If you are just learning to play hockey, there are a lot of different rules to remember. There are slight variations of rules in adult hockey, youth hockey, and professional hockey — so for the purpose of this article, assume all the rules are for adult hockey (or beer league hockey) under USA Hockey rules.

Hockey rules & scoring

Ice hockey is a game played on a sheet of ice in, either outdoors or in an indoor arena or rink. There will be two teams playing, with the winner at the end of three period (as well as overtime) being the team with the most points.

1. Hockey rink dimensions

There are some major dimensional differences between a North American hockey rink and an international hockey rink (also known as an “Olympic” hockey rink). Unless you have an Olympic rink near you, you are most likely going to be playing in a ice rink with North American dimensions.

Ice hockey rink: basic rules of hockey.

Dimensions of a North American hockey rink

The dimensions of a beer league hockey rink are:

  • 200 feet x 85 feet.
  • With rounded corners.
  • Each goal line is 11 feet from the end boards.
  • Each blue line is 75 feet from the end boards.
  • Each blue line is 50 feet from the other blue line.

Dimensions of a international/Olympic hockey rink:

The dimensions of an international, or Olympic-sized, hockey rink are:

  • 196.9 feet x 98.4 feet.
  • With rounded corners.
  • Each goal line is 13.1 feet from the end boards.
  • Each blue line is 75 feet from the end boards.
  • Each blue line is 49.6 feet from the other blue line.

2. Players

Although there may be variations in certain hockey leagues, the general rule is each team should have six people on the ice at any given time: five skaters and one goalie. These positions are usually:

  • 1 center.
  • 2 forwards (or wings).
  • 2 defensemen.
  • 1 goalie.

Team make-up

Even though there are six players on the ice at any given time, your team will want more players — because you will need to rest on a regular basis. Besides the goalie, the ideal number of players for your bench is either 10 or 13.

Pulling the goalie

Occasionally you will see a goalie skate to the bench and a sixth skater take his place on the ice. This is called “pulling the goalie” and generally happens in one of two situations:

  • When the game is nearly over and the team is down by 1 or 2 points.
    • They add a sixth skater in a last-minute attempt to even the score.
  • On a delayed penalty.
    • When the opposing team has caused a penalty but do not yet have control of the puck, the delayed penalty means the whistle will be blown as soon as they have control of the puck and therefore the offending team cannot score. So the goalie is pulled and a sixth skater goes on the ice to take advantage of the situation.

3. Hockey goals

A goal is scored in hockey when:

  • The puck must have been put between the goal posts.
    • Below the crossbar.
    • Entirely across the goal line.

A goal is not scored when:

  • If the scoring player was on the offense but the puck went in by a kicking or throwing motion.
  • If the whistle has already been blown for any reason.
  • If the puck was deflected into the net off of an official.
  • If the puck was deflected into the net by a high stick.
    • In USA Hockey, a high stick is defined as a stick above the shoulders of the person holding it.

4. Face-offs

A face-off in hockey is when two players line up and the ref drops the puck between them. It is meant to be a fair competition between two teams.

Face-off locations

There are nine face-off locations on a sheet of ice in hockey, and the location of each face-off is based on where and why the last play was stopped. This includes:

  • End of a period.
  • Icing.
  • Offsides.
  • A goal.

5. Offsides

Offsides is one of the most important rules of hockey — and one of the most difficult for beginner hockey players to learn.

The basics of the hockey offside rule is that any player on the offensive team should not enter their offensive zone before the puck does. This means that either or both of the player’s skates (any player on the team) should not completely cross over the the blue line before the puck does.

If a player has both skates over the blue line (or one skate, if the other skate is in the area) before the puck, he is offside. If he has one skate over the blue line and the other on the blue line, he is still on side.

Delayed offsides

Delayed offsides is when a player enters his zone legally (after the puck) but then when he is in the zone, the puck is shot out of the zone and then back in.

In this case, the referee will raise his arm signifying offsides but will not blow his whistle. Any offensive players in the zone on a delayed offside need to exit the zone, along with all their teammates, before any of them can re-enter the zone.

There are a few more rules to offsides, you can read the full rules of hockey offsides here.

6. Icing the puck

Hockey icing is when a player shoots the puck from behind the red center line into their offensive zone. For it to be considered icing, the puck needs to pass the 1. Red center line, 2. Blue line, and 3. Red goal line, without touching anyone (or anything any player is holding or wearing) on the way.

When icing happens, the referee will stop the play and a face-of will occur at one of the face-off dots in the defensive zone of the player who shot the puck.

To learn the full rules of icing the puck, read our full story here.

7. Game time

Hockey game times will generally be established by your league, and can be run time or stop time.

Run time

Run time in hockey means the clock will start at the beginning of each period and will generally not be stopped until the end of the period. Some reasons the clock might be stopped during run time include:

  • A team time out.
  • An injury.

Many times run time games will be longer than a stop time game.

Stop time

Hockey stop time is when the clock is stopped each time a whistle blows during a game.

A stop time hockey game will be much shorter than a run time game.

8. Overtime rules

Overtime rules for adult hockey is usually based on the rules of your particular league. Some examples of overtime rules that are implemented in beer leagues include:

  • No overtime: The game ends at the end of regulation, even if the game is tied.
  • Sudden death: The first team who scores during overtime wins the game.
  • Shootout: Each team will be given a certain amount of chances to shoot (usually 3 or 5), and the team with the most points wins. If both teams are tied at the end of the regular shootout, they will continue scoring until one team has more points.

9. Penalties

There are a lot of penalties that can be called in hockey, which is anything that violates the rules of the game.

Hockey penalties can be classified as a minor penalty, major penalty, or misconduct. These classifications can also be combined, depending on the action — and punishments range from 2 minutes to game or league suspensions.

  • Minor penalties: 2 minutes.
  • Major penalties: 5 minutes.
  • Misconduct penalties: It depends, based on the situation.

Read the full list of all ice hockey penalties here.

Power play

A power play is when a team has had a penalty committed against them, causing them to have more players on the ice than their opponent. This gives them an advantage on the ice.

Penalty kill

A penalty kill is when a team has committed a penalty and they are out on the ice short-handed. This is one of the times when icing the puck is allowed in the game of hockey.

Basic rules of ice hockey

There are a lot of basic rules to ice hockey, but these rules mentioned here will give you a start if you are learning to play hockey. Getting out there and playing will be the best way to learn the rest — ask questions of your teammates and try to understand what is happening on the ice in front of you, because that is the best way to learn.