What is Ice Hockey?

Ice Hockey, predictably, is played on an ice surface known as the rink. This rink is divided into three sections, which are separated by blue lines; a middle section, usually referred to as the ‘neutral zone'; an end section called ‘the defending zone,’ which is, for each team, the section closest to their own goal; and another end section at the opposite end of the rink referred to as the ‘attacking zone,’which is, in turn, the section of the ice furthest from each team’s own goal. A horizontal red line runs through the centre of the rink, parallel to the blue lines separating the zones and equidistant from each of the goals.

Goal posts are set up at opposite ends of the rink, and each is covered with a net to form a goal. The goals are exactly opposite each other in the centre of the ice. In front of each goal there is a red line known as the goal line.

Ice Hockey Rink

Ice Hockey Rink

The Aim of the Game

Simply put, the aim of the game is to put the puck into the opposing team’s goal; players work together to negotiate the obstacles presented by the opposing team’s forwards, defenders and, finally, the goalie. If the puck is propelled into the goal by a player’s foot, or anything other than his/her hockey stick, the goal will be disallowed. The team which has scored the most goals by the end of the game is declared to be the victor.

The Players

Each team is comprised of approximately 20 players, although only 6 players will represent each team on the ice at any given time. Players swap on and off the ice during the course of a game. The fast-paced nature of ice hockey makes it usual practice for these substitutions to occur frequently; sometimes as often as every couple of minutes.

Each team has three forwards, whose primary role is to attack the opposing team’s goal, and two defenders, who generally focus on defending their team’s goal from the other team. Each team also has a goalie, who is the final line of defence for each team. It is the job of the goalie to stand between the goal-posts (wearing plenty of padding!) and attempt to stop the puck from crossing the goal line.

Match procedure

A game begins when a player from each team goes to the centre of the ice to take part in the ‘face-off’. The players stand facing each other in the centre of the rink and the referee drops the puck onto the ice between them. Quick reflexes are then required to gain possession of the puck.

A game typically lasts one hour, which is divided into three 20-minute periods.

Important rules

The Offside Rule
A player is not permitted to enter the opposing team’s defending zone before the puck has passed over the blue line separating the sectors. This rule is designed to ensure that players do not lurk in the attacking zone waiting for an easier opportunity to score a goal. A player is considered to be offside only if both skates cross the blue line where the attacking zone begins ahead of the puck. If a player is judged by the referee or a linesman to be offside, a face-off is held at the site of the violation.

Refers to a situation in which a player propels the puck towards the goal line from behind the red centre line and the puck deflects off a member of the opposing team before crossing the goal line. The situation is settled by a face-off in the opposing team’s defending zone.


All penalties in ice hockey are punished in the same way; players are ordered into the so-called ‘sin-bin’ for a fixed period of time. For the period of time the offending player is condemned to the sin-bin, the team must continue playing without him/her. It is possible for more than one player from the same team to be punished simultaneously, but a minimum of three players from each team must remain on the ice. In the event that a goalie commits a penalty, he/she is generally permitted to remain on the ice and defend the goal, but a team mate must enter the sin-bin in his/her place.

There are four principal punishments the referee can confer upon players:

  1. Minor Penalty– Punishable by a 2-minute stay in the sin-bin.
  2. Major Penalty – For more serious penalties, players must remain out of play for five minutes.
  3. Misconduct – Violent, aggressive or otherwise inappropriate or unsportsmanlike behaviour is usually punished by a 10-minute stay in the sin-bin.
  4. Match Penalty – In exceptional circumstances, a player may be banned from participating in the rest of the game. A player punished with a match penalty does not sit in the sin-bin, but is ordered to leave the ice altogether.

The following actions are amongst those punishable by time in the sin-bin:

  • Swearing, or behaving inappropriately towards game officials.
  • Violent or aggressive behaviour (which is usually punished severely).
  • Illegal body contact.
  • Illegal use of the hockey stick (for example, using the upper part to challenge an opponent).