Why Do Hockey Players Have Short Shifts?

Why Do Hockey Players Have Short Shifts?

Hockey Shifts

Hockey is one of the most popular sports in North America today. You may wonder why hockey has its players frequently substituting who is playing on the ice, and why some players may stay on for somewhat longer shifts than others.

Hockey players have short shifts because it takes a lot of stamina and energy to play the sport. After about 45 seconds, their speed and skill will start to diminish. The average shift is about 30-45 seconds but can last longer if the player cannot get off the ice for strategic reasons.

If a player is playing hard, 45 seconds will be more than enough time to have played before needing a break. Hockey is meant to be played through short and intense bursts of energy. To find out more about why the shifts are so short, the average time of shifts for different player positions, and more, keep reading the article below.

Short Period of High Energy

The primary and overlying reason for short shifts is the short bursts of energy that the players must exert once they hit the ice.

Hockey is a high energy and high-intensity sport that requires you to skate hard and fast while also fighting for the puck or protecting the puck from getting to your team’s net. This requires players to give as much effort as they have in them each second they are on the ice.

Hockey is different compared to other sports where energy can be drawn out throughout the whole game. This is because hockey is an anaerobic sport versus an aerobic sport.

An anaerobic sport uses an anaerobic energy system, which is when the body provides energy bursts that can last 10-120 seconds. This release of energy causes your muscles to burn and your heart rate to reach about 80%-90% of your estimated maximum heart rate.

So, in hockey, players will get tired faster, and 45 seconds is the average limit before their skill and speed will start to decrease. If they don’t need a break after 45 seconds, they are likely not skating as fast.

Why Are Shifts As Short as 45 Seconds?

After about 45 seconds, the body cannot handle the speed and determination needed when you are on the ice in the middle of a game. As a result, it is best to keep the players rotating to ensure that they are playing their best.

Former National Hockey League (NHL) player, Murray Craven explained to the Las Vegas Sun why shifts are only 45 seconds in a simple yet easy to understand way. He stated, “It’s a 45-second sprint, so just go out your front door and run down the block as hard as you can for 45 seconds and see how tired you are.”

After 45 seconds have gone by, most hockey players will need a break if they plan on continuing the rest of the game with the same drive. This is true of anyone participating in high-energy or high-intensity activities.

Factors That Can Impact Shift Time

As for how long, on average, each player will remain on the ice for the shift will come down to other factors including:

  • The player’s position (forward or defensemen)
  • What is currently happening on the ice
  • The play the coach has strategized
  • When your linemates come off the ice

Although the average shift is approximately 30-45 seconds, not every player will come off after precisely 45 seconds has passed. Some may come off much sooner. This is due to many different reasons, and as a result, more players will end up getting more time on the ice than others.

Listed below are various factors that can impact how long the player will stay on per shift.

The Position of the Player

Depending on the player’s position, whether as a defenseman or a forward, they will have been placed in a specific line up, with the defensemen playing in a line of two and the forwards playing in a line of three.

The coaches have made these lines for a specific reason. Each line has its own primary goal to pursue when they are on the ice, so it is most common for players to switch out when their linemates switch out.

The Current Game

Since a player’s shifts may end while the game is still happening and the puck is still in play, the game’s current state and where the puck is on the ice is a big part of when a player’s shift will end.

If the players 45 seconds have gone by but they notice that the puck is in the defensive zone, it may be best for them to wait until the puck has left the zone, so they do not risk the other team getting a goal during the switch.

The best time, as long as the player’s energy permits are when the play is happening in the offensive zone. However, if all lines need to change and not just a single player, it is common for one player to stay longer so the other players can switch safely.

Another time when the game may allow slightly longer shifts is during a power play. A player will often stay on the power play for one minute or longer as it doesn’t require as much energy and is mostly puck control and passing.

The Strategy of the Coach

The coach may choose to play certain lines at a specific time, depending on who the opposing team decided to put out. This will, in the end, impact how many shifts particular players will play in a total game.

They may also choose to send out better players more often, or have them play slightly longer shifts than others if the game requires it. However, this varies based on the level of hockey that is being played.

Changing Shifts at Recreational Level

Younger hockey players or those playing at the recreational level will have different game targets than what you may see from NHL players or those in higher hockey levels.

In the beginning, buzzers may be used to time two-minute shifts, so the players all get the same ice time and are aware when it is their time to get off or go on.

Coaches may also be more vocal about calling specific players out when it is their time to come off as younger kids may tend to stay on the ice too long. This is also done, so every player gets a fair shot at playing the game. In the higher level games, however, better players will get to play more.


If a player is playing as hard and skating as fast, a 45-second shift may be all they can handle before they need a second on the bench. With these shifts being so short, a team can rotate through their best players and play all of them when they can give as much effort as possible.

By doing this, this keeps all players energized, so when it comes time for them to hop on the ice, whether because it is their turn in the rotation or their coach has a strategy they want to play, the player is ready to give it their all.

The most important thing to remember about playing hockey is that it is not a marathon; it is a sprint. It doesn’t take long for a sprint to tire you out and impact your performance.