Ice hockey is played on a rink, a sheet of ice, which is approximately two-thirds the size of a football field, usually 185-200 feet long and 85-100 feet wide.
The game is played in three periods of equal length; 20 minutes for each period at most levels, but often 12 or 15 minutes in youth classifications. The sport involves four basic skills: skating, stickhandling, passing and shooting. These skills can be learned at any age, and the good hockey player continually works to improve and refine his or her skills.
Physical size is not an important factor in becoming a skilled and successful hockey player. Every player has an opportunity to be a part of the action given the speed of the game, the number of players on a team and the size of the surface upon which the game is played.
The Four Basic Skills of Hockey
- Skating is the skill that makes hockey unique and it is something that players of all levels of the sport continually strive to improve. Without adequate skating ability, players are less able to perform the other essential skills of the sport.
- Stickhandling is perhaps the most difficult of the basic skills to master. It allows a skilled player to maneuver around opponents and create better offensive opportunities.
- Passing is what makes hockey a true team sport and helps make the game fun. Passing gets everyone on the ice involved in the action and turns scoring into a team effort. Helping teammates experience success is what the game is all about and passing allows the thrill of scoring to be shared.
- Shooting is the end result of an offensive team play and is the action that produces a goal. Many players spend most of their time practicing on shooting because they believe scoring is the most fun. Players should, however, place an equal emphasis on the other basic skills of hockey, given the fact most players generally take fewer than six shots in an entire game.
- A team is comprised of a maximum of six players on the ice at any one time (see “penalties").
- The goaltender is responsible for guarding the team’s goal and preventing the opposing team from scoring.
- The primary responsibility of the defensemen (two) is to prevent the opposing team from having a good shot at the goal. The defensemen also attempt to gain possession of the puck and pass to teammates to initiate an offensive scoring opportunity.
- The primary responsibility of the forwards (three: right wing, center and left wing) is to score. However, forwards also assist the defensemen by back-checking after their team has yielded control of the puck to the opposition.
The Playing Zones
- The ice surface is divided by blue lines into three zones: defensive, offensive and neutral. The defensive zone is the area in which a team protects its own goal and attempts to keep the opposing team’s offensive zone, or the area in which they are attempting to score. The neutral zone is the area between the two blue lines.
- At higher levels of ice hockey competition, three officials – one referee (identified by an orange arm band) and two linesmen – are utilized. At the youth level, two officials – both of whom are referees – are common. The referee is the ultimate authority during the game and is primarily responsible for calling penalties and determining if goals have been legally scored. The primary responsibilities of the linesmen include conducting face-offs and determining violations of offside and icing while assisting the referee in enforcing the rules of the game.
The playing rules of hockey are divided into three basic categories:
- Violations that result in a face-off
- Violations that result in a player being awarded a penalty shot.
- Violations that result in a player being sent to the penalty box for a specified period of time.
The following is a brief explanation of each type of violation. Naturally, there are technical aspects of each rule that will, at various times, determine whether or not the violation is being called.
- An offensive player may not precede the puck across the blue line into the offensive zone.
- Icing occurs when a player shoots the puck from within his or her own offensive zone across the opponent's goal line. Icing is nullified if: (1) the team shooting the puck is shorthanded; (2) a player from the defending team could have played the puck before it crossed the goal line; or (3) a player from the icing team plays the puck before it crosses the goal line.
- Penalty Shot:
- A penalty shot is most commonly awarded if:
- A player, while in a scoring position, is fouled from behind and deprived of a scoring opportunity, or
- A defensive player grabs or falls on the puck when it is in the goal crease.
- To take a penalty shot, an offensive player takes control of the puck at center ice and tries to score against the opposing goaltender. All other players are removed from the action.
Assist: An assist is credited in the scoring record to the offensive player or players involved in the play immediately preceding a goal. Maximum of two assists per goal.
Back Check: The action of the forwards skating back into their defensive zone to break up the opposing team’s offensive play.
Body Check: Using the body to impede an opponent who has possession of the puck to break up or disrupt an offensive play.
Breakaway: A scoring opportunity that occurs when there are no defending players between the puck carrier and the opposing goaltender.
Breakout: Movement of a team in possession of the puck out of its defensive zone.
Changing on the Fly: Substitution of players without a stoppage in play.
Clearing the Puck: Shooting the puck out of the defensive zone or away from the front of the goal.
Delayed Penalty: A team shall not be shorthanded on the ice more than two players at any one time because of the imposed penalties. Therefore, should a team receive a third penalty, that penalty shall be delayed in its start until one of the preceding penalties has terminated.
Delayed Whistle: When a violation occurs, the official will not blow the whistle to stop play as long as the non-offending team is in possession of the puck. The moment the offending team touches the puck, play will be stopped.
Face-Off: Dropping the puck between one player from each team to initiate play.
Forechecking: Pressuring the opponent when they control the puck in the neutral or defensive zone.
Goal Crease: The area marked off in front of the goal. An offensive player may not enter the goal crease unless the puck is already inside this area.
Goal Judge: An off-ice official who sits behind the goal, outside the boards, and determines if the puck enters the goal. Should there be a different of opinion, the referee will have the final decision.
Hat Trick: Term referring to a player scoring three goals in a single game
Icing: A team, when both teams have an equal number of players on the ice, may not shoot the puck from behind the center red line over their opponent’s goal line (except if the puck goes into the goal).
Minor Officials: More commonly known as “off-ice officials” includes the goal judges, game timer, penalty timer and official scorer. Not all positions are utilized in youth games.
Offside: When an offensive player precedes the puck across the blue line and into the offensive zone. For an offside violation, a face-off will be conducted in the neutral zone.
Poke Check: Using the blade of the stick to dislodge the puck away from an opponent.
Power Play: An attempt to score by a team which has a numerical advantage in players due to a penalty or penalties.
Referee’s Crease: A restricted area, marked by a red semi-circle, in front of the timer’s table which a player is prohibited from entering while the referee is reporting a penalty.
Screen: Offensive players positioning themselves to block or shield the opposing goaltender’s view of the puck.
Shorthanded: When a team is playing with one or two fewer players than their opponent due to penalties.
Slap Shot: A sweeping motion with an accentuated back swing to shoot the puck.
Slot: An unmarked area in front of the goal approximately 10 to 15 feet in diameter.
Wrist Shot: The motion of shooting the puck with the puck directly against the blade of the stick.
Zamboni: A machine used to resurface the ice between periods.