Rink and Rules – 2


Hockey has a complex set of rules.  This page provides an overview of the most important rules for the adult hockey player and how they fit into the context of a good game experience.

Topics include:

Offsides, Icing, Stoppage of Play, Penalties (minor and major), play during penalties, penalties as part of hockey, and player statistics.


Off sides

Play will be stopped if a team enters the offensive zone off sides.  To be off sides a player on the attacking team must precede the puck over the blue line as they enter the zone.  This normally happens when an offensive player without the puck gets into the zone before the puck carrier.  When the referee sees an offside, the whistle is blown and a face-off occurs outside the blue line at one of the dots in the neutral zone.  Figure  1 illustrates a common offside situation.


Figure 1   Off sides

A player is in the zone when both of their skates are inside the outside edge of the blue line.  This rule allows a skater that is ahead of the puck carrier to skate along the blue line with one skate in the neutral zone until the puck carrier enters the zone.  This technique is helpful because it allows the attacker to maintain speed rather than pulling up and stopping at the blue line.

If  an attacking player is off side but the puck is picked up and controlled by the defending team a delayed off side is indicated by the referee with one arm held vertically.  Play will only stop if  an attacking player touches the puck inside the defensive zone.  If all the attackers leave the offensive zone, the delayed offside is canceled.

Delayed offside can be of strategic advantage to the defending team. It allows the defense to move the puck up ice with no risk until they reach the neutral zone.   A good defensive player will move carefully out of the zone and hit a wing or center with an accurate pass as they break quickly across the neutral zone.

An intentional offside can be called by the officials if they believe an attacking team created an offside situation in order stop play.  The face-off for an intentional offside occurs in the attacking team’s defensive zone.   A player on the offending team does not want to hear these words from the referee – “all the way down!”



Another common infraction in a hockey game is icing.  Icing occurs when a defensive team shoots the puck from their defensive zone into the other teams defensive zone, it crosses the goal line,  and is not touched by any player.  Figure 2 illustrates this rule.


Figure 2   Icing

Different leagues have variations on icing.  In some cases, the puck needs only be shot from behind the center red line.  In some leagues a defender must touch the puck after it crosses the goal line for the play to be stopped.  If this is your leagues rule, your defensive players will have the opportunity to stay in shape by having a race to the puck every time icing occurs!

If an iced puck is either handled by the goalie or enters the crease,  icing is not called.

Referees have the option to “wave off” icing if they feel the defensive team can get to the puck and play it.  A good team strategy is to pay attention to wave offs and yell “no ice” to the defense so they make sure they get to the puck first.  Icing is not called when a team is playing short due to a penalty.   Icing the puck is one of the best ways to minimize the offensive time your opponents get on their power play.

Icing can be used be used to strategic advantage to get a stoppage of play in order to make a line change.  If your team is getting trapped in your defensive zone for too long and you cannot effectively break out, icing is a reasonable tactic.  Although the puck will come back to your end, your team will have fresh players on the rink.


Stoppage of Play

The most frequent stoppage of play after the offsides and icing is caused by the goalie.  If the goalie catches a shot in their glove or falls on the puck, play is stopped.   The referees will usually wait a few moments after a goalie catches the puck in case the goalie wants to drop it back onto the rink in order for play to continue.

If  the puck leaves the rink during play the referees will face-off  the puck in the area close to where it left the rink.  Players should always keep their helmets on even when they are on the bench, as a puck may leave the rink there.

When two players go for a loose puck against the boards,  it may take some time for the puck to be worked free (This is activity is informally known by the wonderful hockey term – “grinding.”)  The referees don’t like to stop play in this situation, but will do so if they cannot see the puck for an extended period of time.

If the puck is shot or passed in the air and a player knocks it down with their stick they must be careful to keep their stick below their waist.  If not, the referee will stop play because of  “puck played with a high stick.” The play will be restarted with a face-off in the area where the puck was hit.  This is not the same offense as high sticking which is described below and results in a two minute penalty.

You can play a puck in the air with your hand.  However, you must bat the puck down with an open hand and not hit it toward a team mate. If you do, it is a “hand pass” and the referees will stop play for a face-off. Referees will sometimes allow a player a short distance in their hand.   The one exception is in the defensive zone where a defender can hit the puck with their hand and direct it to a teammate and no stoppage will occur.

Although hockey is basically a continuous game, most leagues allow a team to call at least one “time out.”  This is normally allowed only when play is stopped for another reason.  A good use of a time out is to plan how you will pull your goalie at the end of a close game.  Pulling the goalie is one of the more exciting maneuvers in a game and it is explained in more detail in the Strategy chapter.

