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Ice Hockey Rules


Most senior men’s and women’s games consist of three 20-minute periods, with a 15 minute break

between periods to allow for the ice to be resurfaced. Game time is halted every time the whistle is

blown for a stoppage in play by the referee (see MATCH OFFICIALS below) - and times are

measured to the second.

Depending on the competition, a match that is drawn after 60 minutes’ regulation time may be decided

by an extra 5 minute period of “sudden death” over-time or failing that, a penalty shoot-out.

Each team can have a maximum squad of 22 players, including two netminders. In the NIHL, two

overseas trained players (imports) are allowed to play per team in a game but only one is allowed on

the ice at a time.

Six players from each team can be on the ice at any one time – usually a netminder and 5 skaters.

Substitutions from the players’ bench can be made at any point - even “on the fly”, while play is going


Players use a stick to propel a puck across the ice and try to score in their opponent’s goal net. The

puck is a vulcanised rubber disc, 1” thick and 3” across, which weighs about 6oz (170g).

Most modern sticks are made of fibreglass but older ones were traditionally made of wood. There are a

lot of regulations and restrictions about the sizes and designs of equipment that may be worn and used

in ice hockey.

The puck travels very quickly across the ice and can sometimes fly into the spectator area - so vigilance

and caution should be exercised at all times when inside the ice rink!


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



Face-offs are used to start periods of play and to restart play, after a goal has been scored or some other

stoppage. During a face-off, a player from each team stands 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.


The referee is in charge of the match and has the final decision on any matter. Depending on the

competition level and age group of the game concerned, the referee is usually assisted by two linesmen

(on the ice). Some games might have two referees and two linesmen and others might have a 1- or 2-

man refereeing system

A team of “off ice” officials – usually provided by the home rink – help with the running of the game

and these usually consist of goal judges at either end, penalty box judges, timekeeper and scorer.


The main causes for stoppages in a game of ice hockey are offside and icing.

Offside is when an attacking player crosses the opposition’s blue line ahead of the puck.

Icing is when a player strikes the puck from his own half down the ice and past the opposition’s goal

line (red) without it being touched by - or deflecting off - another player.

Other stoppages in the game arise when the match officials hand out penalties to individual players for

other particular infringements.

The most commonly called penalties are: Holding, Interference, Cross Checking, Tripping, Hooking,

Slashing, Roughing, Delaying the Game, High Sticks and Fighting but there are many other punishable

infringements as well, which are all listed in the official Ice Hockey UK and International Ice Hockey

Federation rule books and on their websites.

Penalties range from a “minor penalty” of 2 minutes for the offending player, 5 or 10 minutes for a

more serious offence, up to being sent off for the remainder of the game in the case of Game

Misconduct and Match penalties.

Harsher penalties are handed for more dangerous infractions such as Boarding, Checking From Behind,

Persistent Fighting, Fighting an Unwilling Opponent, Abusing Officials, Incitement and so on.

Players serve a 2, 5 or 10 minute penalty in the penalty box and their team has to play shorthanded for

the duration of the penalty. In the case of a 10 minute penalty, the player sits in the box but the team

does not have to lose a man for the duration.

If a player receives a Game or Match penalty, they have to retire to the changing room and a team-mate

sits out a 5 minute penalty in the box in their place.

If a player from each side picks up a 2 minute minor penalty at the same time, they are often considered

“coincidental minor penalties” which cancel each other out. In these circumstances, both players sit in

their respective penalty boxes for 2 minutes but both teams are able to play on with a full complement

of players.

If a goal is conceded while a team is shorthanded on a 2 minute minor penalty, the penalty is cut short

and the offending player can return to the game. 5 or 10 minute penalties are not cancelled out when a

goal is scored.


A goal is scored when the puck is hit into the opposing team’s net, fully crossing the goal line. If the

puck accidentally comes off another player (attacker or defender), the goal stands. 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.

The referee credits the goal to the player who scored it (or the attacking player who last touched the

puck – there is no such thing as an “own goal” in ice hockey) and can also award an assist and

secondary assist to other players who took part in the build up to the goal. These statistics are added to

the player’s overall playing record.

The team that has scored the most goals at the end of the agreed playing time is the winner!

The full IIHF Rulebook can be seen below:

 Please note that rules may be applied differently in different countries and individual competitions.

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