Hockey is the fastest sport on the planet, and while it’s wildly entertaining, it can sometimes get a little confusing. There are numerous rule changes and differences through different age groups and levels, so this breakdown is of the rules played in the Rebels’ league, the North American Hockey League. Allow us to help break down the basics of hockey.
Objective of the Game:
The objective in a game of hockey is simple; score more goals than the opponent. Each team works collectively to propel or shoot the puck past the opposing team’s goaltender, completely across the red goal line and into the net. Whichever team has scored more goals after three periods of play wins the game.
Structure of the Game:
A game of hockey consists of three 20-minute periods, with time running down. Stoppages of play occur throughout the game for multiple reasons and play resumes with a face-off. If the game is tied after three periods of play, the games continues to a 5-minute Overtime (see below). If still tied following Overtime, the game continues to a Shootout (see below). There are three officials who conduct and enforce the rules of the game; one Referee and two Linesmen.
During full strength play, each team consists of 6 players on the ice in total: 5 skaters and one goaltender. The 5 skaters consist of three Forwards (Center, Right Winger, Left Winger) and two Defensemen. Let’s break down what each player’s general job is.
Center – The center is responsible for taking face-offs and covering the middle of the ice in both the offensive and defensive zones. Centers typically skate greater distances than other positions, as they play deep in both ends of the ice.
Right/Left Winger – Wingers flank the Center and usually stay along the boards on their respective sides of the ice. Wingers are counted on for scoring goals more than defensive play.
Defensemen – The defensemen are typically stationed behind the forwards and tasked primarily with stopping the opposing team’s forwards from creating scoring opportunities. While in the defensive zone, they work to clear the puck from the zone, pass the puck up to their forwards and clear the front of their net of opposing forwards. While in the offensive zone, defensemen are typically stationed just inside the blue line and are used as support options for the forwards, taking shots from the blue line.
Goaltender – Arguably the hardest position to play in sports, yet the easiest task; stop the puck. A goaltender’s primary job is to do just that, prevent the puck from entering the net by any means necessary. Goaltenders stay within their goal crease for the majority of the game and wear different, bigger equipment than the other skaters to help protect them from the force of the puck. Goaltenders can also play the puck with their stick, often passing to their teammates as well.
Hockey Basics A-Z:
“A” – Letter worn on a player’s jersey to signify they are an Alternate Captain of their team.
Assist – When a player helps in the scoring of a goal by passing, deflecting or other means of playing the puck to their scoring teammate. There are is a maximum of two assists awarded on a single goal.
Backchecking – When a player skates back towards their defensive zone in an attempt to apply pressure to the opponent skating towards the offensive zone. Backchecking is not the act of checking a player in the back, it acts as a effort-driven, defensive skill of the game, often don’t by a team’s forward group.
Backhander – A shot type where a player uses the back side of their stick blade to shoot the puck. Backhanders are often the slowest type of shot but can be effective in being hard to predict for an opposing goaltender.
Bench – The designated area that each team not currently playing sits. The team’s coaches and trainers also reside on the bench.
Blue Line – The two lines separating the offensive/defensive zones from the neutral zone.
Boards – The wall which encloses the playing surface.
Body Check – The act of one player using their body (shoulder/hip) to separate or knock over an opponent who has control of the puck.
Breakaway – When a player gains a stretch of ice to score against the goaltender with no impeding defenders in front of them. Also known as a 1-on-0.
“C” – Letter worn on a player’s jersey to signify they are the Captain of their team. The Referee will often speak of matters to the Captain to be relayed to their coach and team, instead of directly to a team’s coach.
Deke – A move by an attacking player using their skates, stick or body to deceive a defending player with the intent on moving the puck around or away from them.
Empty Net/Extra Attacker – When a team elects to pull a goaltender and sacrifice an open net to have a 6th attacker on the ice, as opposed to 5 skaters and 1 goalie. This tactic is often used near the very end of a game when a team is trailing by a small deficit in an attempt to tie the game.
Face-off – The start of the game and what begins play following a stoppage. Each team’s Center jostles for control of the puck which is dropped by the Linesman.
Five-Hole – The empty space between a goaltender’s legs. Mainly referenced after a goal is scored in said space.
Full Strength (Even Strength) – When both teams are playing with 5 skaters aside (5-on-5).
Goal – The result of the puck completely crossing the red goal line. A goal can be scored in other ways than using the stick (skates, glove, etc.) but the puck cannot be deliberately directed or guided into the net with anything other than the stick.
Goal Crease – The area of blue paint in front of each team’s net. This area is the designated position for the goaltenders to remain during play and they are entitled to that area of the ice. Goaltenders may skate outside of the goal crease, but put their team at risk by leaving the net empty.
Goal Line – The thin red line on either end of the rink which runs through each goal crease. This line is the determining factor of whether or not a goal is scored, as the puck must completely cross the goal line in order for a goal to be awarded.
