Rink and the Rules

The game of hockey and its rules are both simple and complicated.  The object of the game is simply to score more goals than your opponent.  However the various strategies and team dynamics to achieve this objective are complex and the rules and the rink itself can be a important part of winning.

A complete understanding of the rules of  the game and the environment in which it is played can give a player an edge.  Even if you have played the game for  years, you may not have a complete understanding of the rules.  We recommend that even experienced players review this chapter.

This page contains information on:
The RinkRink ZonesThe Goal, Outdoor ice, Indoor Ice rinks, the Hockey team,  Uniforms and Captains

Our next web page focuses on the rules



The Rink

Ice hockey is played on standard size rink which measures 200 feet by 85 feet.   Some colleges and sports facilities are now installing Olympic sized rinks which are 100 feet wide and have additional room behind the net.  Figure-1 shows a standard size rink.  If you have the opportunity to play on an Olympic sized rink, you will notice that the passing lanes open up.  A good passing team will has an advantage on a bigger rink.


Ice Hockey Rink


Figure 1   Standard Ice Hockey Rink


The rink is surrounded by boards that are 4 feet tall and usually have Plexiglas that extends another 4 feet above the boards.  The boards should all be joined together smoothly and the doors to the rink should close securely.  Poorly maintained boards can be dangerous and you should think twice about playing on this type of rink.

The ice surface on indoor rinks is usually maintained with a special vehicle – predominantly made by the Zamboni company.   The Zamboni machine has blades that removes about 1/4 of an inch of ice and then applies an even coat of water to resurface the ice.

To help the rink maintenance staff (and to get onto the ice as quickly as possible) it a good idea to help in moving the nets when resurfacing begins.  Push the nets into the center of the rink as the Zamboni makes its first pass along the boards.  Then move the nets onto the ice that has surfaced and leave the rink.  After the Zamboni is done, you should not enter the ice until after the maintenance crew has shoveled all the Zamboni ice off the rink and closed up the boards.  If the rink is not extremely cold, the ice may not set up quickly.  If you can wait a few minutes before beginning skating, you will have a better surface for your game.

If your rink has been used by figure skaters, you should look for holes as you first skate on a newly resurfaced rink.  Figure skaters jumps can gouge fairly large holes in the ice.  These holes  can be filled with ice shavings and water and then smoothed with a puck.  Figure skaters prefer the ice temperature to be 32 degrees Fahrenheit to cushion their jumps.  25 degrees is better for hockey.

Rinks will have the players benches, penalty boxes and the scorer’s tables located in a variety of locations around the rink.  Be aware of their location as this can be used to a team’s advantage when a penalized player returns to the rink.

In-line hockey rinks are more varied in size and can range from 200′ by 100′ to 145′ by 65′.  The surface needs to be smooth and may be asphalt,  wood, concrete or interlocking tiles.  Because many in-line rinks are installed in spaces used for other activities, many have temporary boards that can be easily moved and stored.  These boards can be as small as 8″ high to the full 48″ regular sized boards.

A blank rink diagram is included on this site –  Click here for Ice Hockey rink diagram   Make copies of these diagrams and use them to draw plays with your teammates.

The ice rink has a number of permanent markings that are painted on the base of the rink (usually painted concrete) below the ice surface.  Most rinks have three layers.  The bottom layer is painted white, the next layer has the blue lines, red lines and circles, and the top is what you skate on.  The base is usually covered with 2 to 3 inches of ice.

The blue lines separate the rink into thirds.  The center line is dashed and colored red.  The goal line is red and extends across the front of the goal to both boards.  To score, the puck must completely clear the goal line inside the goal.

The crease is a semi circle in front of the goal.  Older rinks may still have the crease as a rectangle, but most rinks now have the semi circle.  A goal will not count if an offensive player is in the crease (unless an offensive player is pushed into the crease by a defender.)

