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 general world, shifts are used to describe a time stipulated for a person to work before another person comes to take over. It is simply the entire work period broken down into different sections. 

The same can be said for ice hockey shifts. Shifts in ice hockey are moments of quick changes to the players on the ice that repeatedly occurs throughout the game. 

The concept of shifts in ice hockey was made because of the nature of the game. If ice hockey as a sport should be analysed, it involves sprinting continuously while using a stick to play a puck. 

Also, the game consists of just five skaters and a goalie per team, playing on an ice surface. Therefore, there isn’t much time gap for players to take a breather. 

Unfortunately, if this should continue, the game will become very slow and boring after the first 20 minutes. And this is not what people pay money to watch. 

Therefore, as a solution, ice hockey introduced shifts in which there will be constant changes to the players on the ice after a brief moment of explosiveness (intense skating)

This ensures that players that are on the ice give them all while on the ice, and players off the ice get enough rest to replace them. 

How Long Is A Shift In Ice Hockey?

How Long Is A Shift In Ice Hockey

The length of a shift in ice hockey differs slightly based on the position of the players. According to research by hockeyanswered.com, the average shift of a forward last about 46 seconds. On the other hand, ice hockey defensemen last two seconds longer at 48.6 seconds. 

The bases for the minor difference in their average shift length is the demand of their position. Defensemen occasionally serve longer time on the ice during their shifts than forwards because they are not always actively defending. Therefore, have a longer time before they get tired. But even this increase in the shift duration is not very evident. 

However, the average shift duration of all NHL players is about 47.07 seconds per skater. 

Longest Shift In The NHL

Longest Shift In The NHL

The longest shift in NHL history was by the forward of the New Jersey Devils, Jack Hughes. Hughes held the record during a match with the New York Rangers that led to a 6-4 loss for the team. 

Hughes played the final six minutes and two seconds of the game (6:02) and played a total of seven minutes and thirty seconds (7:30)  of the last eight minutes of the game. 

The next NHL player with the longest shifts is Alexender Ovechkin, with a shift duration of over four minutes. 

What Is A Line Change In Ice Hockey

What Is A Line Change In Ice Hockey_

A line in ice hockey is a term used to group players based on their position. It is also used in ice hockey shifts as it allows for an organised substitution of players in a game.  

Note that in the NHL, each team can bring in a maximum of 20 players to each NHL game. The twenty players are made up of two goalies and eighteen skaters. The table below shows how the players are shared in shifts.

Goalies do not undergo line change or shifts in the NHL. They maintain their position throughout a game. However, if they are substituted due to injuries or for any reason, they can not 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 defence line.

Line Change Of Forwards In The NHL

Since there is four line change 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, using 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

DefenceShift 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_

Now that you understand what line changes are, we can go into how shifts in ice hockey games work. 

When a game starts, the player you see on the ice is the first shift. After the game commences, each line of players (both the forwards and the defence) will change lines from time to time. 

The coaches (assistant and head) are usually responsible for setting the order of players for each line (forward and defence) before the start of the game. Therefore, once a line of players has ended their shift period, they will skate back to the bench as another line replaces them.

It is very important to note that there is no stoppage of play for line change in ice hockey. This means it occurs simultaneously as the game proceeds. Therefore, it must be done at the right moment so that the opposing team does not have an advantage. 

Oftentimes, teams capitalise on stoppages in play (during an infraction) to move for a line change. 

In addition, line change rules state that the new lines coming into the ice are not allowed to handle the puck until every member of the previous line has exited the ice. If this happens, they can be given an infraction for multiple players on the ice

A player in a line may decide not to go to the bench for a line change with his teammates. This means only the positions that went to the bench get changed.

Reasons For Shifts In Ice Hockey

Shift allows for a constant level of explosiveness throughout the game. Since players are regularly rotated, they have about 45 seconds of activeness before they move up to the bench for a new line. 

Also, ice hockey shifts allow every player in a game to have a chance on the ice. Even though the duration of shifts for lines in ice hockey (asides from the first and second line) is not much, every player gets a chance to play on the ice actively. 


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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