What Are Shifts In Ice Hockey (Guide To Shifts In The NHL)
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How Long Are Shifts In Ice Hockey? An NHL Guide

Ice hockey has a lot of terms that are used to describe different events that occur in the game. One of these terms includes “Shifts”. But what are shifts in ice hockey, and how much do you know about them?

What Is A Shift In Ice Hockey?

What Is A Shift In Ice Hockey

In the real world, a person is given a set amount of time to work until someone else arrives to take over. Simply put, it is the breakdown of the entire workday into distinct sections.

With ice hockey shifts, the same is true. Shifts are brief intervals during an ice hockey game when the players on the ice are quickly changed.

Due to the nature of the game, shifts were introduced in ice hockey. If the sport of ice hockey were to be examined, it entails constant sprinting while utilizing a stick to play a puck.

Additionally, each team only has five skaters and a goalkeeper for the game, which is played on an ice surface. Therefore, there is very little opportunity for players to take a break.

Sadly, if this keeps up, within the first 20 minutes the game will get extremely dull and boring and this is hardly the entertainment that people pay to see.

Hence, after a brief period of explosiveness, ice hockey introduced shifts, which will see regular substitutions of the players on the rink (intense skating).

This makes sure that on-ice players give it their all and that players who are off the rink get enough rest to take over their positions.

How Long Is A Shift In Ice Hockey?

How Long Is A Shift In Ice Hockey

Ice hockey shift length varies a little depending on the location of the players. Hockeyanswered.com‘s study indicates that a forward’s typical shift lasts roughly 46 seconds. Defensemen in ice hockey, on the other hand, last two seconds longer, at 48.6 seconds.

The demand for their position is what accounts for the slight variation in their typical shift duration. Due to the fact that they are not always aggressively defending, defensemen sometimes spend more time on the ice than forwards throughout their shifts. Hence, give them more time before they start to feel fatigued. Even so, there isn’t much evident difference in shift duration.

But each NHL skater’s shift lasts an average of around 47.07 seconds.

Longest Shift In The NHL

Longest Shift In The NHL

Jack Hughes of the New Jersey Devils, a forward, put in the longest shift in NHL history. When his team lost 6-4 to the New York Rangers in that game, Hughes made the record.

Hughes played the game’s final six minutes and two seconds (6:02) of the game. Also when accounting for the final eight minutes, the New Jersey forward played a total of seven minutes and thirty seconds (7:30).

Aside from Huges, the next player is ALexender Ovechkin with shifts lasting more than four minutes.

What Is A Line Change In Ice Hockey

What Is A Line Change In Ice Hockey_

In ice hockey, players are categorized into lines according to their positions. As it enables planned player substitutions throughout a game. It is also employed in ice hockey shifts.

It should be noted that in the NHL, each team may bring a maximum of 20 players per game. Eighteen skaters and two goalies make up the twenty players. The breakdown of shifts for the players is shown in the table below.

In the NHL, goalies are not subjected to line changes or shifts. Throughout a game, they remain in their place. However, once substituted they cannot be brought back into the ice.

Position Number Of Players Per LineNumber Of LinesTotal Players

The table above shows that there are four lines of forwards in every NHL game, and each line comprises three players (two wingers and a center). In addition, there are three lines of defensemen, each comprising two players.

Therefore, when an ice hockey game begins, you see the forwards comprising the centerman and the winger, making up the first forward line. Also, you see the two defensemen, which is the first defense line.

Line Change Of Forwards In The NHL

Since there are four line changes for forwards, the types of players in each line are based on their skill. The first line of players consists of the players that start a game, they usually play for the most amount of time, and the fourth line of forward play for the least. 

The first line of forwards can play up to 30 minutes of the entire 60 minutes of an NHL period. This leaves about 30 minutes for the second through fourth line. In some scenarios, the fourth line might end up playing three shifts in a game (2 minutes and 21 seconds).

This is because the shift period of first-line forwards is often longer by a few seconds and more often. 

ForwardTypes Of Players
First LineBest Players
Second LineNext Best Players
Third LinePlayers With Acceptable Skillsets
Fourth LineLowest Ranking And Newbies

Related Post: What Does Switching Side Mean In Ice Hockey?

Line Change For Defense In The NHL

Similarly to forwards, the method of appointing who gets to be on the first line all through the third line is determined by the skill level of players. The first-line defensemen also get higher shift duration and play more than the second and third lines

DefenseShift DurationPlayer Types
First Line52.60Most Skilled Players
Second Line48.21Good Players
Third Line45.00Lowest Rank Players

How Does Line Change Work In Ice Hockey?

How Does Line Change Work In Ice Hockey_

We can discuss shifts in ice hockey games now that you are familiar with line changes.

The first shift consists of players who are on the ice when the game begins. Each line of players (both the defense and the forwards) will occasionally switch lines once the game has started.

Before the game begins, the assistant and head coaches are often in charge of allocating the players to the forward and defensive lines in the proper order. A line of players will therefore skate back to the bench as another line takes their place once their shift period is over.

It is vitally crucial to know that in ice hockey, plays are not paused or stopped for a line change. This indicates that it happens concurrently as the game progresses. Consequently, it needs to be done at the appropriate time to prevent the opposition’s squad from having an advantage.

Teams frequently take advantage of play-stopping (during an infraction) to advance for a line change.

The new lines entering the ice are not permitted to handle the puck until each member of the preceding line has left the rink, according to line change rules. Moreover, they may receive an infraction for having many players on the ice if this occurs.

A lineman may opt to stay in the game rather than change lines with his colleagues on the bench. Only the positions that were moved to the bench, then, are modified.

Reasons For Shifts In Ice Hockey

Shift makes it possible to maintain an explosive level throughout the entire game. Players typically have 45 seconds of active time before moving up to the bench for a new line since they are often rotated.

Also, ice hockey shifts provide each player in a game a chance to participate on the ice. Even though ice hockey lines (aside from the first and second line) only have brief shifts, every player has the opportunity to participate actively on the rink.


Shifts in ice hockey allow for the constant excitement spectators get from watching the game. If shifts were not a part of the game, the first twenty minutes might be the best part of an ice hockey game, leaving forty minutes of a slow-paced, boring game.

This brings us to the end of all you need to know about shifts in ice hockey. Thanks for reading.

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