Hockey: The Game

Ice hockey is played on a rink, a sheet of ice which is approximately two-thirds the size of a football field, usually 185-200 feet long and 85-100 feet wide.

The game is played in three periods of equal length; 20 minutes for each period at most levels, but often 12 or 15 minutes in youth classifications. The sport involves four basic skills: skating, stickhandling, passing and shooting. These skills can be learned at any age, and the good hockey player continually works to improve and refine his or her skills.

Physical size is not an important factor in becoming a skilled and successful hockey player. Every player has an opportunity to be a part of the action given the speed of the game, the number of players on a team and the size of the surface upon which the game is played


Skating is the skill that makes hockey unique and it is something that players at all levels of the sport continually strive to improve. Without adequate skating ability, players are less able to perform the other essential skills of the sport.

Stickhandling is perhaps the most difficult of the basic skills to master. It allows a skilled player to maneuver around opponents and create better offensive opportunities. Passing is what makes hockey a true team sport and helps make the game fun.

Passing gets everyone on the ice involved in the action and turns scoring into a team effort. Helping teammates experience success is what the game is all about and passing allows the thrill of scoring to be shared.

Shooting is the end result of an offensive team play and is the action that produces a goal. Many players spend most of their time practicing shooting because they believe scoring is the most fun. Players should, however, place an equal emphasis on the other basic skills of hockey, given the fact most players generally take fewer than six shots in an entire game.

The Team

A team is comprised of a maximum of six players on the ice at any one time (see “penalties”).

The goaltender is responsible for guarding the team’s goal and preventing the opposing team from scoring.

The primary responsibility of the defensemen (two) is to prevent the opposing team from having a good shot at the goal. The defensemen also attempt to gain possession of the puck and pass to teammates to initiate an offensive scoring opportunity.

The primary responsibility of the forwards (three: right wing, center and left wing) is to score. However, forwards also assist the defensemen by back-checking after their team has yielded control of the puck to the opposition.

The Playing Zones

The ice surface is divided by blue lines into three zones: defensive, offensive and neutral.

The defensive zone is the area in which a team protects its own goal and attempts to keep the opposition from scoring. This same zone is the opposing team’s offensive zone, or the area in which they are attempting to score.

The neutral zone is the area between the two blue lines.

The Officials

At higher levels of ice hockey competition, four officials — two referees (identified by an orange arm band) and two linesmen — are utilized. At the youth level, two officials — both of whom are referees — are common. The referee is the ultimate authority during the game and is primarily responsible for calling penalties and determining if goals have been legally scored.

The primary responsibilities of the linesmen include conducting faceoffs and determining violations of offside and icing while assisting the referee in enforcing the rules of the game.

The Rules

The playing rules of hockey are divided into three basic categories:

  1. Violations that result in a face-off
  2. Violations that result in a player being awarded a penalty shot
  3. Violations that result in a player being sent to the penalty box for a specified period of time

The following is a brief explanation of each type of violation. Naturally, there are technical aspects of each rule that will, at various times, determine whether or not the violation is called.


Offside — An offensive player may not precede the puck across the blue line into the offensive zone. Icing — A team, when both teams have an equal number of players on the ice, may not shoot the puck from behind the center red line over their opponent’s goal line (except if the puck goes into the goal). In Junior hockey, the puck must first be touched by a player from the defensive team before icing is called.

Penalty Shot

A penalty shot is most commonly awarded if:

  1. A player, while in a scoring position, is fouled from behind and deprived of a scoring opportunity; or
  2. A defensive player grabs or falls on the puck when it is in the goal crease.

To take a penalty shot, an offensive player takes control of the puck at center ice and tries to score against the opposing goaltender. All other players are removed from the action.


For the following penalties, the penalized team must play minus the number of players serving such penalties, with one exception: the penalized team can have no fewer than four players, including the goaltender, on the ice (delayed penalty):

Minor Penalty — If a team is scored upon while it is shorthanded because of a minor penalty, the penalty shall terminate immediately.

Major Penalty — Does not terminate early for any reason.

Match Penalty — Five minutes, depending upon the violation, and is served by a teammate. If assessed a match penalty, the offending player is ejected for the balance of the game and may not play in future games until the case has been reviewed by league administrators.

For the following penalties, the team will replace the penalized player on the ice immediately:

Misconduct — Served in the penalty box.

Game Misconduct — Ejection for the balance of the game and the player or coach will serve an additional one-game suspension.

The following is a list of common penalties and their definitions:

Charging — Body checking an opponent at an excessive speed; checking or pushing from behind.

Checking from Behind — An extremely dangerous action characterized by a player checking an opponent directly from behind. Parents, players, coaches and referees must all work to eliminate this infraction from our sport.

Checking to the Head — The action of a player, regardless of intent, contacting a player in the head, including with the stick or by an illegal body check.

Cross-Checking — Checking an opponent with the stick across the body.

Elbowing — Checking an opponent with the elbow extended.

High-Sticking — Carrying the stick above normal shoulder height. If the violation results in an injury to an opponent, a major penalty should be assessed.

Holding — Impeding the progress of an opponent by using the hand, stick or any other means.

Hooking — Using the stick to impede the progress of an opponent.

Interference — Impeding the progress of an opponent who is not in possession of the puck.

Slashing — Hitting or swinging at an opponent with the stick.

Tripping — An action against an opponent’s leg which causes the opponent to fall.

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