Basic Ice Hockey Rules

ice hockey rules

You may not be familiar with ice hockey rules or have much experience with the game if you don't live in a cold region.

The game requires a rink of ice and a significant amount of equipment to play safely. Fortunately, no matter where you live, you can modify the rules and enjoy a fun, high-energy game.

The basics provided below will make hockey a little simpler for beginners and spectators alike.


Ice hockey is played between 2 teams of 6 players each who try to score points by hitting a puck with a stick into the opponent's goal.

Ice Hockey Rules
Playing Area

ice hockey rink

Ice hockey is played on an ice surface called a "rink."

A standard rink in North America measures 20' x 85', but the rink is a little wider (98.5') in other parts of the world.


  • The rink is divided into zones. A red line at center ice divides the rink in half. It's used to determine "icing" violations.
  • There are also 2 blue lines that divide the rink into 3 parts called zones. Each blue line is 60' from each goal. These lines are used to judge if a player is offside. The zone between the 2 blue lines in the middle of the rink is the "neutral zone."
  • The area where the goal is located is the "defending zone" for the team defending the goal.
  • The area where the opposing goal is located is the "attacking zone" or "offensive zone."


  • Near each end of the rink, there is a thin red goal line that's used to judge goals and icing calls.
  • The ice hockey goals measure 6' wide and 4' tall. One goal is located at each end of the rink. Each goal has a red crossbar and posts and is strung with a nylon net.
  • In front of each goal is an area 4' deep and 8' wide known as the "goal crease." It's marked off by red lines, and offensive players without the puck are not allowed to enter this area.
ice hockey goals

Faceoff Circles

ice hockey faceoff
  • There are 5 faceoff circles painted on the ice. There is a circle located near each corner of the rink and one circle in the center of the rink.
  • There are an additional 4 faceoff spots marked within the neutral zone.


The entire rink is surrounded by boards or Plexiglas to keep the puck in the playing area and protect spectators. The boards can't have any obstructions on the side facing the rink.


There are 2 team benches where players and coaches sit and 2 penalty benches where players sit during their penalty times.

hockey rink

Ice Hockey Rules

In addition to a rink with goals, the following equipment is needed to play a traditional game of ice hockey:

hockey puck


The puck is black and made of vulcanized rubber. It measures 3" in diameter, is 1" thick, and weighs between 5.5-6 ounces.

ice skate

Ice Skates 

hockey stick

Hockey Stick

Each player needs a hockey stick in order to retrieve, control, carry, pass, and shoot the puck. The handle of the stick measures about 4-5' and the blade is a little over 12" long.

Protective Equipment

Players need protective shoulder, elbow, and shin pads that they wear under their uniforms. They also wear heavy protective gloves and headgear.

ice hockey equipment
ice hockey goalie

Goalkeeper's Equipment

In addition to the protective equipment worn by all skaters, the goalkeeper needs a chest protector, face mask, and leg guards.


An ice hockey game is divided into three 20-minute periods. The clock is stopped anytime the officials stop play.

Ice Hockey Rules
Players & Positions

Each team has 6 players on the rink at a time: 5 skaters and 1 goaltender. The skaters are divided into 3 forwards and 2 defensemen.

  1. Goaltender
  2. Defensemen - Right Defense
  3. Defensemen - Left Defense
  4. Forward - Center
  5. Forward – Right Wing
  6. Forward – Left Wing

All players, regardless of their position, can go anywhere on the ice. The only exception is the goaltender who isn't allowed to cross the center red line.

The Hockey Goalie's Handbook : The Authoritative Guide for Players and Coaches
Hockey Goaltending
Hockey Goaltending for Young Players: An Instructional Guide

Goaltending resources at Amazon


The goaltender's main responsibility is to protect the goal and keep the puck out of the net.


Their responsibility is to stop the play at their own blue line. Defensively, they try to intercept passes, block shots, keep players from receiving the puck and clear the puck from their end of the rink. Offensively, they pass the puck to their forwards and follow the play into the attacking zone.


The center is similar to the quarterback in football. His job is to lead the attack by carrying the puck on offense and passing to his wings to try and score. Defensively, he tries to break up the play before the opponent crosses the center line.


Offensively, the wings work with the center to move the puck and advance it toward the goal. Defensively, they try to break up plays and keep the opponent from scoring.


Substitutions can happen at any time, and they are unlimited. Unlike most other sports, if a substitute wants to enter the game, it doesn't require an official's permission or a stop in the action. As long as the player coming out of the game is within 5 feet of the bench and isn't involved in the play, his sub can jump right into the flow of the game.

Ice Hockey Rules
Starting Play


The game begins with a faceoff at the center circle between 2 opposing forwards. Faceoffs are also used to restart play after the game has been stopped.

The official drops the puck between them while all other players are lined up on the defensive side of the puck.

There are a total of 9 faceoff spots marked on the ice. 

Ice Hockey Rules

A team gets 1 point each time they deliver the puck into the opponent’s goal net. The puck has to completely cross the goal line between the goalposts and below the crossbar. The team with the most points at the end of regulation time is the winner.

