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Basic Rules of Hockey

New to hockey guide

Following these guidelines will help your child as he or she gets ready to play hockey.

Use your stick

Hockey players use their stick, and sometimes their skates, to handle, pass, and shoot the puck. The blade (the bottom part of a stick) of a hockey stick is often curved to help players elevate the puck. Don’t assume your son or daughter will need a stick curved the same way they do other sports. Not sure which hand your player is? Have them hold a stick. If their left hand is on top, they need a right-handed curve. Right hand on top means they need a left- handed curve.

Play the boards

Hockey rinks are surrounded by walls called boards. This barrier helps keep the puck in play for much of the game. Players often use the boards to pass the puck to themselves or other players.


Hockey includes a fair amount of body contact used to remove an opponent from the puck known as checking. A legal body check consists of a player using his or her trunk (hips to shoulders) to deliver a check to an opponent’s trunk from the front or side. Teaching players how to safely administer and receive body contact at an early age allows them to practice and become comfortable with this aspect of the game. However, checking isn’t allowed until 16U (Bantams) in boys. Girls hockey never officially allows checking, although body contact is common.


Player safety and rules are enforced by referees and linesmen who skate alongside the players. The mildest rule violations, like offsides and icing, result in a brief stop in play restarted by a faceoff. Minor penalties, including interference, tripping, and hooking, result in the offending player sitting in the penalty box while his or her teammates play shorthanded (usually for two minutes or until the other team scores). Major penalties, including boarding, charging, and more, result in a five-minute stay in the penalty box, even if the other team scores.

Changing on the fly

Unlike many other sports, substitutions are allowed as play occurs in hockey. Players are on the ice for an average of 60 seconds before heading to the bench to swap out for another player. It’s common for all three forwards (known as a “line”) to swap out simultaneously to give way to another line. The same is true for defensive pairs. Hockey teams are often comprised of four lines of forwards and three defensive pairs. 

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Ice Hockey

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