Subscribe to Bourne's Blog Grab My Feed!Subscribe to Bourne's Blog Subscribe to Comments

How “Too Many Men On The Ice” Happens



Follow jtbourne on Twitter.

G’mornin’ friends!

Some wonderful hockey last night, wasn’t there?  The Canucks and Bruins games were great…. And let’s call a spade a spade: Miro Satan went from being a borderline waste of a paycheck to worth every penny in one play. 

We did good, weeee!

But anyways.  As you may have noticed, these great playoff games have been plagued by the same thing every hockey head will be talking about this morning: Too many men on the ice penalties.

So, for those of you pulling your hair out this morning going “how. the f**k. does that happen?”, I figured I’d help.

How “too many men” happens:

Where to start, where to start….

This penalty, though almost always publicly blamed on the coach (by themselves, by the commentaters) is nearly never the coaches fault.  It’s also almost never the defensemen’s fault (actually, I can’t ever remember a time when it was).

Yep, it’s us forwards.

Coaches call the next line by the center’s last name.  So for the Canucks, Sedin-Sedin-Burrows goes by “Sedin, you’re up”, and the two wingers just know that includes them, unless otherwise specified.  But specifications come often.

“Sedin, you’re up, Kesler, play left side”

Automatically, Burrows is supposed to know that means he’s not going, since he’s the usual left winger.

But sometimes, you just shut off after you hear your center’s name called, or there’s some crowd noise after the name, whatever.  So if it doesn’t register with Burrows that he’s not going, two left wingers end up jumping the boards.  In loud buildings and tight games, some coaches get super involved to make sure the guys know who’s going next, maybe by physically grabbing the usual winger and making sure he knows he’s not going.  Some coaches switch to shoulder taps and individual “you’re going’s” when the building gets crazy.

I know that Satan move well - it's called "indecision, with a side of talent", and it looks like patience.

Sometimes players are just brain-dead and think coach called their line when he didn’t, and they jump.  (This happens often when your center’s last names are, say, Morelli, Pelley and Nelly, like my BCHL team from many years back.)

Then, when coach calls your line, it’s the player’s responsibility to clarify who you’re changing for.  Like, physically, out loud, clarify it with your line mates, even if you’ve been changing for the same guys all season, every shift, because coaches are always tinkering with lines and forward positions.

Burrows is a good example – he can play left or right side, so if Vigneault double-shifts him once, he may have him play left with the Sedins, but right-side when he’s out there with Kesler’s line.

So the next guy, who thinks Burrows is a left winger says “I got Burrows” and his right winger will end up having to say ”nono no, he’s playin’ right side dude.”

If that conversation never happens, Burrows comes to the bench, both wingers jump out thinking he’s their change, and voila, too many men.

There are times, of course, when it is the coaches fault.  There’s a certain level of responsibility that lies with him to clearly communicate his next unit.  {I’ve only played on one team where the head coach didn’t run the forward lines, and for those who do run them, think about how time consuming that is.  Armchair coaches love to say “I can’t believe coach made (blank) decision”, but half the game he’s looking down at namebars on the bench or his scratch sheet in his hand to figure out which personnel he wants out there.}

Love this pic!

He has to make it clear who’s up, or he’s to blame (still, he’ll rarely admit it was his fault once the dressing room door closes.  Players have to listen closely).  But often, he’ll assign a line to go next, and only two guys will be able to change, while the third gets stuck out there (don’t change going into the d-zone, etc.).  So the coach, seeing two of the guys out there from the line he assigned, will sometimes think the change is complete, and call out the next line.

Let’s say the right winger is still waiting to get out there with his line, and the right winger on the ice changes.  It’s the coaches responsibility to notice this, and tell the right winger who still hasn’t got out with his two liney’s to ”sit this shift out, let’s start getting the next line out as a unit”.  Often, if the coach doesn’t make that fix, both right wingers who’ve been called will jump, and again, voila.  Too many men. (This usually gets caught if your team communicates well – if either right winger calls out his change, the other will usually hear that, and turn to the coach for a decision: finish this change, or start the next unit?)

There’s a million ways it can happen, but I think in general, I’ve covered the most common.  Hope I helped get your head around it.

Still, you’d love to know who caused the meltdown in the Sabres case, leading to the Bruins double OT winner.  Good rule of thumb – if you notice that the coach has sent a good player to the box (maybe one who’d normally kill penalties) after a too many men call – where he can pick who sits from the guys on the ice - it was probably that guy’s fault.  It’s priceless how often the scatterbrain who jumped the boards when he wasn’t supposed to gets chosen (in yell form) to go sit the two minutes.

Anyways, I’ll probably do some further playoff discussions in another post.  The “Too Many Men-ifesto” went on waaaayyy too long.

Happy Thursday!

(UPDATE: Upon further review, I can’t help but notice that even though I explain how it happens, I fail to mention that it shouldn’t.  A little communication goes a long way.

