IOce hockey reules

Ice Hockey Rules Explained: How is Hockey Played?

If you’re not from Canada or the northern states in the US, you may be wondering how ice hockey is played. It’s a fast-paced, exciting game that’s popular in cold-weather climates, and it can be hard to follow if you’re not familiar with ice hockey rules.

Power plays, icing, delayed penalty, red line, blue line, we got you covered!

In this article, we’ll explain how hockey is played, including the basic ice hockey rules as well as some of the more advanced, important rules.

So whether you’re a hockey fan or just looking to understand this popular sport a little better, read on!

For some interesting hockey trivia, see our articles, Want To Know Hockey’s Most Unanswered Questions? Part One and:

Want To Know Hockey’s Most Unanswered Questions? Part Two

Some of the links below are affiliate links! For more information please see our disclosure policy.

What is the object of an ice hockey game?

The object of an ice hockey game is simple – to score more goals than your opponent. A goal is scored when the puck (the black disk used in hockey) goes into the net.

As with most sports, the team that scores the most goals in the game wins. Whether they’re called goals, points, or something else, get more of them than the other team to win!

How do teams score goals? Simple, players on each team try to shoot the puck into the opponent’s net.

Occasionally, a player even pots one into their own net. This is usually followed by some explicates and a stick smash against the ice.

Ice hockey rules-puck going into net

How many players are on a hockey team?

A hockey team consists of 6 on-ice players per side, per team. These players include;

The goaltender.

Two defense players: broken up between left defense and right defense based on the side of the ice that they patrol.

Three forward players: divided up by the areas of the ice surface that each is responsible for. The forward players are called the center, left wing and right wing.

What do the A and C mean on a hockey jersey?

For a detailed explanation, along with tons of facts and trivia, see our article, What Do the A and C Mean On a Hockey Jersey?

Also, for a funny yet informative article on choosing your jersey number, see, What Hockey Jersey Number Should You Be? (Plus, What Numbers Should You Avoid!)

Ice hockey rules- 6 players a side

How many periods are there in hockey?

A game of hockey at the professional level, whether that be the NHL, WHL, OHL, KHL, SHL, PHF, or any of the various other pro leagues features 3 periods.

Each of the three periods consists of 20 minutes of game time.

The caveat to the three, 20-minute period format would be in some of the beginner level hockey divisions. For younger players, aged 10 or less, a game might consist of two periods, each 15 minutes in length.

For younger players, there are no hard and fast rules to period quantity or length.

Ice hockey rules-scoreboard

What is overtime in hockey?

If a game of hockey is tied after the three standard periods are over, an overtime period is added. The length and rules of the overtime period vary by league and division.

For example, in the NHL, during the regular season, overtime consists of 3 vs 3 play for a total of 5 minutes. After such time, if the game is still tied, the overtime ends and a shootout commences.

By contrast, in the NHL playoffs, overtime is treated as just another full 20 minute period.

If the game is still tied after the overtime period, another overtime period is added. This pattern is repeated indefinitely and overtime periods are added until a goal is scored and a winner crowned.

What is a shoot out in hockey?

In the NHL, if a regular season game remains tied after the overtime period ends, a shootout will begin.

During the shootout, three players per team take alternating penalty shots on the opponent’s goalie. If the shootout is still tied after each team gets three shots, then it enters what’s called sudden death.

In sudden death, a player from one team takes a shot. If the player scores, the opposing team must also score on their next shot or the game ends.

If both players score or likewise if both shots are saved, this pattern continues until a winner is declared.

Ice hockey rules-How hockey is played

Ice hockey rules and regulations: Basic rules of hockey

What is Icing in hockey?

When a team shoots the puck from their side of the red center line, all the way down to behind the other team’s net, it’s called icing.

If a player from the team that iced the puck reaches it first, the icing is waived off and play continues.

Icing can be used as a strategy to keep the puck out of your offensive zone, as well as to relieve pressure on a team that is being attacked.

This strategy has two major drawbacks, though.

