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Hockey Rules

Five face-off circles are painted on the ice. Two on either side and just in front of each net and one at the center of the ice. When play begins at the beginning of a period or after a stoppage in play, two players will face each other at one of the face-off circles and try to gain possession of the puck when the referee or linesman drops the puck. This is why you will hear frustrated hockey fans screaming "Drop the puck!" when there has been a long stoppage in play. The players stand with their sticks crossed and poised right over the face-off dot, and they often joust a bit with their sticks before the puck is dropped. If a player gets too rambunctious the official can wave him out of the circle and get another player to take the face-off.

At the beginning of a period, the face-off is always at center ice. After a stoppage in play, where the face-off takes place will depend upon how and why the play was stopped.


Players will often receive penalties for their constant bad behavior. The referees are the final arbiters of the penalties they call, and players can get into worse trouble by arguing with refs who penalize them. There are four different kinds of penalties: a minor penalty, for which a player must sit in the penalty box for two minutes; a major penalty, for five minutes in the box; a misconduct, for ten minutes; and a game misconduct, which sends a player out for the whole game. In cases of extreme cheap shots or attempts to injure, the league will review the incident and can hand out stiffer suspensions of several games and/or fine the player.

When one team has a player in the box due to a minor penalty, it must play "shorthanded" (with one less skater) until the penalty expires or the opposing team scores a goal. This situation is called a "power play" for the unpenalized team, and a "penalty kill" for the penalized team. If the penalty is a major penalty, the penalized team must kill the penalty for the entire five minutes, regardless of how many goals the opposing team scores. If a penalized team manages to score a goal while killing the penalty, it is called a shorthanded goal. A team can be shorthanded by two players, but no more. If more than two of a team's players are penalized the team will continue to play with four players (but the penalized players must still serve their penalties before they can play). If a player from each team is assessed a minor or major penalty in the same incident, the penalties are called offsetting. The players must sit in the box but the teams continue to play at full strength (with six players each).

A ten-minute or game misconduct only results in the player being ejected from the game for the stated amount of time; the player's team is not shorthanded for the duration of the misconduct.


This is one of the more confusing rules for many new hockey fans. We'll try to keep it simple. A player cannot pass forward (toward the opposing team's goal) to a teammate who is another zone, except when the passing player is in the defending zone (behind his own blue line) and his teammate is in the neutral zone but has not passed the red (center) line. If a player is in the defending zone and he passes to a player who has crossed the red line, the play will be called offside and stopped. This kind of offside is called a "two line pass." If the passer and the receiver are both in the neutral zone (between the two blue lines), it's okay to pass the puck past the red line. A player is never permitted to pass forward to a teammate in the attacking zone (behind the opposing team's blue line). A player may always pass back to a teammate in another zone. When a play is called offside, the whistle is blown and play is stopped for a face-off, the location of which is determined by the circumstances of the offside.

Bringing the puck into the attacking zone has special offside rules. The puck must cross the opposing team's blue line before any attacking player does or the play is called offside and stopped. If the puck leaves the attacking zone while attacking players are still in it, they must all skate back out of the zone before the puck can be shot back in by the attacking team or the play will be offside. If, however, the puck bounces back in off a defending player or is shot back in by a defending player, the play will not be offside.

For the purposes of this rule, a player passes into a zone when both of his skates have completely crossed the line that separates it from the preceding zone. The player's stick or one skate can be in a zone, but so long as one of his skates is touching the line he is not considered in the next zone. For the purposes of passing a puck from one zone forward to another, the puck is considered to enter another zone when it completely crosses the line. The linesmen do not refer to the skates of the player in possession of the puck in these cases.

If the offside rules bore you, you are not alone. It is perfectly possible to enjoy hockey without having a refined understanding of the offside rules. You can just nod as if you understand and leave it up to the linesmen.


To clarify matters, or to confuse you further, we should mention that it is perfectly acceptable to shoot a puck forward into another zone so long as you are not passing it to a teammate. That is, unless you commit the horrendous crime of icing. It is extremely nerve-wracking to have the attacking team passing the puck around in your zone, so defending players are often tempted to get the puck the hell out of there and shoot it down the length of the ice. If players were allowed to do this with impunity, it would make the game rather boring, as teams would rarely be able to maintain any sustained pressure around the opposing team's net. Therefore, whenever a player shoots a puck from his side of the red line (center) towards the attacking zone, it is called icing unless it is on target for the opposing team's net. There are a few conditions required for this rule to apply. The puck must actually make it to the other end of the rink, and it must not have been possible for the opposing team to obtain possession of the puck. If a linesman thinks a player on the opposing team could have got the puck, he waves off icing and no call will be made. If a teammate of the player who shot the puck can touch the puck before or after it hits the other side of the rink and before a player on the opposing team touches it, then icing is waved off. Finally, a team that is killing a penalty (i.e., when the other team has a power play) is permitted to ice the puck without being called for icing.

If the puck makes it through all these conditions, which happens frequently enough, the whistle is blown, play is stopped, and the puck goes all the way back to the zone of the team that iced the puck for a face-off. This gives the opposing team the opportunity to start the play all set up in the attacking zone, where it's fun to be. This might not seem like a particularly stiff penalty, but teams do not like getting cozy with their opponents in their defending zones, so they avoid icing in all but the most dangerous situations.


