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.

Comments (21)

  1. That C? Yeah. That’s the real trick.

    Every team I’ve been on has a guy or two who thinks that he can take longer shifts, or that he deserves longer shifts. Never mind that in rec hockey, everyone is paying to play and paying the same amount. There is always a “that guy.”

    I hate him so much.

    • I loathe “that guy.” Loathe him.

    • Oh, and we forgot about the guy that takes super-long shifts, and then skates back to the bench and immediately starts yelling at the guys on the ice, “Short shifts, fellas, short shifts.”

  2. I was in disbelief the first time I played on a team where the guys used the doors to change. I’m 5’6 and I’ve always hopped the boards to get on and off the ice.

  3. I always hop the boards to come on the ice, except at one particular rink I play at currently. The boards are weirdly high (like 4-6 inches higher than “normal” boards) and I’ve nearly killed myself hopping over them and forgetting about the extra drop to the ice. It’s summer hockey, though, which means we typically only have 2-3 subs anyway, so using the door isn’t a huge issue. ;)

    Also, you forgot D: DO NOT COAST TO THE BENCH. I hate guys who are either so lazy, or stay out until they’re so tired, that all they (can) do is coast slowly to the bench. Somehow these people always end up on the far side wing, too, so they’re inching back to the bench from all the way across the ice, watching the play the entire way back, which just ends up giving the other team a 30 second power play. Get off the ice as fast as you would get on it, please and thank you.

  4. Keep these articles coming. I’m going to print them off and give them out to the rec league team I run when our season gets going.

    Also, I’m insanely jealous of people who can play rec league in the summer. I live an hours drive from the nearest rink with ice all year long.

    • Geez, where do you live? I’m in the desert and there’s four rinks in a 25 minute radius with year-round ice…

  5. My pet peeve is the guy who stays too long and then changes on the way back to the defensive zone. Though I don’t stress it too much it still bugs me. I’m a very “team guy” so I do my best to change when appropriate and not bitch about anyone taking to much ice time.

  6. Best part about rec hockey: guys take a 90 second shift in the O zone, don’t change but backcheck slow as hell when it comes the other way, then muster up the energy to rush up the ice again and stay in the O zone rather than change for a 3-4 minute total shift. Seriously.

  7. We had our first playoff game the other night and I started it off with a 37 second shift and hustled to the bench. Guys were confused and asked if I was hurt.

  8. How about players who feel like they should wait until you’re nearly seated on the bench to get on the ice after you take your shift. Or people who stand at the ice staring at the bench before jumping off the ice.

    If you’re quick getting off once you get to the bench, the other player can jump on early. And you can jump on early as long as you don’t touch the puck before the other player gets off. Refs are pretty lenient too in Rec leagues. Finally pay attention to your line mate! If you’re next on, keep the eye on your player not the puck! If you’re getting off, yell the guys name too!

    skates towards bench, “George!, George! GEORGE!”, gets on bench, taps george on shoulder, ‘Sorry to interrupt your conversation George, but you need to get on the ice now”

  9. Yeah I used to get mocked for my short shifts, but I was just as strong in the 3rd as I was in the first (not that I was anything to write home about, but there is something to say for consistency.)

  10. What about the guy that NEVER pays attention when he’s sitting on the bench? He’s always chatting or has his helmet off when you come to the bench (screaming) for a change.

    • This drives me absolutely batty. I hate teams where I’ve been skating hard for 45 seconds, I’m out of breath, but if I don’t yell “HEY [dumbass] I’M COMING OFF NOW” I end up getting to the bench to a bevy of dumb stares from players who are inexplicably half-naked and acting like they paid for ice-level spectator seats to the game.

      I mean, hell, I unsnap my cage and take off my gloves to towel off my face, spray water into my mouth, and I’m still ready to go again inside of 30 seconds; what are these guys doing?

  11. The best are the players that say they can take a 4 minute shift because “they aren’t even tired”. This is mostly because they’ve spent 4 minutes floating around the blue waiting for the other team’s D to miss a pass.

  12. I can’t speak for other people’s rec leagues, but here in New Mexico (you must have some nice desert to have 4 rinks that close to you, Jason), good luck convincing people to jump over the boards. The ice gets so bad here, it’s not uncommon to see refs fall down from the ice giving out. (“Watch out for that blue line, ref”)

    Nothing pisses me off more than B. One of the leagues I am in, the other center does that crap all the time. 3 games since the start of our new season and their crappy line changes caused 2 goals and quite a few close calls (yet another reason why +/- is a worthless stat)

    As to C, both of the local rec leagues around here only allow 10 man teams max (and more often than not we are down at least a body), so spending 30 seconds on the ice means you only get to sit down for 20 seconds… not quite sustainable for me, and I am in pretty decent shape. I have been known to curse at people under my breath when they take a 30-40 second shift… I would much prefer to keep the shifts to 75-90 seconds and have a chance at resting before getting back out there.

    • The one downer for summer hockey here is that our team has pretty consistently run 7-9 skaters despite having 13+ rostered.

      There was the one game we started with 6 skaters and no goalie. That was fun. Oddly enough it was also the only game we’ve won all summer. :-P

  13. “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.”

    This is also known as the “Rick Nash Backcheck”

  14. The golden rule. Get on the I’ve over the boards, off the ice through the door

  15. The golden rule. Get on the ice over the boards, off the ice through the door

  16. Ok, but what if you’re Marty Havlat?

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