Hockey Rules and Regulations: A Beginner's Guide

If you or your player is new to the sport, chances are you’ve sat there many times, dumbfounded when the whistle blows. If you have no clue why a penalty was called or why a “faceoff” was warranted, you are not alone. What follows should get you through most of the game, with the exception of some little known and obscure “Thou shalt nots”.

Player Positions on the Ice: As long the teams are at full strength (no one is in the penalty box), each team will have 5 players and their goalie on the ice. The role for defensemen and goaltender are pretty self-explanatory. Most goals are scored by the forwards (center, left winger, right winger), although anyone, even the goalie, could conceivably score.

Regular Game Time, Overtime, and Shootouts:  A regulation game is divided up into 3 periods of 15 minutes each (at the high school level). If a playoff game is tied at the end of the third period, the

players' bench

players' bench

score keeper

penalty box

penalty box

game extends into a 5 minute sudden-death overtime. The first team to score wins. If no goals are scored at the end of overtime, a shootout is called. Each team selects 5 players. The teams alternate and send one player out onto the ice to take a shot at their opponent’s goalie. Whichever team scores the most goals wins.

Goals – to be or not to be:  If the puck enters the net, that’s a goal, right? Not necessarily. If any of the following conditions occur, the goal will not count.

  • The puck was deflected off an official (referee or linesman) immediately before entering the net

  • The goal was deliberately kicked into the net by a player’s skate, or the puck was otherwise batted or thrown into the net by anything other than the player’s stick

  • The player’s stick made contact with the puck above the level of the net’s crossbar

  • A player on the opposing team physically interfered with the goalie, preventing him or her from defending the net.

  • The goal was made with a broken stick

  • The team that “scores” had more than 5 players on the ice (not including their goaltender)

  • The net was accidentally or deliberately dislodged from its position just prior to the puck entering it


Note that one goaltender can score on another, as long as he or she shoots the puck from his or her zone (that is, he/she is on their side of the red center line).

Note that one goaltender can score on another, as long as he or she shoots the puck from his or her zone (that is, he/she is on their side of the red center line).

Note that one goaltender can score on another, as long as he or she shoots the puck from his or her zone (that is, he/she is on their side of the red center line).

Starting and Stopping Plays:  Active ice play is initiated by the official dropping the puck between two players on a “faceoff”. The initial faceoff of the game is from the faceoff circle located at center ice, as are all faceoffs immediately following a goal. Faceoffs to resume play for any other reason occur at one of the other four faceoff circles (two at each end of the ice) or one of four faceoff spots located close to the center ice faceoff circle. Besides a goal, many other situations will stop the play, including; a penalty is called, the puck is ejected from rink’s perimeter, an injured player, a goalie trapping the puck, icing, and off-sides.

Icing: This call occurs when a player shoots the puck from his/her team’s side of the red center line, and the puck crosses the opposing team’s red goal line before any player has a chance to touch the puck.

Off-sides:  This call occurs if a player crosses the opposing team’s blue line before the puck does. If the play is in the opposing team’s zone and the puck crosses the blue line heading toward center ice, then all players must leave their opponent’s zone and may not re-enter until the puck does.


Boarding:  an illegal hit from behind (outside the player’s field of sight), sending the player into the boards

Butt ending:  using the end of the hockey stick to jab another player

Charging: a player builds up speed to “take a run at” another player and violently checks that player. A penalty is also called if both feet of the attacking player leave the ice on a check.

Clipping:  contacting another player’s lower body (below the torso) to cause that player to go off-balance, fall, or otherwise go flying erratically onto the ice

Cross-checking: a player holds their stick with both hands and then uses the stick to push another player.  

Delay of game: any attempt made by a player, goaltender, or coach to deliberately stop or delay the game. The reasons are varied but may include; deliberately dislodging the net, freezing the puck along the boards, shooting the puck outside of the rink, or removing one’s helmet during a breakaway.

Elbowing:  a player uses his/her elbow to push or strike another player

Fighting/fisticuffs:  players remove their gloves to swing and punch at each other

Goaltender Interference: a player makes deliberate contact with their opposing team’s goalkeeper (in or outside of the goal crease) to prevent him/her from playing their position.

High-sticking:  defined as carrying the stick above an opponent’s shoulders. If the player then uses the stick to deliberately contact and potentially injure the player, a penalty is called.

Holding:  a player grabs and holds on to an opponent’s closing or equipment

Hooking: a player uses his/her stick to literally hook another player to cause them to fall or slow down

Illegal stick:  using a stick which does not conform to the length, width, weight, height, curve or material restrictions set by the hockey league

Interference:  a player prevents another player who does not have the puck from skating or making plays. This includes knocking the stick out of a player’s hand or preventing them from picking up a dropped stick.

Instigating: a player initiates a fight

Kneeing/sleuth foot: a player uses his/her knee to strike another player

Roughing:  a player strikes another but the strike is considered not severe
by the referee

Slashing:  a player uses his stick to strike and “slash” another player

Spearing:  using the blade of the hockey stick to jab at another player

Too many (wo)men on the ice:  this one is self-evident

Tripping:  a player uses his/her stick or body to cause another player to fall

Unsportsman-like conduct:  arguing with an official, using obscene language or making obscene gestures to another player, official, or fan.

Penalties for an infraction: A penalty may be categorized as a minor or major penalty, or a game misconduct. A minor penalty will result in the player spending 2 minutes in the penalty box. A major penalty will send the player to the penalty box for 5 minutes, ejection from the game, and/or one or more game suspensions. A game misconduct will result in immediate ejection from the game and possibly one or more game suspensions.

Penalty Shots:  If a player is on a “breakaway” (a player is in possession of the puck, skating down the ice with few opponents close-by), and an opponent illegally checks, trips, slashes, or otherwise interferes with this person, the referee may call for a penalty shot. If a penalty shot is granted, the play is stopped and the player who was on the breakaway is given the opportunity to take a shot at their opponent’s goalie. 

Hopefully, this guide has or will help clear up some of the confusion you might have. For those of you who want more, check out