The Rules

Ice Hockey – The Game

Although Ice hockey is the fastest team game in the world, the basic rules are fairly easy to understand. Like any sport, the official rulebook runs to many pages. Lets just look at the main rules… all you’ll need to enjoy the game.


Each junior match is played in two 20 minute periods or three 15 minute periods. Importantly, when play stops, the clock is also stopped – every second counts! Each team can have a maximum squad of 20, including two goal keepers. Although only six players from each team can be on the ice at any one time, substitutions can be made at any point (even during active play). The ice hockey playing area is marked on the ice rink’s base and ice built up on top of that to a total thickness of around 3/4 – 1 inch. The playing area is surrounded by white boards just over a metre high. Protective glass on top of the boards allow fans to watch the match safely. Meanwhile, the puck is made of vulcanised rubber and frozen before the game to reduce its bounce and to allow it to slide across the ice easier and therefore faster.

The playing zones

The ice is marked with a series of blue and red lines. The centre, red line divides the ice into two halves, while the blue lines separate the ice into three equal ‘zones’ – defending, neutral and attacking zones.



Goals are scored by striking the puck into the opposing team’s net. If the puck accidentally comes off another player (attacker or defender), the goal stands. However if an attacking player deliberately kicks or strikes the puck with any part of the body (other than the stick) into the net, the goal is disallowed. A goal is also disallowed if the puck comes off an official first. There are only two principal rules in ice hockey – offside and icing.


Offside is a relatively simple concept. An attacking player isn’t allowed to enter the opposition’s defending zone ahead of the puck – so keep an eye on the defence’s blue line.


‘Icing’ is when a player strikes the puck from his own half across the opposition’s goal line (red) without it deflecting off another player (including a goalkeeper).


Face-offs are used to start periods of play and to restart play (for example after a goal or after an offside ruling).


During a face-off, two opposing players stand opposite each other roughly one stick’s blade apart and the official then drops the puck between them. The blue centre spot is used to ‘face-off’ at the beginning of each period, or following a goal. The red face-off spots are used in a variety of other circumstances. For example, after a typical offside, the face-off takes place on the nearest face-off spot in the central, neutral zone. Otherwise, in the event of the puck leaving the ice, two imaginary lines are drawn along the length of the ice between the face-off spots. A face-off then takes place at a point closest to where the puck left the ice.

Contact and Fighting

Ice hockey has quite a reputation as an aggressive sport and you’d be forgiven for thinking that more punches are thrown on a rink than in a boxing ring. The rules are explicit when it comes to contact during play (although the speed of the game can make it tough to apply). Contact from the side and front is generally OK, though deliberate checking from behind will usually result in a penalty.

Tripping and ‘boarding’ (causing another player to violently hit the rink’s walls) are also banned, as is the high use of the shaft of the stick. Elbowing, charging and using the shaft of the stick to check an opponent (‘cross-checking’) will also result in a penalty. Fighting (or ‘roughing‘) is subject to the most severe penalties, depending on who started the fight – a player who starts ‘fisticuffs’ is often dealt with more harshly than someone retaliating to another player’s punches.


The ref (red armband) and a linesman. The referee is in charge of the match and has final decision on any matter. However, the referee is also assisted by linesmen (on the ice) and goal judges (behind each goal) who are particularly concerned with offside and goal rulings respectively.


The referee and his assistants are responsible for applying the rules and deciding on penalty decisions. Penalties range in severity from a minor penalty, which often results in as little as two minutes off the ice for the offending player… up to being sent off for the balance of play (in the case of Game Misconduct and Match penalties – e.g. for fighting). During a game in which only six players from each team are on the ice at any one time, a one man advantage can make quite a difference).


Referees Hand Signals
Boarding Striking the clenched fist of one hand into the open palm of the opposite hand in front of the chest.

Butt-ending Moving the forearm, fist closed, under the forearm of the other hand held palm down.

Charging Rotating clenched fists around one anther in front of the chest.

Checking from behind A forward motion of both arms, with the palms of the hands open and facing away from the body, fully extended from the chest at shoulder level.

Clipping Striking leg with either hand behind the knee, keeping both skates on the ice.

Cross-checking A forward and backward motion of the arms with both fists clenched, extending from the chest for a distance of about one foot.

Delayed off-side Non-whistle arm fully extended above the head. To nullify a delayed off-side, the Linesman shall drop the arm to the side.

Delayed penalty Extending the non-whistle arm fully above the head.

Delaying the game The non-whistle hand, palm open, is placed across the chest and then fully extended directly in front of the body.

Elbowing Tapping either elbow with the opposite hand.

Goal scored A single point directed at the goal in which the puck legally entered.

Hand pass With the palm open and facing forward, a pushing motion towards the front of the body once or twice to indicate the puck was moved ahead with the hand.

High-sticking Holding both fists clenched, one slightly above the other (as if holding a stick) at the height of the forehead.

Holding Clasping either wrist with the other hand in front of the chest.

Hooking A tugging motion with both arms as if pulling something from in front toward the stomach.

Icing (a) The back Linesman signals a possible icing by fully extending either arm over his head. The arm should remain raised until the front Linesman either blows the whistle to indicate an icing or until the icing is washed out.

Icing (b) Once the icing has been completed, the back Linesman will then point to the appropriate face-off spot and skate to it, turning backwards somewhere near the blue line and crossing his arms across his chest to indicate icing.

Interference Crossing arms stationary in front of the chest in an “X” formation.

Kneeing Slapping either knee with the palm of the hand, while keeping both skates on the ice.

Misconduct Both hands on hips.

Penalty shot Non-whistle arm fully extended pointing to the center ice face-off spot.

Roughing Fist clenched and arm extended out to the side of the body.

Slashing A chopping motion with the edge of one hand across the opposite forearm.

Spearing Jabbing motion with both hands thrust out immediately in front of the body and then hands dropped to the side of the body (essentially the opposite to the hooking signal – away from the body rather than towards the body).

Time-out Using both hands to forma “T” in front of the chest.

Tripping Striking leg with either hand below the knee, keeping both skates on the ice.

Unsports-manlike conduct Using both hands to forma “T” in front of the chest (same as time-out).

Wash out A sweeping sideways motion of both arms across the front of the body at shoulder level with palms down. This signal is used by Referees to signal no goal; by the Linesmen to signal no icing and no off-side; and by all Officials to wash out a hand pass or a high-sticking the puck violation.