There is one face-off circle in the center of the rink and two at each end.  They are all 15 feet in diameter.  During a face-off all players, other than those facing off,  must keep their skates outside of the circle.  The face-off circles at each end contain small lines (known as “hash marks”).  During a face-off, opposing players must keep their skates out of the circle and behind the hash marks.   The hash marks are useful markers for team strategy discussions, as a defensive player may tell a wing to stay at the hash mark by the boards to await a break out pass.

There are also four face-off dots outside the blue lines. These are used for off sides calls (see below) and other stoppages in the games.  The referees position the players when these face-off dots are used.


Rink Zones

The are also areas on a rink that are not marked but are part of the language of hockey.  They are indicated on Figure 2.



Figure 2   Rink Zones

The three portions of the rink are known as the offensive zone, the neutral zone (also called center ice), and the defensive zone.  Although most hockey coaching focuses on offensive or defensive zone play, there has been considerable attention paid lately to the neutral zone.    The best teams – pro, college or amateur – have strategies developed and well executed for play in the neutral zone.

The best place to shoot from in the offensive zone is the “slot”.  The slot extends from in front the goal for about 20 feet.   Defensive players will try to keep the offense out of the slot or at least have the offense players tied up.

Defensive players are positioned at the “points” when their team is on offense.  As the puck moves from one side of the rink to the other, the defense moves along the blue line.  One defender should always be close to the boards while the other is more towards the center.  There is always debate about how close to the blue line the defensive player should stay when they are on the point.  If they move closer to the goal they are “pinching in.”  Chapter 9 provides more information on defensive positioning.

Players positions are sometimes referred to as “high or low.”   If a player is high they are usually between the face-off dot and the blue line.  If they are low they are between the face-off dot and the goal line.

The Goal

The goal (or “net”) is made of metal and is four feet tall and six feet wide.   It extends backwards approximately three feet (see Figure 3).   When a shot hits the metal on a goal it is known as “hitting the pipe.”  Most goals today are secured to the rink with magnetic posts or some other means so that if player runs into it, it will move and avoid injuring the player.  If the net comes off its posts a goal cannot be scored and play is stopped for a face-off.


Figure  3   Ice Hockey Goal and Net

The goal also has 5 zones that are used to describe areas where a shot can enter.  You might have frequently heard the phrase “hitting the 5 hole” which is between the goalie’s legs.  Figure 4 shows the Goal zones.


Hockey Net

Figure 4   Goal Zones


Most new goals have the netting strung very tightly.  This can cause a very hard shot to enter the goal and pop back out as though the goalie stopped it.   Adult hockey leagues do not normally have goal judges standing by the nets.  If your team has some players with strong shots you  may want to remind the referees to play close attention to pucks that are hit hard at the net.



Outdoor Ice

If you are fortunate to live in a climate that has an extended season of weather below freezing, you can practice your skills and have fun at outdoor rinks.    If you are playing on an outdoor  rink with boards, pay attention to the distance between the blue lines and the goals.  If this is not measured correctly, you may adjust your shooting and other parts of your game incorrectly.

Outdoor rinks can sometimes have large cracks in them – especially if they are on a pond or lake.  Many a good hockey player has sprained an ankle or twisted a knee on an outdoor rink due to their skates catching in cracks.  Don’t skate backwards if you see cracks!

Although play on outdoor rinks tends to be casual, you should always wear some of your gear.   Pads, gloves and elbow protectors are  a minimum requirement. You will also notice that your skates will need more frequent sharpening after skating outdoors because the ice is harder.

Outdoor rinks can have pick up games or they may be relatively unoccupied.   It is useful to practice individual skills such as stick handling and shooting on these rinks.  Avoid playing long shifts on an outdoor rink in a pick up game.  Unfortunately, you may pick up  lazy habits to conserve energy.  These will not serve you well when you are in  a real game and skating short and intense shifts.

If you like do it yourself projects, there is nothing as much fun as your own backyard rink.






Indoor Ice

Adult ice hockey is usually played in indoor ice rinks where the ice time costs about $100 to $200/hour. Therefore, your league should be well organized to take the maximum advantage of the ice time you have available.

