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Hockey School
the professorLine Changes

What are they? Most teams have four sets of three forwards and three sets of two defensemen. One set of each is on the ice at any one time, totaling five skaters not including the goaltender. However, the game is far too grueling to keep those five on the ice for extended periods of time. As a result, they change lines every 45 seconds or so.

How do they change?: Two ways, one simple, one difficult. At a stoppage in play, skaters simply hop over the boards, replace their teammates and line up for a faceoff. But oftentimes, play continues for long, tiring stretches. So long sometimes, that players must change in the middle of the action. This is called changing on the fly and it occurs piece by piece. When the center goes off, his replacement can go on. When the defensemen reach the bench, the others hop on. Obviously, this is difficult because the team cannot be in any immediate danger of giving up a scoring chance while this occurs. And the other fear is that more than five players can be on the ice if changes aren't perfect. That results in a two-minute penalty.

Are special teams a factor?: You see several line changes during power plays, simply because with one team constantly clearing the puck, you do not hear many whistles. A basic two-minute power play can have three stoppages in play or fewer in some instances. And let's face it, the short-handed team has just four skaters out there doing the work of five. So fatigue hits faster than normal.

Who has the advantage?: When it comes to line strategy, the home team holds all the cards. It has the last line change. This means, after a stoppage in play, the home coach can wait to see what line the visiting coach puts on the ice. Then he can decide who to oppose that line with. If the visitor throws out the fourth line, usually the less-skilled players, the home team can combat that with its fourth line. Even better, the coach can decide to tap his first line, usually a team’s top scorers, for a skill advantage.

[Times photo: Dirk Shadd]

– Compiled by Tim Sullivan

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