Ice Hockey Rules at a Glance

A look at regulations, terms, equipment and how the game works.

Ice Hockey Layout
Wikipedia

Ice hockey, one of the world's greatest and most exciting games, is easy to follow once you know a few basic rules, terms, equipment and practices. Here is a brief guide to the essential elements of ice hockey.

Playing Surface

  • The ice sheet is commonly known as the rink.
  • The rink is divided into zones by a red line at center ice and two blue lines.
  • A standard North American rink measures 200 feet by 85 feet.
  • European ice surfaces are slightly larger.
  • The ice is enclosed by boards and Plexiglas.

Rink Zones

  • The ice surface is divided into three zones.
  • The area where the goal net is located is the "defending zone" for the team defending that net.
  • The middle of the rink, between two blue lines, is the "neutral zone."
  • The area where the opposing net is located is the "attacking zone" or "offensive zone."

Puck

  • The puck is made of black, vulcanized rubber.
  • A standard puck is 1 inch thick and 3 inches in diameter and weighs between 5.5 and 6 ounces.
  • The puck can be moved with the hockey stick or the feet, but picking it up with the hands is illegal.

Hockey Stick

  • A stick is held by each player and used to retrieve, control, carry, pass and shoot the puck.
  • Goals are scored by using the stick to shoot the puck into the opponent's net.
  • A shot that inadvertently deflects into the net off another player's body is allowed to stand as a goal.

    Net

    • A cage measuring 4 feet tall and 6 feet wide, strung with nylon mesh in the back.
    • There are two nets at opposite ends of the ice, each guarded by a goaltender.

    Object of the Game

    • The object of the game is to score more goals than the opposition.

    Teams

    • Each team has six players on the ice, one goaltender and five skaters.
    • The five skaters have assigned positions: three forwards and two defensemen.
    • Regardless of assigned positions, all players except the goaltender can go anywhere on the ice.
    • The goaltender cannot cross the center ice red line that divides the rink in half.

    Substitutions

    • Substitutions are unlimited and can be made at any time.
    • A substitution does not require an official's permission or a stoppage in play.
    • A player can join the game "on the fly" -- during the flow of play -- as long as he is within 5 feet of the bench and not involved in the play or with an opponent.

    Faceoff

    • The game begins when the referee drops the puck between two opposing forwards.
    • During the faceoff, all other players are positioned on the defensive side of the puck.
    • The faceoff is used to resume play following any stoppage in the game.
    • There are nine designated faceoff spots painted on the ice.

    Game Clock

    • The game is played in three 20-minute periods.
    • The clock is stopped during all stoppages in play.

    Bodychecking

    • A player can use a shoulder, hip or torso to hit or impede an opponent, but only when the opponent is in possession of the puck.
    • A body check that targets the head is illegal.
    • A body check to an opponent's back is illegal if the opponent is facing the boards.
    • Bodychecking in the offensive zone, with the intention of gaining control of the puck and setting up a scoring opportunity, is called forechecking.

    Minor Penalties

    The difference between a legal check and a penalty is open to interpretation and remains a source of dispute among fans, players and officials.

    • A player charged with a minor penalty is sent off the ice for two minutes, with no substitution allowed.
    • The penalty ends immediately if a goal is scored by the opposing team.

    Minor penalties are called for obstructing an opponent. Infractions include:

    • Tripping (with the stick or knee)
    • Holding (with stick or hands)
    • Hooking (with stick)
    • Interference (checking or impeding a player without the puck)

    Penalties are called for dangerous use of the stick, including:

    • Slashing
    • Spearing
    • High-sticking (hitting an opponent in the head or face)
    • Crosschecking (hitting an opponent with the shaft of the stick)

    Penalties are called for dangerous physical fouls, including:

    • Elbowing
    • Checking from behind
    • Kneeing
    • Roughing (usually involving a wrestling or shoving match)

    Major Penalties

    • A player charged with a major penalty is sent off the ice for five minutes.
    • The most common major penalty is for fighting. If both fighters receive five-minute penalties, substitutions can be made.
    • At the referee's discretion, an infraction commonly deemed a minor penalty can be increased to a major. This usually occurs if an opponent has been seriously injured or if the referee believes there was a deliberate attempt to injure.
    • A player charged with a major penalty involving serious injury or attempt to injure is ejected from the game.
    • If a penalized player is ejected, a teammate is assigned to serve his major penalty. No substitution is allowed.