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6 Traits of a Good Hockey Bench

By Tom Bly, Chair, Coaches Program, 12/01/21, 10:00AM EST


What coaches need to know about bench management

Photo Credit: Brian Woo Photography

Where hockey differs from other sports is that it can be tougher to ‘set up’ specific plays due to the unpredictable back and forth nature of the action. For instance, a baseball manager can call for a stolen base or a basketball coach can analyze the defensive setup and choose the best play to run. In football, the action stops after every play so the coach can decide what play to run next. That’s where what you teach in practice comes into play.

Between changing lines and calling out instruction, the bench can become a very chaotic place very quickly. It’s up to the coaching staff to ensure that players understand what is being asked of them and are aware of the play that’s going on.

Having a smooth operation on the bench starts even before puck drop. These are some traits of a good hockey bench.

Everybody Knows Their Role

The coaching staff is a team just as much as the players. Everyone should know their role come game time. From calling out line changes to opening and closing the doors, these are all roles that need to be determined before a game begins. Utilize the backup goalie as well – they can be on door duty or making notes of what they see on the ice. All members of the staff should be in charge of some part of the game action, whether it’s position-specific or more focused on actual responsibilities.

So that…

Players Know When to Change Lines

When there is constant action with few whistles it can be tougher to call for line changes on the fly. You don’t want your players out there for too long. On the other hand, you don’t want to risk being shorthanded or having too many men on the ice because of a delayed change. Your team should have momentum in the offensive zone and possession of the puck when changing lines. In minor hockey, the focus on line changes is on an equal rotation so all players can have the same amount of playing time.

That being said…

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Keep the Shifts Short

Shifts should be about 45 seconds maximum. Shorter shifts keep players fresh with an easier recovery time to get back out there on their next turn. Players going full speed for any longer risk gassing themselves out and potentially hurting their team in the process. Increase their focus by minimizing the distractions.

That helps players to…

Stay Engaged and Aware of the Game

When the clock starts ticking and it’s their turn to hit the ice, a skater should know which player they are replacing. Communication is key not just between the coaches and players but between the players themselves. Older players can learn how to hop over the boards instead of using the doors to help speed up the process of line changes.
It’s also up to the Coaches to…

Pay Attention to the Details

Keep track of line pairings. Make note of skills to work on in practice. Get ideas of new ways to develop skills. Your observations during the game can be referenced later and also be used to track just how far your team has come since the start of the season. In the heat of the game it can be easy to forget your notes by the final whistle which is why it’s important to write everything down.

Staying organized helps Coaches to…

Keep the Messaging Positive

Players will feel more motivated to play when they are being praised instead of yelled at. Constructive criticism is okay if you are suggesting on ways of how to improve the next time players find themselves in a similar situation. Players shouldn’t have to look over their shoulder every time they make a mistake on the ice. Instead, turn those into learning opportunities.


Tom Bly is a Barrie, ON native and holds the position of Chair, Coaches Program in the OMHA.

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