Ice Hockey Rules

Ice hockey can be confusing to the first-time observer. Understanding the rules will help you identify what's going on in the game and give you a greater appreciation of the sport. For a basic understanding of the game of hockey, you should learn about

By Pamela Rice Hahn


The Object of the Game    to top

The basic object of hockey is to place the puck in the opponents' goal. In achieving this objective, players can't touch the puck with their hands; they must use their sticks.

The rink is divided into three sections. The middle section is a neutral zone, with each team's defending zone on either side. The defending zones are indicated with blue lines. An attacking player (from the other side) can't enter the opponents' defending zone until the puck is past the defending line.

Around the goal is a half-circle, called the crease. The goalie guards the goal there, and no player can enter the crease unless the puck has already passed the line. In the crease, the goalie can use his hands or any other part of his body to keep the puck from entering the goal.

Puck Pointer
Because the play area in hockey extends right up to the boards, play can even occur behind the goal in hockey!

A player who commits an offense is temporarily removed from the game and is placed in the penalty box, which is located near the center line of the rink.


The Face-Off    to top

Periods begin with a face-off, where a player from each team is positioned inside the center circle. The referee then drops the puck, and the players must fight for control of it without touching each other with sticks or parts of the body. A face-off occurs anytime play is interrupted, including after scoring a goal and giving a penalty.

During the face-off, all the other players must stand outside the circle. Only the two players in the face-off (and the referee) may be inside it.


The Players    to top

In addition to the goalie, each team has five other players.

The offense's job is to get the puck and put it in the other team's goal. The center is the leader of the offense, and is more or less responsible for the middle of the rink. The center is flanked by wings; the right wing sticks to the right side of the rink, and the left wing sticks to the left. Either may move toward the center of the rink to facilitate passing.

Sometimes a player will achieve a "fast break"—getting the puck in one end of the rink and getting to the other end fast enough to beat the other team's defense to make a good shot.

Puck Pointer
A player who scores three goals in a game achieves a "hat trick" in the game of hockey.

The team is rounded out with two defenders: right and left. Their job is to keep the puck away from the goal. In the offensive mode, they can assist the attack; in the defensive mode, when the puck is in their end, the offensive team will move in to help them. When playing defense, the common object is to stop the puck from getting in the goal.

Because there are only six players on the ice at a time, substitutions will often take place. The coach will rotate players as often as is necessary or to achieve strategic objectives.


Penalties    to top

There are two kinds of penalties in hockey: minor and major. Minor penalties last for two minutes, and majors stretch out to five. All of the penalties place the offending player in the penalty box, unable to assist the other players.

Some minor penalties are:

  • Charging: Slamming into another player with too much force.
  • Cross-checking: Hitting another player using a stick held with two hands.
  • Elbowing and kneeing: Checking (coming into contact with) another player using elbows or knees.
  • High-sticking: Lifting the stick above shoulder level.
  • Hooking and holding: Using a stick or a part of the body to stop another player.
  • Interference: Blocking a player who doesn't have the puck.
  • Roughing: Hitting and shoving.

Some of the major penalties are:

  • Boarding: Checking and causing another player to hit the walls of the rink.
  • Fighting: More serious than roughing; when a deliberate fight has ensued.
  • Slashing: Swinging the stick toward another player.
  • Spearing: Using a stick to jab other players.

Puck Pointer
If a team has players removed from the ice for penalties and ends up with fewer players than the other team, the other team is known as being on a "power play."

Now that you know the rules, keeping track of the rest of the game is fairly easy. In hockey, each goal scores one point. The winning team is the one with the most points at the end of the game.


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