It’s not just the hockey players. Sometimes mistakes are made on the bench that can make a difference to the outcome of a game. Here are five tips to keep in mind that can help your team while you’re on — or on your way — to the bench.

1. Matching Lines

By doing a little homework you can find out who the opposing team’s point leaders are. Your league probably keeps those statistics online, so it’s easy to see who’s been doing what. Armed with that information, you can try to match lines to make sure your strongest defensemen are on the ice when their strongest attacker is – or that your strongest attacker is on the ice when their weakest defensemen are.

There is a wealth of information online that can help you pre-determine who your lines should be playing against, which includes the players names, numbers, goals, assists, the number of games played this season. Knowing who their scoring leader is and having a plan to shut down that success will give your team a leg’s up in a match.

2. Home Team Advantages

Home teams have two important advantages which coaches often overlook.

  1. The Game Sheet: Often in minor hockey, the Official Scorer wears more than one cap: keeping time, recording goals, assists and penalties, playing music during stoppage of play and making announcements. But one of the Official Scorer’s duties can give the home team an advantage they can use right from the start. And that’s the other team’s lineup.Ten to 15-minutes before the start of the game, the Official Scorer takes the game sheet to the Visitor’s dressing room and waits for them to complete it. The game sheet lists all the names and numbers of all the players who are present and dressed for the game, as well as any substitute players taking the place of regular players, and the names of up to 5 team officials who may be helping out on the bench. For each team, the Captain and/or an Alternate must be designated. Depending on the governing body’s regulations, you may be required to circle the numbers of your starting lineup. The Official Scorer then goes to the Home team’s dressing room to get them to add their roster to the list. This lets the home team’s coaches know, even before the game starts, who is going to be playing for the visitors – letting them make lineup adjustments, as needed. They can also see if there is a lack of team officials noted on the list. Having just one or two team officials on the bench can be a sign of organizational chaos to come, heightening the possibility of “too many men” infractions throughout the game.
  2. Opening the Door – As the “Home” team you have another important privilege: you are the last team to make on-ice changes during the stoppage of play. In order to do this, though, when the play stops, your doors must be opened.This is really important for coaches to not just keep in mind, but to do, consistently, even if a line change was made just a few seconds before. If the opposing team makes a last-second line change and you’re trying to match lines, you can do that but only if your door is open and you get your changes made before the referee raises his arm, indicating the play should commence once again.

3. Timeout!

Throughout the regular season in most leagues, each team is given one timeout per game. Coaches tend to be economical with when — or if — they use them.

A timeout is a 30-second pause to give your team a break, take in some fluids and give them instructions. More importantly, though, a timeout called at the right time can change the entire momentum of a game. If the opposition has scored back-to-back goals and your team looks like a deer, frozen in the oncoming headlights, take your timeout. If your team is making sloppy penalties in the attack zone, it’s time to make a “T” with your hands during the next stoppage of play, and call your players to the bench.

Since a team gets only one timeout per game, coaches are often stingy about using them and like to save them for late in the third period when your team is running out of energy and seems to have lost it legs. That may be a welcomed relief for the players but it may be too late in the game to ensure a victory. Remember: it doesn’t matter if you’re two minutes into the first period or two minutes from the end of the second: momentum is a powerful phenomenon and when that power is not on your side, the change can sometimes be made from the bench with the help of that 30-second timeout.

4. Watch the Clock

Watching the clock is usually frowned upon, but in hockey, watching the clock can make a big difference in how your team plays. How disciplined is your team? At a recent tournament, I watched a Pee-Wee AA team make military line changes each 30 to 40 seconds. They were aided by a hockey mom in the stands with an annoying bird-like whistle that audibly marked the need for the change. I know, I was sitting one row behind her and after a while, the penny dropped…she was recruited to call for the change.

Of course, sometimes line changes aren’t possible — like when your team is pinned in their zone during a power play — but keeping the shifts short and intense contribute to a team with more energy to make it through especially-gruelling 3rd periods.

“Shorter shifts early in the game will leave something left in the tank for the third period and overtime,” says Dan Brennan, manager of USA Hockey’s Coaching Education Program. “There’s nothing worse than a tired player out on the ice. He or she then leaves your team vulnerable.”

5. Coach

When a shift change is made, it’s important that the coaches do what the title on their jacket reads, and COACH. Reinforce the positive – “Good pass”, “Good steal”, “Good head’s up”, etc. But it’s also your opportunity to make adjustments, proposing other ways of seeing something that just happened on the ice, like being too high – or being too low, and encourage your player to see other possibilities.

Coaching is teaching, and if a coach can tell a player how to do something better based on something that just happened, that idea may germinate in the mind of the player and make him or her a better player.