Hockey Officials

Ice Hockey Officials

Like in most sports, hockey uses officials to regulate gameplay and enforce the rules. At each professional game, there is a crew of on-ice and off-ice officials making sure that all regulations are followed. Keep reading to learn more about the roles and responsibilities of ice hockey officials.

Officials and Referees

In hockey, the referees and officials are responsible for interpreting the rulebook for different parts of the game. The referee always has the final say in a ruling if there is a disagreement. In general, the main duties of referees and officials are to ensure the game is played fairly and enforce rule violations.

Ice Hockey referee crease

The referee's crease is part of the ice hockey rink. It's where game officials gather to discuss penalties and challenges. During play, referees skate with the flow of the game, but this is where they typically gather after a stoppage in play that needs a review.

Types of Hockey Officials

There are a few different types of referees and officials that each has their own role on the ice.

On-Ice Officials

On-ice officials in hockey are in charge of interpreting the rules and maintaining fair play on the ice. They make calls on penalties, rule infractions, and goals. The two types of on-ice officials are referees and linesmen. The NHL and AHL use a four-official system, which employs two referees and two linesmen in each game.


Referees are responsible for assessing penalties and dropping the puck at the opening face-off. They communicate with off-ice officials in the penalty box to assess penalties and goals to players. Referees are the officials primarily responsible for starting and stopping play. One referee covers each side of the ice.


Ice Hockey Linesman

Linesmen, also known as assistant referees, are in charge of looking for infractions such as offsides and icing. Linesmen can’t call penalties, but they report violations to the referees, who then call the penalties. Linesmen can stop play in certain situations. Like referees, one linesman is assigned to cover each half of the ice.

Off-Ice Officials

Professional hockey games also utilize a variety of off-ice officials to help enforce the rules and keep score. These officials have specific duties such as timekeeping and judging whether goals are legal.

Goal Judges

The goal judges, who are positioned behind each net, make the initial decision as to whether a goal was scored or not. They are in charge of turning on the red light behind each goal when a goal is scored.

Game Timekeeper

The game timekeeper is responsible for starting and stopping the game clock. They are in constant contact with the on-ice officials to discuss time discrepancies.

Penalty Timekeeper

The penalty timekeeper, much like the game timekeeper, is in charge of starting and stopping the penalty clock, as well as displaying the correct amount of penalty time on the scoreboard.

Penalty Box Attendants

Penalty box attendants are responsible for opening and closing the doors to the penalty box. When a player’s time in the penalty box is up, the penalty box attendant will immediately open the door for them to exit.

Official Scorer

The official scorer is in charge of keeping track of all statistics on the official scoresheet. After each game, all on-ice officials will read over and sign the scoresheet to ensure the statistics have been properly recorded.

Video Replay Judge

The video replay judge is responsible for reviewing all disputed calls when requested by on-ice officials. In the NHL, video replay is sent to the NHL Hockey Operations Department in Toronto, where the final call will be made and relayed to the on-ice officials.

Referee Penalty Signals

The main responsibility of on-ice referees is to make penalty calls and communicate these calls to other game personnel. After blowing their whistle to stop play and signaling a penalty, hockey referees use a range of signals to communicate different calls to scorers, coaches, players, and fans. Most of these signals involve the referee using their hands and arms to visually communicate in loud arenas, and each penalty has a corresponding hand signal.

Delayed Penalty Signals

When there is a delayed penalty on a play, the referee will raise their non-whistle arm straight up in the air. When a player on the team who committed the penalty touches the puck, the referee will blow their whistle to halt play and lower their arm. They will then assess the penalty to the offending player, who will take a trip to the penalty box.

Hockey Referee Types List

Here is a list of the different types of hockey referees and officials that each have their own role on the ice:

  • Referees
  • Linesmen
  • Official Scorer
  • Goal Judges
  • Game Timekeeper
  • Penalty Timekeeper
  • Penalty Box Attendants
  • Video Replay Judge


Can a coach or player challenge the ruling of a referee in hockey?

Yes, a coach is allowed to dispute a referee’s call by using what is called a coach’s challenge. Coaches’ challenges are an action that requires officials to review the call again, using the help of instant replay and the replay officiating crew. If the officials decide they made the wrong call, it will be overturned. If the officials confirm the call on the ice, it will be upheld. Coaches are allowed to challenge as many times as they would like, but if the challenge fails, their team will be issued a two-minute minor penalty. For every additional failed challenge after the first, the team is given a four-minute double minor penalty.

Are players allowed to argue with the referee?

Similar to many other professional sports, the players are allowed to discuss previous plays with the game referees. However, they must always be respectful and show sportsmanship. If a player argues excessively with an official, they may be assessed a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. When discussing a call, players may not touch the referee with their hands or stick and may not interfere in any non-physical manner with game officials who are performing their designated duties. 

How many officials are there in a hockey game?

In an NHL game, there are four on-ice officials, two referees, and two linesmen. Additional off-ice officials, including the official scorer, two goal judges, penalty and game timekeepers, two penalty box attendants, a commercial coordinator, five scoring staffers, a video replay judge, and a spotter account for the remaining 15 members of the officiating team. There is also an additional video replay crew located at the NHL Hockey Operations Department in Toronto that reviews video replays for all NHL games. The number of officials and referees at lower levels of hockey will vary but will almost always be less than at an NHL game.

Why do NHL referees have numbers?

NHL referees have numbers for identification purposes, similar to NHL players. On the back of their jerseys, NHL referees have a number that is used to identify them on the ice and in games. There are currently 34 full-time referees in the NHL and 34 full-time linesmen. These officials have a number assigned to them and are listed on a roster for the National Hockey League Officials Association.