mean “useless” rather than just tired, so there are times when a relay-style change is necessary – y’know, when a guy is the last player heading back to their d-zone, and he’s signalling from the far end he’s coming off.

It’s all really just common sense – don’t screw your team over.

And finally…

C) A Mind-Blowing Concept

Did you know that if everybody takes short shifts, you’ll still get the same amount of ice time as if everyone takes long shifts, only you’ll be more fresh when you’re actually on the ice and therefore better? If you didn’t, now you do. It’s true.

I KNOW – MIND. BLOWN.

So in conclusion, don’t take long shifts, come off when your team has possession, and for goodness sake’s, throw your legs over the boards to get in the game.