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Changing On-the-Fly

By Greg Siller - Pro Learning Systems

Hi Greg. I have a couple of questions. When is the best time to change both the offense and defense on-the-fly? Do I dump the puck and then change the offensive line, leaving the defense? Also, at what point can the new players go onto the floor when changing players? Do I have to wait until they are on the bench, near the bench? Thanks for your time--Jim.

Jim, changing your players on-the-fly (during play) is a skill that all coaches and players need to learn. When you are successful, you will not only get your tired players off the playing surface, but you could also take advantage of opportunities created by tired opponents. If you are not effective at this skill, your team will keep tired players on the rink or, worse yet, create an odd-player advantage (a sort of mini power play) for your opponents; possibly giving up a good scoring opportunity.

Most information on changing players on-the-fly should be used as guidelines. However, two rules that I follow are that (1) you should situate forwards at one end of the bench and defense at the other end. This helps minimize the confusion when changing players. With younger teams, it is okay to keep full lines sitting together, but as the players gain experience, I have found that keeping the forwards and defense at opposite ends of the bench (especially when your bench has 2 doors) allows me to efficiently change on-the-fly, and (2) if your team is in your own end and needs to change players, either dump the puck into your opponents zone or get a face-off. This will ensure that your team can change players without risking a possible scoring chance.

Once you have determined that it is time to change your players (either by the number of seconds they have been or observing that your particular line combination is not working against your opponents), then you have a couple of responsibilities.

1.      Identify your fresh players (on the bench) and let them know how you are going to exchange them with the retiring players (players on the playing surface).

2.      Let your retiring players know that it is time to change. The time to call for an on-the-fly change is (a) when you team has possession of the puck and is moving into the offensive zone, (b) when your team is already in your offensive zone and the puck is down low, or (c) when the opposing team is beginning to bring the puck out of their defensive zone (but not yet at the center of the playing surface). I don't recommend that you change all players on-the-fly because of the potential for confusion and risk involved in having all your players out of position for a brief time; so I normally change the defense or forwards in groups.

3.      For change (a), I recommend that you change the group that does not have the puck. If one of your defense is carrying the puck, change the forwards. If one of your forwards has the puck, change your defense. This allows your team to keep the flow headed toward your offensive zone while you change.

4.      For change (b), I recommend that you change your defense. It will allow you to get your defense off the surface without much of a scoring risk.

5.      Change (c) allows you to change your forwards. In this case, you can still defend against attackers toward the middle of the playing surface while you add/subtract your players.

Deciding exactly when to put your players on the playing surface should be spelled out in your league rules. Most rules state that a new player cannot come onto the playing surface until the retiring player is within 5 feet of the bench. Additionally, if the puck is near your bench when you are changing players, you can still get your new player out, but the new player cannot touch the puck until the retiring player is off the playing surface.

Changing players on-the-fly can sometimes get confusing, but if you follow my rules and guidelines above, you should be able to get some fresh legs on the rink and maybe even take advantage of some tired opponents.

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