Also – Darren Dreger brings up a good point in his mini-blog today.  In the playoffs, matchups could be a reason why it’s happening so often.  When you’re matching the other teams top guy, the second he hits the ice, you’re supposed to change immediately to get out there against him, so you’ll often take the next forward – assuming you’re a forward – even if it’s not your exact position.  This leads to pure madness on the bench, and why some coaches shy away from trying to match lines)


33 Responses to “How “Too Many Men On The Ice” Happens”
  1. Jack says:

    Don’t the NHL playoffs reseed after the first round?

  2. jtbourne says:

    Y’know, I always thought so, but I saw so many “brackets” this year that it got muddled in my head. Now that I think about it: yes, they re-seed after the first round. So Boston wouldn’t get Philly, they’d probably get the Penguins. I nixed those sentences, thanks.

  3. Aces Arbitrage says:

    I liked the gang bang of Sedin in the last minute of the game.

  4. Nadeau says:

    Another good read man I read them everyday usually don’t comment tho as I can never find the quick wit like most commentors you have. but just thought I would drop a line letting ya know just how much I enjoy the work keep it up. PS get THN to start putting ur blog on my BB app it would make it easier for me!!!

  5. Dave says:

    Do you think the Blackhawks are going to get their act together and beat the Predators, or go down in shame as another Chicago coulda been team?

  6. jtbourne says:

    Thanks Nadeau – don’t be afraid to chime in whenever, everyone loves hearing from other hockey players.

  7. Nadeau says:

    Well I am officially a coach now so after my first ” too many men” penalty I will let ya know how that goes

  8. Liviu says:

    Justin, thanks for the explanation. I’ve been around hockey my whole life and I have friends who have played, so I know a decent amount about the game, but the communication on the bench has always eluded me. I’ve always wondered how line changes and stuff like that work. Thanks again.

  9. jtbourne says:

    Dave – I think the Hawks are fine. The Predators are legitimately good, but I just can’t see them beating the Hawks four times out of seven. Campbell is rumoured to be coming back, so you’re boys should be juuuust fine.

  10. KForbes says:

    Any thoughts on why this seems to be happening more often in the playoffs this year?

    Diligent officials? (*snicker*)
    Crowd noise?
    Guys a little to jumpy on the bench?

  11. Nadeau says:

    KForbes all of the above but mostly the last one I think the playoffs this year are freakin intense and the players can feel it and just want to be on that ice!!!

  12. jtbourne says:

    KForbes, good question. Though it’s probably just coincidence, we could always hazard a guess….

    First, and this may be waaaaay off, but I feel like the playoff teams are younger this year, or at least are being led by younger guys. Dustin Brown, Jonathan Toews, Sidney Crosby… these leaders haven’t been in enough playoffs yet to know how to calm their boys down, so they can think clear while playing hard.

    Also, it feels like the NHL playoffs are kinda becoming like The Masters in golf. Where normally great golfers just suddenly implode and start duck hooking wedges into the bush. I wonder if the recent increase in media coverage (or at least the online portion, which young guys DO read) hasn’t made the players more aware of just how much a Stanley Cup really means?

    I doubt there’s a clear reason, maybe a combination of factors, but either way, I bet we start seeing a lot less of it, now that it’s come up.

    {UPDATE – Darren Dreger mentioned something too – matchups. You do it way more in playoffs, and it leads to madness. I chucked a blurb in at the end of this blog on it}

  13. Char says:

    Crowd noise may be something of a factor. I was at that Bruins game last night and my ears are still ringing. Best part of the penalty was Lindy Ruff looking like he was going to slug somebody. LOL.

    Satan’s goal was a thing of beauty, an absolute veteran move. He knew exactly what he was doing, as Miller tends to be overagressive.

  14. jtbourne says:

    Char – maybe, but when you have an unusual amount of time, look up, and a goalie is bang on his angles, the shooting checklist takes you pretty close to the net. It was an absolute great play, I’m just saying that often it isn’t “wait him out and deke” as much as it is “nowhere to shoot, crap I’m getting too close to shoot, hey he’s way out of his crease, react”.

    PS – Miller tends to be overaggressive? Miller tends to be awesome. That was one of the single best goaltending games I’ve seen in years (well, years if Craig Anderson hadn’t played the other night). Get RM the Vezina, STAT.

  15. Sioux says:

    JT, this happened in the 2008 North Dakota State High school tournament. How would you like to lose the state title on this play?

  16. jtbourne says:

    Wow. They actually had six, huh. Even if that happened in the NHL, you can’t review “guys on the ice”. They catch it or they don’t. Brutal…. I bet even the winning team didn’t want that to count. I know I wouldn’t.

  17. nightfly says:

    This stuff is great. I know that when it happens in our leagues, it’s never the coaches because nobody has them. We’re all just old dudes trying to get exercise.