Hand Pass – The act of passing the puck using one’s hand. This is legal inside a team’s defensive zone, but illegal in the neutral zone and attacking zone, even if the pass originates from another zone.
Hash Marks – Small red lines, which are perpendicular to the edge of the face-off circles in each offensive/defensive zones. Players use hash marks to determine their side of play while lining up for a face-off.
Hat Trick – When a player scores three goals in a single game. A Natural Hat Trick, a variation of a Hat Trick, is when a player scores three goals in a game consecutively without another player on their team scoring a goal between them.
Icing (Hybrid) – When a defending team clears the puck from behind their side of the red line behind the opponent’s goal line, wide of the net. Under hybrid icing rules, a player from the clearing team has an opportunity to “cancel” the icing by beating all opposing players to an imaginary line connecting the face-off dots. If icing is called, a face-off will ensue in the offending team’s defensive zone, and the offending team is not allowed to change players during the stoppage.
Intermission – A break for both teams following the conclusion of each period. Intermission also acts as time for the Zamboni to resurface the ice for the next period of play.
Line Change – When a team substitutes players from the bench for players on the ice. Line changes are permitted during play as well as following a stoppage of play. During play, if a player from the bench changes before the player they’re substituting reaches the bench, the team can be charged with a Too Many Men on the Ice penalty. Goaltenders cannot be switched for one-another during play but can switch during a stoppage of play.
Linesemen – Two of the three officials, the Linesmen are responsible for calling icing and off-sides plays, conducting all face-offs with the exception of the start of each period and following a goal as well as separating opposing players from a fight or from further quarrel once a scrum has begun.
Neutral Zone – The center ice area between both blue lines. There are 5 different face-off locations in the neutral zone.
Offensive/Defensive Zone – The area of the rink from the opponent’s blue line to the end boards. The zone where a team either attempts to score goals or prevent them depending on who has possession of the puck. There are two face-off locations in each offensive/defensive zone.
Offside (Tag-up) – For standard offsides, a player cannot cross the blue line entering the offensive zone before the puck. The puck must enter before the player, unless the player has complete control of the puck while entering the zone. If the player enters the zone before the puck, the play is deemed offside and a face-off will ensue. Tag-up offsides is when a player(s) is inside the offensive zone when the puck is shot into the zone by a teammate. Unlike standard offsides, play continues, but the offending team cannot attempt to touch the puck until all players have cleared the offensive zone, “tagging-up” at the blue line.
One-Timer – A shot that is taken immediately following a pass from a teammate with no catching or stopping of the puck in between. A one-timer is arguably the most effective way to score goals in hockey.
Overtime – When a game is tied after three periods of play, Overtime ensues. By NAHL rules, Overtime is 5 minutes long and is sudden death. Overtime is played with three skaters on either side (and one goaltender) as opposed to the 5 skaters of regulation play. If the game is still tied following Overtime, a Shootout will ensue.
Penalty Box – The enclosed bench area where players sit to serve their penalties.
Penalty Kill (Shorthanded) – The act of a team trying to prevent a power play goal by the opponent following a penalty they committed. The team on the penalty kill has fewer skaters on the ice than the opponent (4 on 5, 3 on 5, or 3 on 4). During a penalty kill, standing Icing rules are waived for the shorthanded team, allowing them to clear the puck down the ice from any location with no penalty.
Power Play (Man Advantage) – When a team has 5 against 4 man advantage on the ice as a result of an opponent’s penalty. A team can have a two-man advantage, or 5 on 3 power play, as a result of the opponent committing two separate penalties before the other expires. Power plays last for the duration of the given penalty.
Puck – The main object of play: 3 inches wide in diameter and 1 inch thick, made of vulcanized rubber and often frozen prior to games.
Red Line – The line dividing the rink into two halves. It also serves as the line that must be crossed before legally clearing the puck all the way behind the opponents’ red goal line.
Referee – One of three officials on the ice, the Referee is responsible for calling penalties, reporting goals and assists to the Scorekeeper among other responsibilities. The Referee is marked with orange stripes on the arms of their jersey.
Save – When a goaltender stops, blocks, catches or uses other means to prevent the puck from going into the net.
Screen – When a player attempts to stand directly in front of a goaltender with the intent to block the goaltender’s vision of a developing play or an oncoming shot. Opposing players are not permitted inside the goal crease to attempt a screen.
Shootout – When a game is tied following Overtime, a Shootout commences. Each team selects three players who will alternate in taking 1 on 0 breakaway shots against the opposing goaltender. Whichever team has scored more goals after 3 rounds wins the game. If the Shootout is tied after 3 rounds, it continues into sudden death rounds, one shooter per side, with the last team scoring being the victor.
Slap Shot – A shot type where a player swings their stick back behind their body and shoots the puck in one swift motion. A slap shot is typically faster and more powerful, but it also takes a moment longer to complete and can be more inaccurate than other shot types.
Slot – The area in the offensive zone between each face-off circle, ranging from the top of the goal crease to about the blue line.
Turnover – When a player’s pass attempt is intercepted by an opposing player, or when the puck is taken from their own stick by an opponent.