  1. The faceoff will occur in one of the offending team’s zone faceoff circles.

  2. The offending team is not allowed to make a line change. This could lead to tired players being forced to stay out, while fresh players take to the ice for the other team.

No-touch icing

However, a variation of the puck icing rule also exists within most leagues nowadays. No-touch icing eliminates the dangers that come with a race to the boards for an iced puck.

Rather than waiting for a player to touch the puck first, the play will be whistled down as soon as the puck crosses the far goal line.

This icing variation has prevented countless hockey injuries.

What is offside in hockey?

Offside is called when a player on the attacking team enters the offensive zone before the puck. The result is a faceoff at the spot of the infraction, in the neutral zone.

If the puck exits the offensive zone, the attacking team must clear out and exit the zone before they can attack again.

Playing the puck with a high-stick

A hockey stick can not be higher than the waist of the player when they contact the puck.

If the player’s stick makes contact with the puck above the player’s shoulders, they will be called for a high stick.

A high stick is penalized by a faceoff at the spot of the infraction in the same zone.

Puck kicked in net with a distinct kicking motion

If a player deliberately kicks the puck into the net with a distinct kicking motion, the goal will be disallowed and a faceoff will take place at the spot of the infraction.

A goal will be allowed unless a distinct kicking motion is evident.

I’ve seen some absolutely horrendous calls made on this one. Some brutal goals allowed, while others were disallowed. Watch hockey long enough and you’ll definitely see what I’m talking about!

Basic ice hockey rules of the game: Minor penalties

A minor penalty in hockey is two minutes long.

The player who committed the infraction must serve the entire two minutes in the penalty box unless an opposing player scores.

If the opposing team scores while a penalized player is serving a minor penalty, the player is released from the sin bin and can return to play.

There are a few different infractions that can result in a minor penalty as per the NHL rulebook 2021-2022, including:


A player impedes the progress of an opponent who does not have possession of the puck. This can be done with the stick or any part of the body.

High-sticking (2 or 4 min)

A high sticking penalty in hockey is when a player raises their stick above their shoulders and makes contact with another player, resulting in a 2 or 4-minute penalty.

This is generally considered to be a dangerous play, as it can result in serious injury to the other player.

A minor high-sticking penalty results in two minutes in the penalty box, while a major high-sticking penalty results in four.

The determining factor on whether the offending player gets the 2 or 4-minute penalty is whether or not the stick contact caused any bleeding.

If there’s blood, it’s a double minor- that’s two consecutive 2-minute penalties.

No blood? You’ll get off with a slap on the wrist. Take a seat in hockey jail for 2 minutes or less.

Ice hockey rules-high sticking


A player uses the shaft of their hockey stick to cross-check an opponent, usually in the chest, back or midsection. This is a very dangerous play and can result in injury.

This occurs often near the blue paint, or goalie’s crease.

Spraying the opposing goalie with ice is a sure-fire way to see this rule firsthand. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Ice hockey rules-spraying the goalie with ice

Holding the stick

A player impedes the opposing player’s ability to play the puck by intentionally holding their hockey stick. This can be done with one or two hands.


In the rules of hockey, slashing is when a player swings their stick at an opponent.

This is usually aimed at the hands or arms in order to either knock the stick out of the opponent’s hands or knock the puck away from the attacking player.


A player impedes the progress of an opponent by holding them with their hands or arms, or by using any part of their body to limit the other player’s mobility.


A player checks a defenseless opponent into the boards from behind, causing them to lose balance and fall to the ice. This is a very dangerous play.

Goaltender interference

A player impedes the opposing goaltender by interfering with their ability to move freely in their crease. This can be done by accident or on purpose.

A goal will be disallowed if goaltender interference is determined, even after what appears to be a good goal is scored.

Closing hand on the puck

A player covers the puck with their hand to prevent the opposing team from playing it.

This is usually done when a goaltender is trying to make a save, or when a player is trying to clear the puck out of their defensive zone crease.

Delay of game

A player deliberately prevents the puck from being played, usually by shooting it over the glass of the rink or by covering it with their body or hockey stick.

This is sometimes done to protect a lead late in the game.