Hockey is a rough sport, and the players are allowed, under certain circumstances, to smash into each other. When a player is carrying the puck forward, players from the opposing team are permitted to impede his progress by skating into him. This is called checking. You can also check a player who has just received a pass, and you can usually get away with checking a player who has just made a pass.

The Crease

The crease is the blue painted area in front of the goal, and it is supposed to be the domain of the goaltender. Players may not enter the crease and interfere with the goaltender. They may enter the crease if they are following the puck in. If a player scores a goal while a teammate is in the crease, the goal can be disallowed if it is ruled that the player in the crease was interfering with the goaltender. If a player is in control of the puck, shoots or carries it into the crease and then scores, the goal is allowed. If a player skates into the goaltender with or without the puck, an interference penalty (see below) will usually be assessed.


Boarding occurs when a player is facing the boards and an opposing player checks him from behind so that he is violently crushed into the boards. A player can be assessed either a minor or major penalty for boarding, and in many cases more severe penalties or suspensions will be assessed, because players can be very badly hurt from this. If a player is bent over and is slammed into the boards, he can suffer a concussion or even a broken neck, so players and officials alike frown heavily upon players who commit boarding.


A charging penalty is assessed whenever a player checks another player with excessive violence after skating a long distance. This is mostly a judgement call on the part of the ref; they don't like to see a player line up another and go skating up to smash into him at top speed. This penalty can also apply if a player checks a goaltender. Goaltenders may not be checked even if they leave their creases.


Cross-checking occurs when a player smashes into another player with his stick held in both hands in front of his body. It can be very painful, and players are very fond of it. A little bit of cross-checking, particularly when defending one's own net, is usually permitted by the refs, but if it becomes excessive or it's just gratuitous nastiness, a penalty will be called.


You aren't allowed to stick your elbow out and hurt people. Aww! Come on! The league takes this pretty seriously, because elbowing can cause concussions. If a player receives a major penalty for an elbow, he also receives an automatic game misconduct and a minimum $100 fine.


Head-butting is a major no-no. If a player attempts a head-butt, he receives a double-minor penalty. If he actually does head-butt someone, he receives a major penalty. If the head-putted person is injured, the player receives a major penalty and a game misconduct.

High Sticking

If a player's stick makes contact with another player above the struck player's shoulder height, a penalty will be assessed. This applies even if the contact was accidental, unless the contact occurred in the normal windup or follow-through of a shot. If the contact is deliberate and/or causes an injury, a double minor or major penalty will be assessed.

Players are also not allowed to bat a puck out of the air with a stick above shoulder height, or to redirect a puck into the net with a stick above the height of the crossbar on the goal. If a goal is scored in this manner, it will be disallowed.


A player is not allowed to hold onto an opponent with his hands, arms or legs. It's okay to use a hand to hold off a player by straight-arming him, but you can't grab or hold him. Players are also forbidden to hold onto other players' sticks. Either sort of infraction results in a minor penalty. You go and sit in the box, and you feel shame.


This penalty is assessed when a player uses the blade or shaft of his stick to impede another player's movement. Players do this quite frequently and get away with it, but if they really put the hook on someone they get the whistle.


This penalty describes a wide range of evils, but it mostly refers to the practice of impeding the progress of a player who is not in possession of the puck. If a player doesn't have the puck, it's nobody else's business where he wants to skate. The league has been trying very hard to crack down on this infraction in recent years, because teams had come to rely on it to shut down opposing teams' skilled players and make the game more boring.

A special sort of interference call is the penalty shot. If someone has a breakaway, i.e., he is on his opponent's side of the red line and there is nobody between him and the goalie, and someone trips him up or otherwise impedes him from behind, he is supposed to be awarded a penalty shot. Refs only do this in extreme cases, usually preferring to assess a tripping or interference minor. If a penalty shot is awarded, the clock is stopped and the player is allowed to skate, all by himself, from center ice towards the opposing goalie and take his best shot. This is one of the more exciting moments in hockey, and we wish refs would award these more often.


A roughing penalty is assessed when players get feisty and hit each other or wrestle a bit, but leave their gloves on. You'll quickly notice that refs will allow quite a bit of pushing, shoving and grabbing after the whistle before they'll make a roughing call, but they'll call this penalty if things get out of hand. If the gloves come off and players start slugging each other in earnest, then it's a fight and fighting penalties will be assessed.


This is another one of those things that hockey players do all the time and are only penalized for occasionally. Slashing refers to the practice of hitting other players with your hockey stick. Players use their sticks to irritate each other, to interfere with shooting and passing, and, yes, to hurt each other. A slashing penalty is usually called when the contact is particularly nasty, or when an injury is sustained or feigned by the recipient of the blow. Many slashes are disguised as attempts to get the puck, and it's easier to get away with those. Penalties are called more often when a player slashes another player who doesn't have the puck. A slashing penalty will usually be a minor or double-minor. Majors for slashing are rare."


Just like it sounds. This can be done with the legs or stick, and it usually results in a minor penalty. See? Some of these rules are really simple!

(reproduced from