What are the Most Important Ice Hockey Rules?

Diana Bocco

Ice hockey is a team sport that involves moving a puck into the other team's goal. Some version of the sport has been played since the 16th century, but the first official indoor games didn't take place until 1875, which is considered the beginning of the modern sport. Some of the most important ice hockey rules include those related to the positions on the team, how the puck can be moved, where the players can be in relation to the puck, and how players can have contact with each other.

The icing rule in hockey is designed to prevent teams from wasting time or avoid playing defense.
The icing rule in hockey is designed to prevent teams from wasting time or avoid playing defense.

Each hockey team consists of six players: a goaltender, two defensemen, and three forwards. Forwards often play together as lines, as do defensemen. When a substitution is made, changes are typically made as a set.

To score a goal in ice hockey, a player must shoot the puck past the goaltender.
To score a goal in ice hockey, a player must shoot the puck past the goaltender.

The point of the game is to shoot the puck into the opponent's net to score goals. This is done with a long stick with a curved blade at one end. The puck can also be redirected by using the body, as long as there is no kicking or pushing motion. In 1930, a new ice hockey rule was put into effect, allowing forward passes and making team play vital to the sport.

One key ice hockey rule during games has to do with "icing the puck," the act of shooting the puck across the center red line and over the opposing red goal line. When icing occurs, the play stops and a face-off is held in the defensive zone of the team that committed the infraction.

Offside play is called when a player on the attacking team precedes the puck inside the attacking zone. When an offside violation occurs, a face-off follows. Another, separate ice hockey rule, called an offside pass or a two-line pass, is called when a pass made from inside one team's defending zone goes across the red line. Not all leagues observe the offside pass rule.

In most leagues body contact, including hitting and pushing, are allowed as long as they are part of a full-body move. Stick-on-body contact and hits from behind, however, are typically illegal. A player who is penalized is sent to the penalty box for up to five minutes, depending upon the seriousness of the offense.

Each hockey team has three forwards, two defenseman, and one goalie on the ice at a time.
Each hockey team has three forwards, two defenseman, and one goalie on the ice at a time.

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Discussion Comments


The rule about hitting the puck across the red center line and having it cross the defendant's goal line will result in a penalty. The teams have to have a face off. It must take a lot of practice to control the puck on the slippery ice and keep it from going over the opponent's goal line.

The good players know how to keep control by using short strokes and maneuvering around the opponents. Passing back and forth to players is important too.

It's a fairly simple game to follow. I enjoy watching the sport. More girls are playing ice hockey now. I wonder if the rules are any different for them.


I know of no other modern day sport, besides tackle football, where a certain amount of hitting and shoving are legal. As long as the contact is full body and not done from the back of a player, it's okay.

But, as everyone knows who have ever watched ice hockey, there is a point where the referee determines that the roughness is too much, and sends the offending player to the penalty box for about five minutes. When one player is out of the game, there's a chance of losing points or the game.

But in almost every game, there's always behavior that puts players in the penalty box.

I wonder if allowing some roughness and having a penalty box goes back to the early days of the game. I wonder what the rules were back in the 16th century.


One of the more interesting rules about ice hockey in my opinion is the regulation of hockey sticks as well as ice hockey goalie equipment. There is a legal limit to how curved a stick is permitted to be, because a very curved stick would allow a player to pull off unpredictable shots that would have increasingly more to do with a player's equipment than actual skill.

There are also limits as to how wide a goaltender's protective pads and catching gloves are allowed to be, because at some point it becomes less about protecting the goalie from injury and more about stopping pucks from entering the net. The NHL has become more vigilant about this in recent years and it is perhaps one of the aspects of the game a casual fan would not think about while watching.


It is my opinion that ice hockey rules are fairly easy to understand, especially if one is familiar with other sports; the ice hockey offside rule would be very familiar to a fan of soccer, for example.

When watching international tournament hockey I was quite surprised to learn that different leagues have opposing rules pertaining to icing the puck. In NHL hockey, a team can avoid being called for icing if one of their players can touch the puck before a non-goaltender from the opposing team can. However, other leagues don't give the icing team that chance and the icing call is made as soon as the puck crosses the red goal line.


I wish I had this info about 20 years ago when I used to play EA Hockey on the Megadrive, I had no idea what the rules for ice hockey were apart from "try and put the puck in the goal".

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