What does it mean to switch sides in ice hockey
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What Does Switching Sides Mean In Ice Hockey?

Are you familiar with the term switching sides in ice hockey? Is it new to you, or do you want to know what it means and its relevance to the sport? Switching sides is common in many sports leagues worldwide, but what does it mean in ice hockey?

What Does It Mean To Switch Sides In Ice Hockey

What Does It Mean To Switch Sides In Ice Hockey

Switching sides in ice hockey is when the goalie and players in a team move from their side of the ice to their opponent’s side and vice versa. It is a common practice of many sports leagues, including the NHL, to have the two sides of the opponent team switch places on the playing ground (rink, pitch, field etc.).

But switching sides in ice hockey is unique compared to football or other sports. Why?

Well, this is because, in hockey, switching sides occur twice in regular time. This is because ice hockey games are in three periods, and each period is 20 minutes. 

In other words, each team is going to play on one part of the ice twice and on the other side once. 


To break it down, if two teams (let’s say the Rangers and the Maple Leafs) have a game and during the first period, the Rangers occupy the left side and the Maple Leafs the right. 

During the second period, the two teams switch sides. The Rangers move to the right, and the Leafs move to the left. The same goes for the third period.

Do teams switch sides during overtime?

During overtime, the ice hockey teams switch sides. If a game extends to overtime, they will have to switch sides again for the third time. So they maintain the same position for the first and third periods and another for the second period and overtime.

Historical Reference To Switching Sides

Historical relevance of switching sides

Initially, ice hockey games were not played in periods. During the 1800s and early 1900s, ice hockey was an outdoor sport. At the time, recreational and professional matches were outdoor games on frozen lakes and ponds

Since it was in an open space, the players and the game, in general, were subject to the element (wind speed and direction). Also, the direction of the wind (which was a crucial factor) influenced the movement of players. 

Players who were skating against the wind had the disadvantage of slower skating and deflection of the puck. Therefore, in order to give a fair chance for both teams, the game was played in two halves. 

This meant that players maintained a portion of the ice during the first half, and the teams switched sides when the second half was to begin. Back then, switching sides occurred only once in a game (during the second half).

If this is the case, why do switching sides occur twice in a game?

The new structure of switching sides during intermissions between the 1st and 2nd, and 2nd and 3rd periods began after ice hockey moved indoors. Since the game was played on an artificial frozen surface, the ice had to be cleaned often. 

Cleaning the ice once over a 60 minutes game was not sufficient enough, and cleaning it three times was considered too much. Therefore, it was done during the breaks between periods.

Even though the weather was not a factor, the game kept the tradition of changing the team’s position after every intermission.

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Reason For Switching Sides In Ice Hockey

Reasons for switching sides in ice hockey

There is always a reason for every rule, regulation or custom, even in ice hockey. Teams, switching sides after each period, was not for fun. It is because of the impact it has on the game. 

Here are some of the advantages of teams switching sides. 

For An Even Game

As far back as when ice hockey was on frozen ponds and lakes, up to this moment when it is on ice rinks, the purpose of switching sides was to ensure fair play. 

In summary, it was done so both parties of a team get to have the same opportunities that being on a particular side of the ice offers. However, the necessity was more when it was outdoors. 

This was because the elements, such as the sun, wind and snow, could be disadvantageous to one side of the ice, giving the other end an advantage. So to make it fair, a switch was enforced to reduce the advantage one team enjoys due to its position on the ice.

To Increase Scoring Chances

Switching sides in ice hockey after a line change affects the effectiveness of players as they can not be substituted for a line change on the bench. 

During the first period of an ice hockey game, the team’s bench is on the same side as the skaters on the ice. This makes line change of skaters on the ice easy since the distance between the bench and the skaters is not much. 

Typically, a team could quickly move towards the bench and get replaced by another line of players (this is also called short change).

However, during the second period, when the teams switch sides, the position of players on the bench remains the same. This makes it problematic for a line change to occur smoothly without giving the opposing team a chance to score a goal. 

So how does switching sides increase scoring?

Line change in ice hockey occurs for about 45 seconds before another line change occurs. This ensures constant pressure and effective gameplay as new players come into play with new stamina and explosiveness. 

However, once a team switches sides, it is difficult for a line change without leaving the formation vulnerable as their team’s bench is on the other side of the ice. Line change can occur in this scenario when there is a stoppage of the game due to an infraction. 

When this happens, it is called a long change, as the bench is far from the goalie.

Eventually, players (in this case, defensemen) will exert themselves, leading to exhaustion and creating mistakes that can lead to a goal. Just so you know, the NHL loves when there is an increase in the number of game goals. This is because the league believes that more goals increase game excitement. 

Luckily, this only occurs during the second period of an ice hockey game when the game lasts only for the regular duration. During the third period, the set-up is the same as that of the first period.

But if the game is to go into overtime, a switch will have to occur gain. 

Boost Fan Experience 

Another reason for switching sides in ice hockey is so that the spectators (fans) will be able to enjoy the gameplay on both sides of the ice. 

Some sit at the far ends of an ice hockey rink, close to the goal net. Also, some sit by the sides adjacent to the rink’s centre. Seating adjacent to the rink’s centre gives you a better view of the match, even though it costs more.

But for those at the ends of the ice, following the game might be hard due to the distance. Because of this, switching sides helps bring the action to them, even if it is just for a period. 

What Is A Long Change In Ice Hockey

What is a long change in ice hockey?

A long change in ice hockey is a situation when the players on the bench are sitting at a distance that is farthest away from their goalie. It is a long change because when teams have line changes, a line of players, i.e. defensemen, go towards the bench, and another line of defensemen replaces them. 

But when the distance of the bench is far away from where their team/ goalie is on the ice, it makes it difficult for a line change to occur. However, if it occurs, it is called a long change. 

Long changes occur in the second period of a regular game. But if the game should go into overtime, it will also occur in overtime.

As said earlier, while we were talking about switching sides, when skaters switch sides after intermission between periods, the players on the bench do not move. Therefore, the position of the bench becomes farther away from the skaters and closer to their opponent’s team side of the ice.

The long change affects both sides simultaneously, and since players can’t go for a line change, there is usually a higher chance of a goal than during the first or third period. 

In Summary

  • Long change occurs in the second period and during overtime
  • It occurs because even though the skaters on the ice switch side, the bench does not switch side
  • It makes it difficult for line changes to occur
  • There is a higher chance of a team conceding a goal


Ice hockey progressed from being an outdoor sport to being one of the top sports leagues in North America. Even though it is still developing and spreading out, it has decided to keep some of its initial rules (switching sides). 

Now that you understand the terms “switching sides” and “long change”, you should understand the game and commentation better. Good luck.

Thanks for reading. 

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