Top Shelf – The top area of the net between the top crossbar and the net’s back support bar. Goals scored here are often referred to as a “top shelf goal”.
Wrist Shot – A shot type where the puck maintains contact with the stick blade at the release point and is flicked/pushed by a snapping of the wrists. This is the most common type of shot.
Zamboni – The drivable machine used for resurfacing (a.k.a cutting, flooding) the ice in between periods.
Penalties are enforced by the Referee at their discretion and include several fouls including body fouls, stick fouls as well as other infractions. When a penalty occurs, the Referee will raise their hand straight into the air to signal a penalty is being called. Once any player on the offending team gains possession and control of the puck, the Referee will blow the whistle to stop play and assess the penalty. If the non-offending team has possession of the puck after a penalty occurs, the Referee will keep their arm in the air to show the delayed call of the penalty.
Standard penalties are 2 minutes in length; however, some penalties can be called for 4, 5 and sometimes even 10 minutes depending on the severity of the foul. For example, a Slashing penalty is typically 2 minutes long, but if the foul had malicious intent or injured a player, the Referee can deem the penalty worth 5 minutes. Here is a breakdown of most of the penalties called in a game.
Boarding – Checking an opponent into the boards with violent or dangerous force.
Charging – When a player takes multiple strides to deliver an excessive and/or unnecessary body check, or when the offending player leaves their feet to deliver a body check, usually into the head area of the opponent.
Checking from Behind – Checking an opponent with violent or excessive force when their back is turned to the offending player.
Cross-Checking – Holding the shaft of the stick between two hands to forcefully check an opponent.
Delay of Game – When a goalie or skater purposely delays the game by means of either purposely shooting the puck out of play, closing a hand on the puck (skaters only), or intentionally knocking the net off its moorings.
Diving – When a player is deemed to have embellished a fall or another action to try and draw a penalty for their team.
Elbowing – Using or leading with an extended elbow to check an opponent.
Fighting – A fight between both players, which by NAHL rules, results in a 5-minute major penalty as well as an additional 10-minute misconduct penalty.
Goaltender Interference – When a player prevents the goaltender from properly being able to play their position. The goaltender is entitled to their goal crease by the discretion of the Referee.
High-Sticking – Any contact made by a stick on an opponent above the shoulders.
Holding – Using the arms and/or hands to impede or restrain an opponent.
Hooking – Using the stick to impede or restrain an opponent.
Interference – When a player impedes the progress of an opponent who is not in control and/or pursuing puck. Interference can also apply to body checks away from the puck in some scenarios.
Misconduct – A 10-minute penalty usually given for an excessive display of poor sportsmanship. Misconducts do not result in the offending team becoming shorthanded; they maintain full strength.
Penalty Shot – When a player is tripped, hooked, or impeded on a breakaway in a fashion that prevents the player from receiving a fair scoring opportunity. For the actual penalty shot, the player starts at center ice with the puck and gets a free opportunity to score on the goalie, unimpeded.
Roughing – A punching motion, usually directed towards the head of an opponent. Or, a slight skirmish that doesn’t warrant a severe penalty called against either player.
Slashing – Any hard chop on an opponent’s body, hands or stick that is not an attempt to play the puck or that forces an opponent to lose control of the puck due to the slash.
Tripping – Using the stick, feet, knee, hands, arm or elbow to cause an opponent to trip and fall.
Unsportsmanlike Conduct – Any action deemed to be unsportsmanlike or not tolerated on the playing surface. Can range from verbal attacks to diving, and throwing objects among other offenses.
Other Fun Hockey Terminology:
While there are plenty of technical terms to follow along with, you might find yourself hearing fans or players spew some strange sounding terms that don’t make any sense out of context. Here is some common hockey slang to help you become a hockey term aficionado.
Bar Down – A shot that hits the bottom of the crossbar and ricochets into the net. Goal-scorers perhaps love nothing more.
Barn – A term for a rink or arena.
Biscuit – A term for the puck.
Celly – An abbreviated term for a player’s celebration after scoring a goal.
Cherry Picker – A player who stays outside of their defensive zone, behind the opposing defense in an attempt to receive a pass for a breakaway on the opposing goaltender.
Chirp – Trash talk directed towards the opponent.
Flow – Great hockey hair that “flows” out from under a player’s helmet. Also known as “Lettuce”.
Off the Post – When a shot goes past the goaltender, but ricochets off one of the goal posts and stays out of the net.
Gordie Howe Hat Trick – Named after hockey legend Gordie Howe, this achievement is when a player finishes a game with at least one goal, one assist and one fight.
Mitts – Refers to a player’s gloves or hands. If a player has great mitts, they’re proficient in stickhandling the puck. To “drop the mitts” would mean to fight.
Saucer Pass – “Sauce” for short, a pass where the puck is intentionally put in the air to avoid an opponent’s stick or body as opposed to on the ice like a traditional pass.
Twig – A term for a hockey stick.