Guide To The Rules Of Ice Hockey

Guide To The Rules Of Ice Hockey

What are the basic rules of hockey?

Put the biscuit in the basket. It couldn’t be much simpler than that.

Of course, ice hockey rules and regulations get a bit more complicated. But, for those who don’t know the difference between icing and a neutral zone infraction, we’ve got you covered with our handy guide to ice hockey rules.

Hockey 101

The object of ice hockey is to score by putting the puck into the opponent’s net, advancing and shooting the puck across the ice with a stick.

A hockey player’s visible equipment includes skates, socks, shorts, gloves, sweater, helmet, mouth guard and stick. Less obvious but no less important is the shoulder, chest, hip, groin and leg protection worn beneath the uniform.

Sticks are typically a composite material — e.g., graphite and fiberglass — engineered to a variety of lengths and stiffness, with the blades further customized by curve and loft. Pucks are one-inch-thick, three-inch diameter discs of vulcanized (heated and hardened) rubber.

A hockey team fields six players at a time: center, right and left wings, two defensemen and a goaltender. The goalie protects his net while the rest alternately help him defend that net or try to get the puck into the net guarded by the other team’s goalie.

A hockey rink — a rectangle with rounded corners to keep the puck moving — is divided by a variety of lines. In a 200-foot NHL rink, a red center line divides the rink in half, while blue lines 25 feet away create a neutral zone between the blue lines. Red lines near the ends of the rink are the respective goal lines — the line where, between the bars of the net, the puck must cross for a goal to be scored.

In the National Hockey League, a game is divided into three 20-minute periods. The clock stops when the puck is not in play. Whoever has the most goals after three periods wins. If tied, the game moves to a five-minute, sudden-death overtime in which both teams are limited to four players on the ice. If it’s still tied after overtime, a shootout commences. In a shootout, each team gets three chances to score one-on-one with a skater versus the other team’s goalie. If still tied after those alternating best-of-three shots, the teams continue to alternate shots until one team scores and the other does not in the same round.

Basic Rules of Ice Hockey

Faceoffs: The game starts when the referee drops the puck between opposing players. Faceoffs also trigger the resumption of play after any stoppage. Nine designated faceoff spots are on the ice.

Checking: When a player uses his body (shoulder, hip or torso) to hit or impede another an opponent; or his stick to knock the puck off the puck carrier’s stick.

In body checking:

  • A player can be checked only when he is in possession of the puck.
  • Targeting the head is illegal.
  • Checks to the back of an opponent facing the boards is illegal.
  • A forecheck occurs in the offensive zone and is intended to create a scoring opportunity.


A stick check is any legal stick maneuver that relieves the carrier of the puck, from the common poke check (jabbing the puck away, typically from an oncoming player) to lifting the opponent’s stick with your own, then sweeping the puck away.

Offside and icing: The two most frequent whistles in hockey occur for offside and icing.

Offside is simply when an offensive player enters the offensive zone (crossing the blue line nearest the opponent’s goalie) before the puck. A player is not offside unless both skates are over the blue line.

Icing occurs when the puck is shot from the defensive half of the ice, crossing both the center line and the opponent’s goal line. Illegal when teams are at even strength, icing is allowed when the defensive team is short-handed due to a penalty.

Penalties: When a player is called for a sufficiently serious rules infraction, a penalty is called and the player is sent to the penalty box. Minor penalties are two-minute infractions during which the penalized team must play with one fewer player on the ice. Minor penalties end if the opposing team scores. Major penalties are five-minute infractions, typically for fighting. If both fighters receive majors, the teams are not required to have fewer players on the ice. Players receiving a major penalty involving serious injury or, in the referee’s view, a deliberate attempt to injure, are ejected from the game and a teammate is assigned to serve his penalty.

Minor penalties include:

  • Tripping — Using your stick or leg (or another body part) to cause an opponent to fall
  • Cross-checking — Using your stick, held with both hands, to check an opponent
  • Hooking — Using the blade of your stick to hold or impede an oppopent
  • High sticking — Contacting an opponent above the shoulder with your stick, intentionally or unintentionally
  • Holding — Grabbing an opponent’s body, clothing or stick

Major penalties include:

  • Fighting — Reserved for bigger dustups, when the gloves are dropped and blows landed
  • Boarding — Blind-side hits sending an opponent into the side or end boards
  • Slashing — Chopping at an opponent with your stick
  • Spearing — “Stabbing” an opponent with your stick
  • Charging — Leaving your feet while or taking a “running start” before checking an opponent

Lace Up

The best way to discover the answer to the question, “What are the rules of ice hockey?” is to get out and play the game. The best way to do that is to create a solid, confidence-inspiring connection to the playing surface.

American Athletic Shoe Co. has been selling hockey skates since 1959. This family-owned company stocks pro shops and rental counters in the best rinks in the world, and is certain to have a product that suits your age and abilities.

What are the rules of hockey? No. 1 is to shop today for your perfect pair of skates in the American Athletic Shoe Co. collection.

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