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Dealing with short & long benches in beer league hockey

Managing a beer league hockey team is one of the most thankless jobs. Getting beer league players to commit (and then to pay) is only the first problem. Although we are all adults and these players spend a good amount of money on their fees, getting them to do anything as a group is akin to herding cats. As a team GM you’ve probably heard your fair share of beer league excuses. At some point you realize that it is a fool’s errand.

Therefore, it should be no surprise that getting players to attend games can be a full-time job for the team captain. You can set up the most luxurious and fabulous team app ever and 50% of the team still won’t use it. You’ll have no-shows and last minute cancellations. By the middle to the end of the season, you’ll be scraping the bottom of the sub barrel to get anyone with a pulse to play. Of course the opposite is true in the playoffs, when you’ll somehow have more people show up than there even are on the roster! 

So how do you manage the lineups with a variable and unknown number of players? Here is a guide that you can commit to memory to quickly determine how to handle every scenario. Just a lil clapback from the players on the team.

When your beer league hockey team has:

Six players or less

This is the worst case scenario for a beer league hockey team. Hopefully you have plenty of beer and you play the game anyway out of fairness to your opponent who (of course) has a full bench. With such a short bench things can go one of two ways. If the “right” (i.e. youngest, fastest, bestest) players show up, you stand a good chance to win. If not, it’ll be miserable. You may play okay into the second or even third period, but when the wheels fall off good luck to the poor goalie. With five, obviously there are no subs. Take penalties when you need to rest, which may be hard because the refs will tend to let you use your stick a lot when you’re so short benched. With six, use the one sub as needed but primarily at forward.

beer league hockey team

Seven beer league players

Fairly similar to the above scenario, except that you can dedicate one sub to forward and one to defense. Buy plenty of ice for the beer and try your level best. The forwards should change for the next available without set positions, although the personnel on the ice at any time can make adjustments. With three defense, have the first change occur on a half-shift (about 45 seconds into the game) to establish a three-player rotation. It helps to have the new guy go the side furthest from the bench.

Eight Players

This is going to be every game during the dog days of the season, especially the summer season. You’ll have 13 players signed in at 8:00am and by 10:00pm it will be down to eight. Because of course it will. The split here is to have five forwards and three defense. Forwards should change for next available and defense should rotate three as described in the above scenario for seven players.


Nine players

Nine isn’t so bad because you will be able to set two dedicated lines of forwards. The defense will run the three player rotation used for seven or eight players.

10 players

This is considered the ideal number of players for a beer league hockey team game. This gives you two dedicated lines of forwards as well as two dedicated defense pairs.

11 players

This is generally considered to be the ​worst​ beer league hockey team lineup, but it isn’t that bad. The tendency for a captain that doesn’t really understand the metrics of hockey may be to split the lineup into six forwards and five defense, but this isn’t the best way to go. The reason is because you always want your defense to have more ice time than forwards. Why is that? Firstly, the forwards should have to skate harder which necessitates more rest. Lastly, more ice time helps the defense find a rhythm that helps them to be more effective. There is a total of 180 minutes of ice time for forwards and 120 minutes for defense in a 60-minute game. Dividing 180 by 6 forwards yields 30 minutes average per player and dividing 120 by 5 defense yields 24 minutes average per player. Using a split of seven forwards and four defense is better because it yields around 26 minutes per forward and 30 per defense. This is definitely preferable. Managing four defense is easy, but how about seven forwards? It seems easiest to run three centers, but this is generally not the best idea. Centers are typically the best offensive players on the team and you wouldn’t want to give them less ice time for the sake of convenience. The best option here is to run three wingers on one side. There are schemes where the extra forward rotates through positions but that adds complications to the lineup that are best avoided.


12 players

12 is fairly easy and not a bad lineup. Use three pairs of wingers that stay together, with two centers rotating. Each center will play with each wing pair at some point during the game. On defense there are two pairs. Always avoid six forwards and six defense for the reasons outlines in the above scenario. This would be even more extreme with forwards averaging 30 minutes and defense 20 minutes.

13 players

13 is almost as good as 10 for simplicity. Three full forward lines and two defense pairs.


14 players

14 players introduces a wrinkle into the management of the defense since you will have five. There are three full forward lines. Number the defense 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 and have everyone remember their number. The next two defense who will go on the ice are the next two in sequence. For example, 1 and 2 will start, and when either comes in 3 will go out. Then 4, then 5, then 1 and so on. This keeps the skipping of shifts more even and avoids confusion where nobody knows who is next up.

beer league hockey team

15 players

This should be the most you ever have. This is how many you will have at all playoff games and in most beginner leagues (when the appeal of 11:10pm games on weeknights has not worn off yet). This is easily divided into three forward lines and three defense pairs. 16 or more players Somebody has to sit out. This just shouldn’t happen. If you have to do it run four wingers on one side similar to the scenario for 11 players.

If the roster has 16 or more full-time players to keep costs down and they regularly show up, it may be work paying the extra to cut the roster to 15.

Hopefully this helps to better understand lineup management next time you are expecting 13 players and end up with 11. You’ll be able to roll with the punches and put out the lineup that gives you the best chance to win.

If you’re reading this you’re probably a beer leaguer. Did you know we have a podcast that we made just for you? We’d be so stoked if you check it out and subscribed on iTunesSpotify. We’d be even more stoked if you were able to rate and review us too. Thank you beauts so much for the support.

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