Ice Hockey Rules

Body Checking

A player can use his shoulder, hip, or torso to make contact with an opponent, but only when the opponent is in control of the puck. A body check to the head is illegal and so is a body check to an opponent’s back if the opponent is facing the boards.

Minor Penalties

A minor penalty results in a player being sent off the ice for 2 minutes without any substitutions to replace him. The penalty ends immediately if a goal is scored by the opponent.

Minor penalties involve obstructing an opponent by:

  • tripping (with the stick or knee)
  • holding (with the stick or hands)
  • hooking (with the stick)
  • checking or obstructing a player without the puck
  • boarding (forcing an opponent violently into the boards)
  • charging (taking more than 3 strides to run, jump, or charge into an opponent)
  • slashing (swinging the stick at an opponent)
  • spearing (stabbing an opponent with the stick blade)
  • high-sticking (hitting an opponent in the head)
  • cross-checking (holding the shaft of the stick in the air with both hands and hitting an opponent with it)
  • butt-ending (hitting an opponent with the end of the shaft farthest from the blade)
  • elbowing
  • checking from behind
  • kneeing
  • roughing (wrestling with or shoving an opponent)

Ice Hockey Rules
Major Penalties

A major penalty results in a player being sent out of the game for 5 minutes.If the player in violation causes serious injury or attempt to injure, he is ejected from the game.

If a player is ejected, a teammate has to serve the 5-minute penalty, and no substitutes are allowed to come in.

  • The most common major penalty is fighting.
  • If players from opposing teams are both given 5-minute penalties, substitutions can be made.
  • An official may deem a minor penalty to be a major one if there was serious injury or intent to injure.

Ice Hockey Rules

Misconduct penalties result in a player serving 10 minutes in the penalty box. Misconduct is called for a variety of unsportsmanlike behavior or when a player is called for a second major penalty.

A substitute is allowed for this type of penalty. Major penalties for slashing, spearing, high-sticking, butt-ending, and cross-checking result in automatic misconduct calls.

Ice Hockey Rules
Power Plays

When a team has a 1- or 2-player advantage because an opponent is serving time in the penalty box, this situation is called a power play.

Penalty Shot

If a player with the puck is impeded illegally from behind when there is no opponent between him and the goal, he is given a free shot. The only defender that can try to block the shot is the goaltender.

Teams are not required to have more than 2 players in the penalty box at a time. If a third penalty is called, it’s suspended until the first penalty period is over.

If a goalie is called for a penalty, a teammate serves the penalty for him.

3 Main Ice Hockey Rules

  1. Offside – If an attacking player crosses the blue line into the other team's zone before the puck crosses, the player is offside.
  2. Offside Pass (or 2-line pass) – When a player passes the puck from his defending zone to a teammate that is past the red center line, he has made an offside pass.
  3. Icing the Puck - Any player may pass to a teammate in the same zone. The puck can be hit with the stick or the feet, but not with the hands. If a player passes the puck to a teammate who doesn’t touch it, and it travels into another zone, icing may be called. Icing is also called when a player shoots the puck across the center red line and past the opposite red goal line.

Icing is not called if:

  • the player's team is killing a penalty.
  • a teammate touches it before an opponent touches it.
  • the defending goalie touches the puck first.
  • the puck passes through the blue semicircle at the opening of the goal on its way to the red goal line.

Ice Hockey Rules

I live in the southern U.S., and ice hockey isn't a hugely popular sport here. For one thing, we don't get much of a winter around here, so finding a big sheet of ice for a pick-up hockey game isn't very feasible! It's not easy for me to get to an indoor rink either without driving a pretty good distance.

So, if I want to get a hockey game going, I definitely need to modify the ice hockey rules. Here are some ideas:

Play on a smooth, hard surface and wear roller skates or roller blades instead of ice skates.

Roller Hockey Skates

Street Hockey Equipment

Play on grass and use a small ball instead of a puck.

For a fun indoor game or for young kids, use pool noodles for the sticks and a big beach ball instead of a puck.

Use brooms for the sticks and use some kind of monster-sized ball.

Use a small playing area and play 1-on-1, 2-on-2, or 3-on-3.

Play on a mini-rink indoors.

Play without a goalie.

Have shooting contests and award a different number of points for goals scored from different spots.

If you have a lot of players, add more goals and play with several balls at once.

Have dribbling, passing, and shooting relays.

Set up obstacle courses to dribble the puck or ball through.

Don't use the offside or icing rules.

These are just a few easy ways to change up the ice hockey rules to fit your needs. Hopefully, they’ll give you some ideas for adapting the game to make it more fun for your group.

Interested in youth and girls hockey rules?

Check out more ball, stick, and goal games! 

  1. Home
  2.  >
  3. Sports Rules
  4.  >
  5. Ice Hockey Rules
Share this page:
Enjoy this page? Please pay it forward. Here's how...

Would you prefer to share this page with others by linking to it?

  1. Click on the HTML link code below.
  2. Copy and paste it, adding a note of your own, into your blog, a Web page, forums, a blog comment, your Facebook account, or anywhere that someone would find this page valuable.