    I like to call it “the Secret Surfer,” so named after the Mad Surfers, a roller hockey team in my very first league. They were kinda snotty kids and would try to sneak an extra skater in on purpose – changing two and tossing three over for just a few seconds, and then getting the extra guy off before the refs caught it. Since we often had only two officials, they managed to pull it off more than once.

    (They would also dress two goalies, one of the rare teams to bother with something like that on our level – and they would change them ON THE FLY against weak teams, just because. Don’t worry, they’re actually not jerks anymore.)

    Irony of ironies, one of those guys is now a ref. Last night I was working with him (his regular partner was out) and we had one of these calls. We had our arms up for ten seconds, no lie. How does a team NOT notice it has an extra player for that long? AND, how does a team with that extra player NOT secure the puck for that long?

  18. christina says:

    Hey, great idea to shed some light on, or at least give explanation to the plethora of too many men calls that have been going on. It’s interesting to find out what goes on on the bench during line changes and I would’ve guessed that more often than not it’s the players at fault. It was mentioned in the comments that it could be due to pressure which makes sense, if guys aren’t paying attention and just all want to contribute at the same time it could result in that. It’s a shame really because so many of the too many men penalties called have ended up costing them the win!

    Anyway this is my first time reading your website, I was linked from DGB (which was a great idea btw I dont know if it was solely his to post links but it got me here!) I also read The Hockey News and I did recognize your name and some articles you’ve written (your head shots article in particular) and it’s great to know you have a site that from what I see is updated regularly. I love reading about hockey from a player’s point of view lol so keep em comin!

  19. Nathan says:

    I’ve seen enough of Miroslav Satan in the last two seasons, and seen moves similar, to know that he knew exactly what he was doing on that goal.


    I got a great pass. I’m not even sure who it was,‘ Satan said. I knew I had Miller coming out, made a move to the side and I had an empty net.‘
    Satan said he knew Miller was out of position and he would have room for the deke.

    I think I had something to do with it because I tried to sell that I’m shooting,‘ he said. Then he came out and I knew that if I go to the side the net should be empty.‘

  20. jtbourne says:

    Nathan – Fine, cool.

  21. Steve C. says:

    We never have that problem.
    Most nights there’s only 8 or 9 of us so usually it’s a “Not Enough Men On The Ice” penalty. (=Goal)

  22. Char says:

    Certainly Miller is awesome – he’s a great goalie. But as aggressiveness is one of his strengths, it’s also one of his weaknesses. There are times when he goes too far, and it costs him (check out Ryder’s second goal – in game 3, I believe).

    Not to say “oh, he’s overaggresive, he stinks.” Not at all, But nobody’s perfect, not even Miller. Or Rask. ;-)

  23. Bomski17 says:


    Is this not the funniest fight that you have ever seen?? Gillies has quite a few of these on youtube.


  24. Frank Rekas( says:

    Justin: I also came across your site via DGB and want to say that I enjoy your writing and it’s great to read things from a player’s point of view. Excellent piece about the too many men problem that seems to be happening. I saw a stat that there’s already been 16 of them so far in the playoffs. Last year there were 17 in the entire post season.
    Crowd noise? Player’s not paying attention? Who knows.
    Anyway, love the work, keep at it. Linked your site to my blog. This way, I make sure I keep coming back.

  25. Nadeau says:

    Bourne whats your take on this whole Ovie snowing the kid in Montreal thing, I think everyone is blowing it up cause it was Ovie he always does the skate hard to the Bench and stop before every game I dont think he really meant to snow the kid but probably didnt see him till the last second and when ur skating MACH 8 i can only imagine how hard it would be to stop I can barely stop on a dime and I can only go like .5 MACH plus I bet this kid is at school braggin to all his friends that the Great Ovechkin sprayed him with snow and the snow went so high and it was so cool. I don’t have a link to the video but someone who does please post it for all to see I am at work!!!

  26. Aces Arbitrage says:

    Brodeur broke a record in the game tonight, he ate 229 wings during the intermission…

  27. jtbourne says:

    Hey Frank, thanks for the nice note man. Also, congrats on maintaining a blog about maybe the only other team that had as tough a decade as my Isles. Someday, that victory will be all the sweeter, right? Anyone? Sigh….

  28. jtbourne says:

    Aces: +1

  29. Frank Rekas( says:

    Justin: Thanks. It ain’t easy, but what the heck. I’m really not that ornery!


  30. Chad says:

    I love reading the coaches lips… That Caps Canadiens game was something…

  31. Ben says:

    Thanks for this Justin. A really interesting piece. I love all this stuff, which gives an insight to the game.


Check out what others are saying about this post...
  1. [...] Go to JT Bourne’s blog.  JT is a former player turned writer and a nice guy to top it off.  Here’s his great view on the “Too many men on the ice” issue that’s cramping the [...]

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!