What is the long change in hockey?

There are so many hockey terms that are made reference to in the sport, but the name offers little clue to what it actually means! One of these terms is “long change”. What is a long change in hockey and how does it work?

The long change in hockey refers to the time of the game when the players are sitting at the bench that is furthest away from their goalie. From a defensive perspective, this is the point of time when it takes the ‘longest’ to change for a player who is in the defensive zone. This will happen in the 2nd period and overtime, if necessary, of each game.

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What factors lead to the long change?

In hockey there are two factors that lead to the long change:

  1. There are three periods
  2. Teams do not switch benches

In each arena, there is a bench for the visitors and a bench for the home team.  The players will be assigned to that bench for the whole game and the teams does not switch the bench they use for the entire game.

However, the game of hockey has three periods and the the rules of hockey require the teams to switch ends before the start of the second and third periods. So the teams will switch ends, but they stay on the same bench. This creates a situation where the bench of the players ends up being (and feeling) a long way from their own goaltender.

During the first and third period without the long change, the bench of players will extend into their own defensive zone. This makes it much easier (especially for a defenseman) for a player to switch back and forth with their teammates in case of sustained pressure from the other team in the offensive zone.

However, during the 2nd period (and overtime when necessary) the closest player on the bench to their own goaltender is past the red line and not even in the same half of the ice rink as their goaltender. When a team is under attack and cannot relieve the pressure, it makes it much more difficult for a player to change off and get a fresh player on. The theory is that this can lead to tired players on the ice, more scoring chances against your time, and more goals against.

For a player, especially a defenseman, being so far away from your bench can be quite difficult at particular points of a shift. For them it can truly be a ‘long change’ and one that cannot be made quickly without causing problems with the play on the ice.


How do the players adjust to the long change?

On the bench, the defensemen and forwards will switch the side of the bench that they sit on every period change. The defensemen will always sit on the side of the bench that is closest to their own goaltender, while the forwards will always sit on the side that is closest to the opponents goaltender.  

Therefore, during the 1st and 3rd periods, the defensemen will be sitting by their own blue line, and during the 2nd period while they have the long change, the defensemen will sit by the red line.

As well, watch the players and you can see how they are more aware of the long change while they play. Much of a hockey game has the players changing on ‘the fly’, which means they are changing on and off with their teammates during the course of play and not at stoppages.

As it is important for players to change while on the fly, the players must make sure they have a good line change that allows them to get off the ice before they are drained of energy and that do not create mismatches in the play for the rest of their teammates.  There have been many a bad line change where a player goes off at the wrong time and creates a odd-man rush against for his teammates. This most commonly happens when a team has the long change.

The hardest player to change on the fly when a team has the long change is the right side defensemen. He is the furthest one away from the bench. You will often see the players hold the puck longer behind the net to allow their teammates to be able to change without causing a risky play or a forward will make sure to get the puck far in the offensive zone so the defence can change. Finally, players will often change off on a more one-on-one basis than as a complete line, although they want to make sure the lines they are playing with stay together.


Does the long change effect goal scoring?

Source

As you can see from the above chart, scoring goes up from the 1st period to the 2nd and 3rd period.

The reason for this will be likely twofold:

  1. In the 2nd period, the increase in goals is given to the long change effect
  2. In the 3rd period, the increase in goals is given to the increase in empty net goals and the increase in risks taken upon the team who is behind — both in trying to score goals to catch up and the goals they let in by trying more risky plays .

The long change has proven to increase goal scoring. It simply creates a condition within the game where tired players have to stay on longer and therefore get scored against more often. As well, the long change creates more situations where a poor line change is executed and therefore a mismatch on the ice is created which leads to scoring chances.

This was proven true when the NHL changed overtime in the 2014-2015 season so that teams would have to switch ends prior to the start of overtime. Up until that point, teams would simply stay on the side that they were already at.  The thinking behind this rule change was to make the teams have to have a long change in overtime and this would increase goal scoring during that time and decrease the amount of games that would end with a shootout. This rule change had the desired effect and indeed the long change in overtime has caused more goals and prevented as many games going to the shootout.


Conclusion

The long change occurs during the second period when the team’s bench is furthest away from its goaltender, causing an increased distance and difficulty in changing on the fly. As you can see, the long change does affect the outcome of the game. By making it more difficult for players to change on and off the ice as easily, it results in more scoring chances and ultimately more goals!

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