The line change procedure is used in order to give the Home Team an extra advantage and allow them to match lines with the Visiting Team.  For example, if the Home Team has a particular set of players (usually the checking line) that they want to play against the top scoring line of the Visiting Team; the Home Team can use the line change procedure to ensure that they get this match-up.  Another example is when the Home team sees that the opposition has their weakest line on the ice; this would be a great opportunity for the Home Team to put their top scoring line on the ice in order to increase the chances of scoring a goal.

After the referee has given the Visiting Team their five-seconds to change players, the referee’s arm will go up in the air and now the Visiting Team can no longer change any players.  So, if the top scoring line is on the ice and they can’t be changed for another line, the Home Team will have five-seconds to place their checking line out against this scoring line.  The procedure allows the Home Team to gain an extra advantage in their home rink.

Remember that the Home team does not have to follow this procedure perfectly.  The Home team can change players as soon as the referee has blown the whistle. Until you get into the upper categories you will rarely see coaches trying to match lines.  For the most part in minor hockey you will see both teams changing as soon as the whistle has been blown.  This still does not change the referee’s duties.  The referee must still follow the procedure on every stoppage to ensure that he doesn’t get caught at some point during the game when a coach actually wants to follow the line change procedure.          

On the surface, it is a very simple procedure. However,  as is the case with most rules, coaches stay up nights trying to find ways of “stretching the rule”.


Often you will see the Visiting Team’s coach try to get around this line change procedure by throwing out only a few players from the player’s bench and having the players coming off the ice stay beside the bench, but still on the ice.  Now you have anywhere from 5-10 players from the Visiting Team on the ice beside the bench. 

Once the five-seconds allowed for the Visiting Team to change has passed, it is the Home Team’s turn to change their players.  At this point, the Visiting Team can see what players the Home team is placing on the ice and the coach can now pick from the 5-10 players he still has on the ice, thus eliminating the Home team’s advantage of last change.


It is up to the referee to recognize that this shifty method of getting around the line change procedure is taking place and put a stop to it. The referee must either do one of the following things: (1) Go to the bench and tell the coach that if this occurs again, where they have players waiting around the bench for the home team to change before they choose what players will stay on the ice, a Bench Minor penalty will be assessed, or; (2) The referee will have to pay attention to what players were on the ice and what players came off the bench. Since this is somewhat difficult, as the players tend to mix themselves up in front of the bench, option (1) is usually the method that most referees will take.

One last option to the referee if he does not wish to assess a penalty for this infraction is to tell the Home Team that regardless of how long it takes to get a full line of the Visiting Team on the ice, the Home Team will still get the last change.  However, most referees will lose the respect of both teams if they take this route so the ref will usually go with the Bench Minor penalty option.


For the most part referees will just send the players who are trying to make a late change back to the bench.  You will often see a referee send players back two or three times throughout the game before they approach the bench to give the team a warning.  Each team is entitled to one warning before being assessed a Bench Minor penalty under this rule. This penalty is not anything serious like an impact penalty (Checking from Behind, High Sticking, etc.), so referees don’t like to call the bench minor penalty unless the coaches give them no other choice.

Don’t forget that if the Home Team’s five seconds are up (when the referee’s arm comes down) and they try to change, the referee will send these players back as well.  Both teams must respect this rule if the game is to proceed with a smooth flow and end within a reasonable time frame.

Even though it is up to the referee to enforce this rule, he will usually give each team a few chances before assessing a penalty.  It is also up to the coaches to know and respect this rule. Five-seconds gives the coach more than enough time to change players, so they shouldn’t get mad at referees who are trying to minimize the amount of time between stoppages of play.  They are only doing their job and the coaches must respect that.  Reducing the time between stoppages of play allows for a quicker paced game and it makes it more exciting for both the players and the fans.


Although the Referee is paying attention to the line change procedure, and so is the coach, it is not unheard of to see 6 players (6 players + 1 goalie) on the ice immediately after the puck has been dropped to commence play.  This mistake has happened before and will happen again. 

The correct thing for the Referee to do is blow the whistle immediately after he has realized that one team started play with too many men on the ice.  This is not a penalty if the referee notices this infraction within a few seconds of the resumption of play.  The referee simply blows the whistle, gets the coach of the team with the extra player to remove one player and the face-off takes place once again from the same location. 

However, if the Referee does not notice that one of the teams has an extra player on the ice, and play continues for a reasonable amount of time before an official notices that one team has too many men on the ice, a penalty for “Too Many Men” may be assessed to that team. 

Usually the referee will notice this incident immediately after the puck has been dropped and will blow the whistle to remove the player. If the Referee doesn’t notice this mistake then the coach usually does and he will yell at one of his players to come off the ice without the play having to be stopped and a penalty assessed.