Line Change Forecheck 101

An adjustment for better defense

I am watching a U15 AAA game between two middle-of-the-pack teams.

The team in red gets off to a quick start but nearly squanders its lead during a run-and-gun second period.

A parent asks me the reason for the shift in momentum.

“Watch the red team on its line changes,” I answer.


Coaches typically demand short, intense shifts and quick, decisive line changes.

However, some bench bosses err when teaching the transition between line change and neutral-zone forecheck: These coaches insist on all five skaters changing at the same time.

As a result, the first forecheck up-ice (F1) leaves play too early, giving the opposing team a free controlled exit.

Controlled exits against often lead to controlled entries against.

Controlled entries against often lead to shots and extended defensive zone time.

These are not things that we want.

Notice how the white team is able to develop a numbers and speed advantage without a red F1 pressing their regroup.

Eventually White is able to turn a controlled entry into a 2v1, then into a 1v0 chance. It doesn’t help that Red only gets four players back into the play despite the game being 5v5.


The counter-intuitive aspect of a line change forecheck, is that you want to leave one or two tired players on the ice just a bit longer.

The bare minimum is to let F1 (who is ready for a change) press up-ice and buy some time for the other four skaters sprinting into the play.

In the 2017 provincial semi-finals, the top-seeded McGill Martlets (USports WHKY) are faced with a winner-takes-all Game 3 against the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees.

McGill’s video & analytics coordinator notices that the team is conceding a number of free exits leading to easy entries and shots for OTT.

McGill’s F1s were so eager to keep their shifts short that they were leaving the ice too early, thereby giving opponents an advantage.

The analyst relays this information to coach Peter Smith, who issues a crucial reminder to the players during the pre-game meeting.

The Martlets dominate the deciding game and sweep up the provincial title a week later.


Learn more about hockey tactics from an AHL coach

Join top-level players, coaches and GMs by reading the Hockey Tactics 2021 ebook, available now on Gumroad ($25 USD):