The rules of ice hockey may at first seem complex and confusing. By understanding certain calls such as offsides and icing, however, one can easily master the basics of the game. Pick up your hockey stick and let's play hockey! Here's how to play hockey:
To win the game:
- One team must score more goals than the opposing team.
- A goal is scored each time the puck goes past the goal line of the opposing team's net.
- A goal does not count if it is purposely kicked in by the foot, thrown in by the hand, or hit in by a high stick.
- A goal accidentally deflected off of a player does count.
The setup of the players:
- Six players from each team are allowed on the ice at one time. This includes one goalie, two defenders, and three forwards.
- There is a right defender and a left defender, although usually they may choose to rotate.
- Among the forwards, there is a center, a right wing, and a left wing.
- For a team playing in a league, there is usually a designated captain and assistant captain. These players are allowed to talk to the referees if any problems arise during the game.
The physical setup:
- A typical hockey rink has two blue lines defining the offensive and defensive zones for each team and a red line dividing the rink in half.
- A team's offensive zone is the area above the far blue line guarded by the opposing team.
- A team's defensive zone is the area below the near blue line guarded by its own team.
- The zone between the two blue lines is called the neutral zone.
- Circles on the left and right side of the goal nets define face-off dots for face-offs called in that zone. Centers line up in the centers of the circles, and wings usually line up on the sides of the circles. Defensemen usually line up in back of their wings outside of the circles. The defending team may reposition their forwards to better cover the offensive defensemen.
- In a face-off, the center lines up against the opposing center. The centers take the face-off each time a puck is dropped by a referee in the hockey games. They are the first to fight for the puck once it is dropped by a referee. Sometimes, either by a team's own decision or the referee's, another player may take a face-off instead of the center.
- The right and left wings line up on the right and left sides of their center. They are lined up directly opposite the opposing team's wings.
- The defenders line up in back of the forwards on the right and left sides.
- The puck is dropped in the center ice at the start of the game.
- Based on where a puck goes out of play, all other face-offs can occur anywhere on the ice. If the call is an icing or offsides, the play usually begins on the closest dot on either the right or left side. If the puck is flung outside of the rink, the play resumes at a place designated by the referee to be closest to where the puck went out of play.
- When a player is completely across the blue line of his offensive side before the puck, the player is offsides, and the referee will stop the play if the player does not return to the blue line before returning to the offensive zone.
- A new face-off is called right outside the offensive zone.
- A player may straddle the blue line before going after the puck, after it passes the blue line.
- A player may linger in his offensive zone even if the puck is not in the zone, but the player must make sure that when the puck enters the offensive zone, he is not offsides. The player must let the puck enter the offensive zone first before going after it.
- If a puck that does not score is hit by a player before the red line and goes past the goal line of his offensive zone without being intercepted by a teammate or the opposing goalie, it is called an icing.
- A new face-off is called in the defensive zone of the team that hit the puck.
- A typical game is played in three periods, each 20 minutes long. Running time stops when the whistle is blown by the referee and starts when the puck is dropped into play.
- Penalties, called by the referee, can be two minutes or longer, depending on if it is a major penalty, minor penalty, or misconduct. When a penalty is called, the referee will raise his hand. Time stops and the whistle is blown when a member of the team that committed the penalty touches the puck. The penalized player is sent to the penalty box.
- Overtime may be called if the game is tied at the end. Other hockey rules may call for a shoot-off if the game is tied at the end of the third period.
Power plays and penalty kills:
- When a team has more players than the other on the ice, that team is said to be on the power play. This occurs when players on the opposing team have committed penalties.
- The team with fewer players on the ice is said to be on a penalty kill. Icings are allowed for hockey teams that are on a penalty kill.
- While the puck is in play, offensive and defensive players may switch on and off the ice. Usually, once a player is within 5-10 feet of the bench, the other player can start getting on the ice. A penalty for having too many men on the ice may be called depending on the discretion of the referee.
- Changes can also be made before each face-off. If an excessively long time has already elapsed, a referee may disallow any player changes to be made before that face-off.
- Sometimes to boost the chance of scoring offensively, especially at the end of a game, the goalie may be called in to let another offensive player on the ice.