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Ice Hockey Substitutions

Do ice hockey players ever take breaks? What is a line change? How do teams rotate players on the ice? Get ready to learn about substitutions in ice hockey.


We've already learned that ice hockey is a 5-on-5 game (not including the goalies), meaning there are five (5) skaters and one (1) goalie on the ice per team. Since ice hockey games last sixty (60) minutes in the NHL, it makes sense that these same five (5) skaters don't play the entire game. They are substituted out.

In this tutorial, we will learn about player substitutions and the rules that apply to them in ice hockey.


A substitution is the act of replacing one or more (1+) players of a team on the ice with players from the player benches located just outside the boards. Of course, these players have to be on the team roster to be substituted.

Hockey Player Bench

Line Changes

In ice hockey, a group of players on the ice are sometimes referred to as a line.

There is a strategy that teams employ called line changes, where the current line or group of players are substituted for a new line of players. This strategy of replacing players on the ice in waves keeps maximizes player performance giving them time to rest.

When Do Lines Change?

Teams typically perform line changes when the puck is out of the defensive zone. Once the puck is out of the zone, players will move towards the player benches so that new players can come onto the ice.

Teams will usually not replace all five (5) players at the same time. Only a few players will come off the ice at a time. If the whole line was replaced it would leave an opening on the ice for the other team to score.

The Rules of Line Changes

There a bunch of rules that apply to substitutions and line changes in ice hockey.

Starting Line

Prior to the start of a game, the team manager must submit the starting line for his team. This starting line is not allowed to be changed until the first shift ends.

Too Many Players On The Ice

Players can be substituted at any time during an ice hockey game as long as the player is within 5ft of player bench. If a player comes onto the ice too soon, a minor penalty for too many players on the ice will be called. Players are also not allowed to play the puck while being substituted.

After The Face-Off

Substitutions are only allowed to be made when a face-off has been completed and the puck is in play. However, if a penalty has just occurred, teams are allowed to make substitutions before power plays.

On A Stoppage Of Play

After stoppage of play, both teams can make substitutions on the ice. However, there's a time limit of around five (5) seconds for the visiting team and eight (8) seconds for home team to replace players in the NHL. If they take longer, a delay of game penalty will be called.

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