Top 10 Hockey Rules

ice hockey rules and regulations

Ice hockey is a wildly popular sport, best highlighted by the fanfare surrounding the Stanley Cup Final and the Winter Olympics. However, it has some unique rules that can’t be found in most other sports. Read on to learn about the top ten most important rules in hockey.


What are the most important rules of hockey?

  1. Game Structure
  2. Faceoffs
  3. Penalties
  4. Power Plays and Penalty Kills
  5. Offside
  6. Icing
  7. High Touch
  8. Line Changes
  9. Pulling Goalie
  10. Equipment

1. Game Structure

A hockey game is three periods long. Depending on what level of hockey you are playing, the period length will vary. Periods are 20 minutes long in most professional hockey leagues, meaning games are 60 minutes long. If the score is tied after three periods, the game will go to overtime. Overtime is a five-minute period where whichever team scores first wins, and only three players from each team are allowed on the ice during regular season overtime. If the score is still tied after overtime, the game will be decided in a shootout. This means teams go back and forth shooting one-on-one with the goalie, and whoever has more goals at the end of three attempts wins. After this, whoever wins any round wins the game.

2. Faceoffs

ice hockey faceoffs

Faceoffs always happen after a stop in play and decide who starts with possession. There are nine dots around the ice where players take faceoffs from. A player from each team will line up on each side of a dot, and when the referee drops the puck on the dot, players taking the faceoff fight for the puck and try to win the faceoff. The dot is chosen based on where the play left off at the stoppage. Faceoffs are important because winning faceoffs means your team gets to start with the puck. This can help you score more goals and win more games. Some players in high-level hockey are considered faceoff specialists who excel at winning faceoffs.

3. Penalties

Ice Hockey Penalties

Spending time in the penalty box can be detrimental to your hockey team. This is where you go if you commit a penalty in hockey. There two types of penalties typically called in a hockey game are minor and major penalties. There are also misconduct and match penalties, but these are less common. A minor penalty lasts two minutes and leads to a power play for the opposing team. If your team gets scored on during those two minutes, then you come out of the penalty box. Some examples of minor penalties include: slashing, hooking, tripping, high sticking (can result in a double minor if blood is drawn), boarding, charging, cross-checking, holding, interference, roughing, and more. A major penalty is awarded when the referees deem a play with intent to injure another player, and the offending player will go to the penalty box for five minutes. Also, if the team that commits a major penalty is scored on during the power play, the player in the penalty box does not return to the game. They must wait for the entire duration of the five-minute major penalty.

4. Power Plays and Penalty Kills

ice hockey Power Play

If a penalty happens in a hockey game, then teams will be on either a power play or penalty kill. This means that you are playing either 4v5 or 5v4 for a certain amount of time, depending on the penalty. If your team commits a penalty, one player will go to the penalty box, and you will be down one player on the ice. In this case, you will be on the penalty kill, and the other team will be on the power play. If the other team commits the penalty, then you will be on the power play, and the other team will be on the penalty kill.

5. Offside

ice hockey zones

‘The zone’ is defined by two blue lines on either end of the ice. The areas on opposite sides of these blue lines are known as the offensive and defensive zones, and the space in between is known as the neutral zone. Offside is a rule that states that the puck must enter the zone before any offensive player does. This does not allow players to ‘cherry pick’ or wait near the opponent’s goal. It also means that when the puck leaves the offensive zone, the entire offensive team must also exit to the neutral zone and wait for the puck to enter the offensive zone before entering again.

A more recent rule that has affected many hockey games is the ability for a coach to challenge a play and review it for being offside. This means that if a team entered the zone offsides and then ended up scoring a goal, a coach can challenge and have the goal taken off the board. If the officials review the play and deem it onside (the opposite of offside), then the team that initiated the review receives a two-minute delay of game penalty.

6. Icing

ice Hockey icing

Icing is another very important rule in ice hockey. It states that a team cannot dump the puck into the opposing team’s zone from beyond the red line, located at the center of the rink. This dissuades teams from just sending the puck down the ice when they are tired and may need a change. However, if you dump the puck in from beyond the red line and someone on your team gets to the puck first, icing is waived off. Icing does not take effect on teams on the penalty kill, allowing them to dump the puck all the way down the ice to waste time. In any other scenario, if the player is behind the red line and dumps the puck into the opposing team’s zone, it is considered icing.

7. High Touch

ice hockey high touch

In hockey, you cannot touch the puck with your stick if the puck is higher than your shoulders. This is because it would be dangerous for players to be swinging their sticks above their heads trying to hit the puck. If a player’s stick makes contact with the puck above the player’s shoulders, then a high touch will be called. This just stops the play and a faceoff will occur; no penalty is given.

8. Line Changes

Hockey can be a demanding sport and extreme endurance is needed to play at the highest level. In hockey, you can change lines at any time during the play, which is different from most sports where you have to wait for a stop in play to substitute players. This is called substituting on the fly. If you get tired at any point during play, skate over to your bench and a teammate can replace you. Players on the bench must also pay attention to the play on the ice, so they are ready to replace any teammates who want to change. The ability to change players so easily makes hockey a fast-paced and exciting game with few breaks in the action.

9. Pulling The Goalie

ice hockey Pulling The Goalie

Goalies are also allowed to change in hockey. A common tactic in hockey is to pull your goalie. This means that a coach will signal to his goalie to come to the bench, and a skater will replace him as an extra attacker, leaving the goal unguarded. Teams only do this when they are desperate, for example, losing late in a game and in need of a goal to tie the game. Having an extra attacker means it is a 6v5, giving you a better chance of scoring. However, you have an empty net with no goalie, so any shot the opponent takes will likely be a goal. A team will also usually pull their goalie when there is a delayed penalty on the opposing team. Since the play will be whistled dead the next time the opposition touches the puck, there is no risk involved in pulling your goalie in this situation.

10. Equipment

ice hockey Equipment

Hockey is a dangerous sport, so you need to protect yourself properly. Most leagues have similar equipment requirements, but it changes in the pros. In the NHL, you do not need to wear a full cage on your helmet, just a visor to protect your eyes. In all leagues, you need the correct type of skates, gloves, pads, and sticks. When you play hockey, you need to make sure you are following the rules on equipment to ensure your and others’ safety while playing hockey.

FAQ

How many periods are there in hockey?

In hockey, they play a total of three periods. Each period is 20 minutes in length but lasts longer with penalties and stoppages in play. If the score is tied after the three regulation periods, a five-minute overtime period will be played. In lower-level leagues, they also play three periods but will usually be shorter than 20 minutes in length.

How does fighting work in hockey?

Fighting is actually allowed in hockey. In order to fight, two players from opposite teams must drop their gloves, indicating that they want to fight. When this happens, the rest of the players move away while a referee moves closer to observe the fight. Once either player falls to the ground or the referee deems that the fight has gone too far, they will stop the fight. Each player involved in a fight will receive a five-minute major penalty.

How does the penalty box work in hockey?

The penalty box is the place where a player goes when they commit a penalty. Once a player commits a penalty, the referee will guide them to the box. A player must remain in the box until the duration of their penalty expires, and the same team must play a man down. If the opposing team scores while a player is in the penalty box for a minor penalty, the remaining time on that player’s penalty is waived.