The Rules of Ice Hockey Explained


Are you attending an ice hockey game for the first time and have no idea what to expect? Then you’ve come to the right place! We offer you a compact summary of the most important rules of ice hockey, without going into detail.

Six players per team, including a goalie, are on the ice hockey field of play at the same time. The goalie position may also be taken by an outfielder. Hockey teams are usually made up of 20 or more players who all play in a game.

Ice hockey is a very physical sport. Players spend most of the time on the ice for one minute and then are replaced. A player change in ice hockey is called a “line change” since usually all 5 field players are changed at the same time.

The puck is unlike a relatively small football and can be played very quickly – the spectator can quickly lose sight of it. This is the reason why during professional team matches lights are flashing behind the cages. In this way, every spectator present in the rink is informed that a goal has just been scored.

The playing time is 60 minutes divided into 3 periods of 20 minutes with a 15 minute break between each period. If play is interrupted, the time is stopped. It is also during these breaks that player changes take place. This explains why a match usually lasts well over 90 minutes.

At the end of every third period, the teams change sides. In the event of a tie at the end of the 60 minutes of regulation playing time, extra time is played with “sudden death” or a series of penalty kicks is taken. These rules are different depending on the league in which the game is played.


The Ice Rink

The playing field with its coloured dots and lines may seem confusing for a beginner but each marking has its meaning, we will explain everything to you.

The two blue lines divide the terrain into three zones. The defensive zone is the third in which a team’s cage is located. The part on which the opposing team’s cage is located is therefore the attacking zone. The defence and attack zones are also called the end zones. The central zone is the neutral zone.

The goals are located respectively on each goal line. In ice hockey, it is possible to play behind the goalkeeper’s cage. The goal area is delimited by a light blue zone and a red semi-circle.

The referee’s area is also delimited by a red semicircle. There are dots all over the area, some of which are surrounded by circles. These are called engagement points. After an interruption, the puck is put back into play by what is called a bully.


Ice hockey is a very physical sport and it is not uncommon for real brawls to take place on the ice. These altercations are particularly appealing to novices, but the physical inversion of the players is an integral part of the game. Players are allowed to destabilize an opponent in order to retrieve the puck. In the National Hockey League (NHL), physical contact is more brutal than in Europe. Punches are often sanctioned by a 5-minute penalty.

In order to prevent the situation from getting completely out of hand, there are, as in any other sport, fixed rules. We have summarised the most important and most frequent rule violations.

In ice hockey there is also the concept of offside. An offside occurs when at least one player of the attacking team is in the third third before the puck has crossed the blue line. If the referees decide that offside has occurred, the game continues with a bully in the neutral zone.

Players may push the puck with their feet, but it is forbidden to score a goal in this way. Hitting the puck with the foot is also not a very effective technique.

Another classic violation of the rules concerns lacrosse. The stick must never be held above the shoulders, otherwise the player will be penalized with a 2-5 minute suspension from the game. If a player shows brutal behaviour with exaggerated and dangerous physical contact, he may even be permanently excluded for the rest of the match.

An offence can also be tripping, hitting a player with the stick or charging him. Such an offence will be sanctioned by the referee and the offending player will be excluded from the game for 2 or even up to 5 minutes. The result is numerical superiority for the opposing team: powerplay. If the powerplay team scores a goal before the minor penalty expires, the minor penalty is cancelled and the player may return to the ice.

Excessive harshness almost always results in a misconduct penalty. The penalized player must remain in the penalty box for 10 minutes without forcing his team to play on the power play. In the event of particularly rough behaviour, the offending player may be assessed the heaviest penalty in ice hockey: the match penalty. He must go to the dressing room immediately and will even be potentially excluded from future games.

Small Ice Hockey Lexicon

Since this sport discipline originated in North America, the vocabulary of ice hockey is full of English terms. Here are the main ones:

Bully: The kick-off or throw-off in football. After an interruption, the referee puts the puck back into play on one of the red puck spots. After a goal, at the beginning of a new third or during an “icing” (see below), the puck is put back into play on the central point of engagement (blue point). One player of each team tries to get the puck back for his side. The other players are outside the point of engagement and can only intervene when the bully has been cleared.

If a player shoots or deflects the puck out of his defence zone and beyond the goal line of the opposing team, the referee will whistle an icing. Play is restarted with a bully in the defending zone of the sanctioned team. If a team attempts an icing, it will not be allowed to change players at the next stoppage of play. If a team is playing in a numerical minority, this rule does not apply to it.


Penalty shot: the player who has been fouled may attempt a goal by climbing back up to the opposing goal where only the opposing team’s goalkeeper is able to defend the goal. The referee whistles a penalty kick when a real chance of scoring a goal has been prevented by a foul by the opposing team. This is usually the case when an attacker goes up alone towards the opponent’s goal and is stopped unfairly. However, a penalty kick can only be whistled if the following conditions are met:

– the foul was not committed in the victim team’s defence zone.

– the player who was fouled was in possession of the puck

– the player was attacked from behind

– a real chance of scoring was lost

– no other defender was between the player who was fouled and the opposing goalkeeper.

The referee may also whistle a penalty kick if a stick has been thrown by a player. The rules for the execution of a penalty kick are as follows:

– only the player who is the victim of the offence may take the penalty kick unless he was injured during the offence.

– only the player in question and the goalkeeper of the opposing team may be on the rink

– the goalkeeper must not leave the goal crease until the player has touched the puck

– only one shot is possible.

Overtime: In the event of a tie at the end of the regular playing time, a sudden-death overtime of 5 minutes can be played to determine the winner. Only 4 players are on the ice. If a goal is scored, the game is over. If not, the winner must be determined with a penalty shoot-out. However, overtime rules vary greatly from one league to another.

Play-off / playoff series: Play-offs are a kind of competition taking place at the end of a regular season to determine the winner. In the Magnus League, 8 teams compete in the play-offs. In the quarter-finals, the qualified teams meet as follows: the 1st against the 8th, the 2d against the 7th, the 3rd against the 6th and the 4th against the 5th in the ranking. In the semi-final, the best placed team plays against the worst placed of the remaining teams. The play-offs are played at the best of seven games. A team must win 4 times against the same team to qualify for the next round.

Certain rules also apply with regard to the players’ outfits, which must be identical for all players on the same team. This ranges from the colour of the jersey to the colour of the helmet, shorts and stockings. Only the goalkeeper can choose a different helmet color. owayo offers a wide range of customizable jerseys and accessories. Come take a look!

We hope these explanations will help you to see more clearly and wish you a lot of fun for your next hockey game.