Face offs after a Stoppage

The face-off starts the play after a stoppage and at the beginning of each period.   Players not involved in the face-off must stay outside the face-off circle.  Players must also stay at least 10 feet away from the face-off even if the face-off occurs where there is no circle.

The two players facing off must face each other squarely and remain approximately one stick length apart. The visiting team player must put their stick on the rink first.  The players must be still and  “set” before the puck is dropped.  Any violation of these rules and the referee will remove the offending player and  require a teammate to take the face-off.


Because hockey is a fast and physical game (even in no check hockey),  tight refereeing  makes for a safer and more enjoyable game.   However, to play well in a league where the rules are strictly enforced,  knowledge of the penalty system is essential.  Each league will have variations on the penalties described below.

Penalties can either be minor (two minutes), major (five minutes) or a misconduct (ten minutes.)   The following list is not comprehensive, but includes the most common penalties the adult recreational player will encounter.

Minor Penalties


Holding is called if one player holds another player or a part of their equipment,  such as the stick, jersey or their face mask.


 Interference is called on a player who interferes or impedes the progress of  player who does not have the puck.   Since a certain amount of jostling and contact are part of all hockey games, this penalty is very much a judgment call on the part of referees.  In no check hockey, referees tend to be more lenient for defensive players in front of the net.

In some leagues, the interference penalty is called when an illegal check is used.


If you impede the progress of another player by hooking your stick around your opponent you are guilty of hooking (see video below)    Hooking is similar to tripping, but normally the opponent does not need to fall.  You should work hard to avoid using your stick carelessly after an opponent gets by you as hooking is almost always the result.




 If a player places their body, stick, foot or arm in manner that causes an opponent to fall, tripping will be called.   If you are going for the puck and get to it before your opponent falls, tripping is not normally called.

If  a player is on a break away, has only the goalie to beat and is tripped, a penalty shot is awarded.  The penalty shot allows this player one opportunity to shoot at the goalie unimpeded.  The penalty shot is not called frequently, but it adds an exciting aspect to any game.



 Hitting an opponent with a stick is slashing.   Slashing can occur at the goal mouth as offensive players try to dislodge a puck that a goalie has stopped.

When I first started playing hockey I didn’t realize that slashing the goaltender was not allowed.  One of the players on my team shot the puck and the goaltender caught it but was juggling it.  I swiped at his glove with my stick resulting in a slashing penalty – much to my surprise.   –  Mark

High sticking

Carrying your stick above the waist is dangerous and the high stick penalty can be assessed anytime this occurs.  The most frequent use of this penalty is when two players are against the boards after a loose puck.

Falling on the puck

You cannot fall on the puck or gather it into your body to stop play.   This is penalty is obvious in the center of the rink but harder to call along the boards or by the goal.


Roughing is a general penalty that will be used for players that have a minor altercation.  This includes pushing, and unnecessary roughness.   An even worse roughing penalty is where a player has a penalty committed against them and then retaliates.  The referee only sees the retaliation and your team plays short for two minutes.

Broken Stick

If you break your stick you must drop it immediately or a penalty will be assessed.  This does not seem logical to most players as they would like to take their broken stick  parts to the bench and get a new stick. Unfortunately, hockey has had a history of bad things happening with players skating  with broken and sharp ended sticks, so most referees enforce this rule aggressively.  It is a hockey taboo.

Illegal body checking

Because most adult hockey is “no checking” the interpretation and enforcement of this rule is very important.  In general a player cannot use their body to stop another player or dislodge the puck from a player.  Depending on the league, this rule is enforced  differently and the name of the penalty varies.  Charging, Board checking, cross checking and even interference are used to indicate this penalty.

However, no checking does not mean no contact. (hey – its hockey!)   A player can position themselves in such a manner that another player will be forced to run into them. As long as your opponent hits you, there is no body checking penalty.    You are entitled to your position on the rink and are not required to step out of the way or avoid contact with oncoming players.

A defensive player can use their body in two situations and not have a penalty called.   If a defender is attempting to keep the puck in the offensive zone and  is holding the point, a wing may attempt to go around the defender on the board side.  If the defensive player stands still and puts a shoulder into the wing, it is perfectly legal (and very surprising to the wing who is now laying on the rink!).  The same technique can be used by a defender at the side of the net on defense.  On occasion an attacker will skate behind the goal and attempt a wrap around or “stuff it” shot.   A good, and legal, defensive play is for the defender to position themselves next to the goal post and “stand up’ the attacker as they come around the net.

Video explaining current body checking rules

Abuse of officials  (un-sportsmanlike conduct)

When a player is assessed a penalty it is their obligation to go quietly to the penalty box.  Because hockey is an emotional game this is hard for some players, particularly if they feel the referee did not make a good call. Unfortunately, officials rarely change a call and arguing will frequently result in this penalty.

