Observations From the Rink: So You Want To Take Long Shifts!

So you want to take long shifts? 

There’s a big difference between logging massive minutes, being a horse and being selfish. Who’s responsible for long shifts? 

The coach or the player? 

Who’s in charge anyway, that’s hard to figure out sometimes isn’t it?  You know what the difference is between being a horse and a selfish player staying on the ice way too long? 

Entitlement, that’s the difference. 

So many young players get to the next level and just assume because of their resume they are going to play and are entitled to stay on the ice for as long as they see fit. Quietly honestly in my opinion, that’s bull shit, but where’s the coach in all of this? 

Playing the entire two-minutes of power play just because you were a top point getter in Pee Wee, Bantam or Midget, are you kidding me, get the hell off the ice. 

I get it, it’s up to the coach. The coach dictates shift length and ice time. I know what it’s like, I’ve been there. Plenty of years I coached basically a one-line team at the high school level so I know all about, but near the end of my minor hockey coaching days, I quickly realized that we were going to win a lot of games, but could we win the ones that it mattered most if I only played the shit out of my top one or two lines, obviously the answer was no. 

You’re only as good as your weakest link.  Hockey is a team game, each piece of the puzzle is equally as important.  Nevertheless, at the end of the day, it’s all about winning. I remember trying to do everything I could during those coaching days in high school, I tried everything I could to stay competitive to squeak out the victory. 

Taking time outs to rest players, double shifting players non-stop, matching lines, budgeting their ice time, letting them go easy in practice because we needed them on the weekend.

Trust me, I tried everything. 

Listen I get it, it’s all about wining, but what about when you have a deep team, in a developmental league? As a coach you know what you do, you try to win, win at all cost, you play your horses, you go with the players that are going on a nightly basis, but you always play your top guys. 

I can use all that cliché bullshit and it may never change, but there are some programs out there and some coaching philosophies that understand, they just get it and you know what, in the long run they will win,  and develop better players at a greater frequency. That being said it still doesn’t explain why young players still don’t understand and value the importance of short shifts.

Obviously, they have to be told, it has to be explained, taught and part of the team culture. Quick shifts are paramount, “on, off, let’s go”, should be a common theme throughout all levels of the game. 

Sure, I get the coaches side and I understand the players perspective in all of this, I logged big minutes the last few years of my playing days, but seriously, who’s keeping track of all of this?

Obviously, some parents are with stop watches and all of that stuff, but seriously who’s keeping track in the Bantam, Midget and Junior ranks? 

I’m sure all the analytics crowd are out there evaluating, recording and making bar graphs to display the linear progression, negative and positive factors, and every possible strategy from an offensive standpoint, but is there’s a reason why major junior hockey across this country doesn’t keep time on ice or do they? 

I’m sure if you took a private poll of all the CHL teams you would find out they track TOI all season long.  There are companies out there that use advanced technology to track that information through the use of microchips sewed into jerseys, so trust me CHL teams are keeping track. 

We all know shift length is critical in all aspects of the game. Gone are the days of Phil Esposito playing through two other lines and staying out there for three minutes.  Sure, there are players at the elite levels of the game that can log incredible amounts of ice time without showing any fatigue.

They have the ability to log massive minutes while playing at their best So how do they do it? 

They monitor their shift length, they pace themselves, they work together with the coaching staff. They understand the game, they go hard in every shift and they are incredible athletes that know their bodies well. Obviously, those players have probably logged massive minutes at every level coming up through. However, to see Midget aged kids not backcheck, coast on the forecheck and not have anything left in the tank in the 3rd period is a perfect indicator that they aren’t in shape, lack of bench management by the coach or they have stayed on the ice way too long. 

Pick your poison, trust me, it’s all of above. You see that’s undoubtedly where the bad habits creep into young players games. That’s where you see the tired mistakes, the careless mistakes or the bad penalties. 

That’s where the entitlement comes into effect as well. Those entitled players have always logged big minutes, so they should keep playing that way, they should stay on the ice, but what they don’t realize is with big minutes come big mistakes and really bad habits. 

Why aren’t those mistakes or bad habits corrected or dealt with at lower levels?  Well that’s easy, the coaches are too hung up winning, hell everyone is fixated on winning. 

The coaches that play their entire benches are thought to be subpar because of their “win-loss” records.  Everyone assumes they can’t coach because they can’t win, while they are winning on a developmental front, that’s the battle that no one sees or appreciates. 

I’m not saying the best players shouldn’t play more in critical situations or when the game is on the line, I’m not saying that at all. 

Are coaches really preparing players for the next level if they play the shit out of their top players and limit other players opportunities? Whatever happened to playing big minutes, but short shifts?  Whatever happened to earning your ice time, but playing short shifts? 

Whatever happened to holding players accountable for their play on the ice and their behaviour off of it, by taking away their ice time? 

Why do some coaches still “ghost bench” players?  Hey coaches let’s be honest and transparent with players instead of “ghost benching” them for no apparent reason. 

Whatever happened to creating a culture of unity and team first, rather than labelling and typecasting players? Whatever happened to teaching every single player the power play and penalty kill and giving them all an opportunity? Whatever happened to playing the game the right way? 

“Oh if I stay on longer, I’ll get noticed more.”  Yeah probably for all the wrong reasons. 

Get the hell of the ice, take shorter shifts, trust me you will be a lot better for it. 

“Oh, if I take short shifts, the other guys will stay out longer.”  Yeah that sucks and unfortunately, it’s probably true, hopefully your coach will figure that out and fix it once and for all. 

All of this reminds me of watching “Days of Thunder” Harry and Cole arguing about tires, speed and how to win a race.

“His way, my way, I was six seconds faster,” Harry said. 

Cole Trickle’s tires were wore all to hell, Harry’s were like brand new! Do you want to be wore out or have energy for when it’s winning time? 

You be the judge, hopefully your coach will, but I doubt it.

If everyone knows the value and importance of short shifts, why the hell haven’t more coaches and selfish players not figured out it yet? 

So you want to take long shifts eh?  Good luck with that, trust me, that shit doesn’t float at the next level. 

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