The trapezoid rule

The what rule? Yup, the NHL has a trapezoid rule.

If a goalie plays the puck behind their net, they must be in the trapezoid area directly behind their net or they will be assessed a delay of game penalty.

Too many men on the ice

In hockey, too many men on the ice is a penalty called when one team has more players on the ice than the rules allow.

This usually happens due to a poor line change or when a player prematurely hits the ice and his teammates are slow to get off.

Unsportsmanlike penalty

A player will be assessed an unsportsmanlike penalty for any one of the following reasons:

– Deliberately knocking or shooting the puck out of play.

– Using obscene gestures or language.

– Making physical contact with an official.

– Spitting on an opponent.

– Throwing a stick or any other piece of equipment.

– Taking a dive or embellishing a call.

ice hockey rules-penalties

Basic ice hockey rules: Major penalties

A major penalty is five minutes long.

The player who committed the infraction must serve the entire five minutes in the penalty box, regardless of whether or not their team scores.

Check from behind

A check from behind is when a player hits an opponent in the back. This is considered a dangerous play and is penalized with a five-minute major penalty.


A player jabs an opponent with the point of their hockey stick. This is a very dangerous play and can result in injury. If the player involved is injured on the play, a major penalty will be assessed.


A fight in hockey is when two players drop their gloves and sticks and start throwing punches at each other.

This is considered a penalty and both players will be sent to the penalty box for five minutes.

Misconduct and game misconduct penalties

A player who receives a misconduct penalty is removed from the game for a period of ten minutes.

Occasionally, the penalized player will simply be kicked out of the game.

What is a line change?

At the end of a players exhausting 1-2 min shift, they skate back to the bench to be replaced with some fresh legs.

Have some water, wipe down your visor, and take a big deep whiff of the smelling salts. You’ll be flying back over the boards in no time!

Ice hockey rules-line change

What is a power play in hockey?

A power play in hockey is a situation where one team has more players on the ice than the other team. This is due to players sitting in the penalty box.

Obviously, the team with more players has a big advantage.

The team on the PP wants a goal scored, while the short-handed team is just trying to stay alive and kill off the penalty.

What is a penalty kill in hockey?

A penalty kill in hockey is when a team is short-handed due to one or more penalties. They are now in penalty kill mode and will attempt to prevent the opposing team from scoring.

This can be a difficult task, as the opposing team will have a numerical advantage and will be able to attack with greater ease.

There are various strategies that teams can use to try and kill off a penalty, but it ultimately comes down to good old-fashioned hard work and determination.

If a team can successfully kill off a penalty, it can often be a big momentum boost and help them take control of the game.

The penalty shot

In hockey, a penalty shot is awarded to a player who has been fouled while in the process of taking a shot on goal. Not just any shot, though. The player needs to have been on a clear breakaway.

The offensive player starts with the puck at the center face-off dot.

The rules for a penalty shot are simple: maintain control of the puck and keep it moving in a forward direction.

Now, the hard part: put it in the back of the opponent’s goal!

Penalty shots are one of the most exciting moments in hockey, as it is a one-on-one battle between the player and the goalie, oftentimes with the game on the line.

A penalty shot is the perfect opportunity to try out those sweet dangles you’ve been practicing in your basement.

Ice hockey rules- penalty shot

How does fighting work in hockey?

Some important rules govern fighting in hockey:

– Players can only fight while they are on the ice

– They must drop their gloves and sticks before they start throwing punches

– The players must be facing each other

– No one can jump into the fight

– Once a player is down on the ice, the other player must stop punching

If a player breaks any of these rules, they will receive an additional penalty

ice hockey rules-fighting players

Final thoughts

Hockey is a fast-paced sport that is popular in many countries. If you’re already a fan of the game, you know there’s nothing like watching your favorite team live.

Post your fav teams in the comments. Let’s see who has the best fans!

If you’re new to the game… what are you waiting for!? Learn the basic rules so you can follow along with the action!

Now go watch some NHL highlights on YouTube. And as always, keep your stick on the ice!

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