Changing lines in hockey is pretty simple once you get the hang of it, but it can be a little daunting in the beginning. Changing lines is when one player gets off the ice and onto the bench, and another player on the bench replaces them on the ice. When you are learning to play hockey, you will want to know why, how, and when you should be changing lines.

How to change lines in hockey

You’ll find that changing lines at the whistle will always be the easiest. But the whistle does not always blow every 45 to 75 seconds, so you will need to learn when to change lines. Here are some times you should consider changing lines:

  • During a stoppage of play.
  • When the puck is in, or is headed for, your offensive zone.
  • When your team has control of the puck.
  • When other players on your line are changing.
  • When the other team is on a delayed penalty (ie they caused a penalty but have not yet touched the puck).

If you change lines when the puck is in, or headed toward, your defensive zone, you are causing your team to be short-handed when they are in a vulnerable situation.

There are two main ways you will be changing your lines: changing with your line and “cycling the bench.”

Changing with your line

The first way to change lines switching with your position and with your line. Say you are playing left wing, you will be taking over for the other left wing playing that game (there may be three of you in the same position — but for this example, pretend there are only two of you). Your “line” is made up of forwards: left wing, center, and right wing.

Although (in theory) you should be changing at the same time as the other two on your line (left wing, center, and forward), in the beginning what you should really focus on is the other left wing. When they come back to the bench, you should be ready to go out there, even if the rest of your line did not come off the ice.

Cycling the bench

You will also play in games where they “cycle the bench.” This normally happens in more relaxed games, like pick-up games, or when your team just doesn’t have enough players (usually fewer than 10).

“Cycling” is when you all line up on the bench and when one person comes off the ice, the next person on the bench goes on the ice — in whatever position is now open.

Sometimes this will happen but you will cycle offense and defense instead. So instead of the next person going into whatever position is open, the next defenseman takes the place of a defenseman that comes off. And the next forward takes the place of a forward that comes off (whether it’s a center or wing).

When to change

When you are watching hockey, it can be confusing to know *when* the players are actually coming back to the bench. When you are playing beginner adult hockey, your main concern should be to always switch when you are tired. In many cases, you should be out there skating as hard as you can for 45 to 75 seconds, then get back to the bench when you can.

When a penalty can be called

When you are changing lines, you need to be careful *how* you change lines. That is because it can be really easy to cause six skaters to be on the ice, which is a “Too many players on the ice” penalty (USA Hockey Rule 204b), which says:

“Players may be changed at any time during play from the players’ bench, provided that the player or players leaving the ice shall always be at the players’ bench and out of the play before any change is made. If either the player entering or leaving the game deliberately plays the puck in any manner or makes physical contact with an opposing player while the retiring player is actually on the ice, or causes their team to gain a competitive advantage, then a bench minor penalty for “too many players on the ice” shall be assessed. If, in the course of a substitution, either the player entering the play or the player retiring is struck by the puck accidentally, the play will not be stopped and no penalty shall be called.”

Over the boards or out the door

You will see players who go over the boards to change lines and those who use the door — there really is no wrong answer. There are always players who will tell you the best hockey player way is to go over the bench, and you should try to work up to that. But there are certain boards that I cannot go over because they are too high, so do what you physically can.

And if you decide to go out the door, that is OK too.

Causing an offside

Whether you go out the door or offside, always watch for an offside. Because the second door of many benches is past the blue line and into one of the end zones, usually in the second period of any game if you use that door you will be offside. Just be aware of this, and do not change lines into your offensive zone.

Changing lines in hockey

Changing lines in hockey will become second nature once you begin playing, but in the beginning it can be a little confusing. Learn the rules of line changes, and then watch any games you can (professional or rec league) and pay attention when they change lines.