The best way to play is “stop time.”  This is the way pro, college and high school teams play.   A period is 15 to 20 minutes long and the time stops when the whistle is blown by the referee.  Stop time lets a team strategize more carefully.  It also allows for line changes in an orderly manner.

If you cannot afford a stop time game, another option is “running time.” In this option the clock is not stopped for whistles and the period is over when the period time elapses.  Unfortunately, running time allows a team that is ahead to stall during faces-offs to preserve their lead.

In some leagues, the games are played stop time until they get close to the end of the rental period.  The referees then move to running time to complete the game.  This happens frequently if the teams are tied and they move into an overtime period.

In-line hockey is played with two  12 -15 minute stop time halves or two 22 minute running time halves.



The Hockey Team

An ice hockey team is made up of six players – a goalie, two defense, two wings and one center.    The goalie normally plays the whole game, while the defense and forwards (wings and center) will play in shifts.  A team should have no more than 20 players to make sure everyone has a chance to play.  Three offensive lines, three defensive lines and a goalie is a common adult team size.   The Strategy Chapter provides a number of suggested ways in which a team can organize its players into these lines.

Players normally skate a shift of 30 seconds to 2 minutes, with a 60 second shift as the optimal target for most adults players.    Teams need to pay attention to the shift time on the rink as the tendency is for players to stay out too long.  A good practice is for the next line on the rink to keep track of the current line’s time on the rink.  As this time approaches 60 seconds, they should start to shout to their team mates to get off.  Even if the forwards think they have a good rush going, it is almost always better to dump the puck into the corner and get “fresh legs” onto the rink.

Changing on the fly

Hockey has the unique rule of allowing players to “change on the fly.”   For a one player to replace another while the game continues, they must skate to the bench.  Both players can be on the rink surface together, but the player leaving the rink cannot play a puck that may come within their area.   If a player leaves the bench and another player does not get off , the team has “too many players” and the referees can invoke a two minute penalty.

A team’s ability to effectively change on the fly is a team skill that can make a big difference in winning games.  To do this requires discipline from the next set of players onto the rink.    Every player should know if they are the next player on the rink and what position they are to take.  As a player leaves the rink and heads toward the bench they should shout out their position – “right wing”.  The new right wing should then enter.  The next line needs to watch and anticipate line changes and not get caught up in watching the game.

Some teams make it a practice for the players coming to the bench to use the doors into the team bench . The players entering the rink go over the boards.  When you are coming off the rink make sure to swing wide so your teammates can enter directly into play.  Another practice is to seat defensive players on the bench closest to their goal and the forwards farthest from the goal.  This helps both positions get into the play more quickly.  These techniques are very useful as there is nothing more embarrassing (or painful) than colliding with your teammate on a change.

The best time to change on the fly is when you are on the attack.  If you can bring the puck into the neutral zone and make a  slow shot into the corner, all  players can change.   Never change on the fly when you are in your own defensive zone.   Teammates should pay special attention if a player on the rink looks like they are tiring.  They may be very involved in the game and not notice how long they have been on the rink.  A friendly holler to get off will probably be appreciated – especially by their legs!

Hockey is a very fluid game and can continue uninterrupted for many minutes. However, when the referee blows the whistle play must stop and not begin again until the puck is dropped in a face-off.  The continuation of play after a whistle is not only considered bad form but may result in a penalty.  A shot on the opposing goalie is not only “bush league” but could attract physical attention from the other team !



Uniform rules vary by league.  In general, a full uniform includes a jersey with a number on it and matching socks.   Home uniforms are light and away uniforms are dark.  Some Leagues also require matching helmets, breezers and gloves.

A team’s captain wears a “C” on their shoulder and the assistant captains wear an “A.”   The captains have the special function on the rink of talking to the referees.  Captains can ask a referee how they interpreted the rules in making a call.  A good captain will also ask the referees to watch the other team for some of the more subtle penalties such as holding and interference.

C                A


The rules section of this chapter continues on the next page.