Players that argue any call or complain that a referee has not called a penalty on an opponent are subject to this call.   A basic rule – don’t talk to a referee any differently than you would talk to your boss.


Major Penalties

Major penalties are for five minutes.  They can be assessed for any of  the minor penalties if a player is injured.   A player committing a major penalty must leave the game permanently and the team must play short handed for five minutes even if the other team scores.

Other than injuring another player, fighting is the primary cause for a major penalty.   Fighting involves throwing punches, pulling an opponent jersey over their head, etc.

A misconduct penalty can also be assessed, usually for arguing too strenuously with an official. Misconducts last for 10 minutes, but the player’s team does not have to play short handed.

Adult hockey is supposed to be just for fun, so committing a major penalty is a cause for concern.  A basic consideration in most adult hockey is – “we all have to get up and go to work in the morning.”

Play during penalties

After a player is assessed a penalty they must serve the penalty in the penalty box.  If a goalie is assessed a penalty, another team mate who is on the rink at that time will serve the penalty for the goalie.  If a team is playing with one less player than the other team due to penalty (short handed) and the other team scores, the penalized player can resume playing and no further penalty time is required.

4 on 4, 5 on 5

If players on both teams are assessed simultaneous penalties, both teams will normally play with only four skaters and the goalie.  However, in some leagues the referees have the option to allow five skaters per side in a simultaneous situation.  This allows more playing time for players in a recreational league.  The NHL had this rule for a number of  years –  informally known as the “Edmonton rule.”    Edmonton would try to stimulate simultaneous penalties to get  4 on 4 situations with Gretsky, Kurri, Messier and Coffey on the ice. These players were almost unstoppable 4 on 4 so the league invoked the 5 on 5 rule.

At no time can a team be penalized so that they have less than three skaters plus the goalie on the rink.

Delayed Penalty

If a team commits a penalty while the other team is in possession of the puck the referees will indicate a delayed penalty by raising their hand.  The defensive team can now play the puck until the penalized team gains control of the puck.  A good play is to pull the goalie when your opponent has been assessed a delayed penalty and add an offensive player.  The goalie yells “delayed penalty”, skates off quickly, and the next line center moves onto the rink.  Since the other team cannot score on a delayed penalty, you would be surprised how often you can score on this play.



Penalties as a part of the game

Penalties make hockey a safe and controlled game.  It is very unusual to play a game without any penalties being called.  However, too many penalties can make winning a game impossible.

Some penalties can be considered “good” penalties.  When a defensive player is has been beaten on a breakaway,  tripping  or hooking  might be necessary to prevent a goal – hence a “good” penalty.    It is infrequent that a penalty qualifies for this category.

Another part of the penalty game  involves making sure the referees see when a penalty has been committed against you.  Although you don’t want to try to win an acting award, a little exaggeration of a trip or hook (together with a groan) can sometimes get a referee to make a call that they might otherwise consider marginal.

Referee courtesy

Referees in adult hockey expect adult behavior.   It is wise to treat referees politely as in most leagues you will see the same referees many times during a season.  If you have a question about an interpretation of a rule, have the captain inquire in a reasonable manner.

Courtesy to referees will make the games feel professional and controlled and lead to a positive experience for both players and referees.

Our team had been playing a rough game and my defensive partner came to the bench complaining to me about being continually poked in the back by a wing.  As we sat on the bench, the referee was next to us on the blue line.  He thought we were talking to him and gave us a cold look.  I quietly said the discussion was between myself and my D partner.   He then became interested and said “What is his number? – I will watch him.”  On the next rush this player received a minor penalty.  Politeness pays! – Mark


Player Statistics

Most leagues keep score so a few basics are helpful.  If the league keeps individual player statistics they normally keep track of goals, assists and penalty minutes.  A player gets one “point” for either a goal or an assist in order to encourage team play.  Penalty minutes are frequently abbreviated as PIM or” Penalties in Minutes.”

Team standing are frequently based on a common system.  A team gets two points if they win, one if they tie and none if they lose.  Some leagues give one point for an overtime loss.

A newer league scoring system that takes into account penalty minutes is known as” Fair Play.”  Each team gets one fair play point per game in addition to the normal points awarded.   Each league establishes a penalty minute threshold (e.g. 12 minutes/game.)   If a team exceeds the threshold they lose their Fair Play point.  Penalty minutes can also be awarded against coaches and in some cases fans.  The goal of Fair Play is to focus the game on hockey skills instead of fighting and obnoxious behavior from fans and coaches.

Lifetime Hockey provides a standard score sheet for you use – click here to download