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Ice Hockey: A Primer For Parents

Length Of Game

At the college and professional levels, the game is played in three 20-minute periods. At the youth level, the periods are shorter. The team that scores the most goals by the end of the third period is the winner. In 1983, the NHL adopted a rule allowing for one 5-minute sudden death overtime period in regular season games, as well as play off games. Because of strict time constraints at local rinks regarding ice time, overtime is usually not played in regular season league play in youth hockey, although overtime is common during playoffs and at most tournaments.

The Rink

The game is played in a rink, which is an ice covered rectangular surface with curved corners. Wooden walls about three or four feet high, called "boards," surround the rink. At each end is a cage, or goal into which the players try to hit the puck using wooden sticks, with curved ends. Ice is usually made only once for games involving younger players (ages 5 to 14). In the older age groups (over 14), ice is sometimes made twice. A new "sheet" of ice, or "cut" usually takes about 10 to 15 minutes to make. In junior hockey (ages 16 to 20), ice is made before the game and between periods, as in the NHL.


The two common, non-penalty infractions in hockey are offsides and icing.

  1. Offsides

    • Occurs when a player from one team has both skates completely in the other team's defensive zone (inside, and not touching the blue line) before the puck is in the zone.

    • Is intended to prevent players from standing by the goal, waiting for the puck, when it is not in the attacking zone.

    • Results in a face off at one of the red spots in the neutral zone nearest to where the infraction occurred.

  2. Icing

    • Is called when a player passes the puck across both the center (red) and goal lines before a teammate or an opponent touches it.

    • Is intended to discourage a team from simply shooting the puck into its opponent's defensive end instead of passing or carrying it out through the neutral zone.

    • Results in a face off back in the defensive zone of the team committing the infraction at the red spot in the circle on the side nearest where the puck crossed the goal line.

Other more serious infractions include holding, tripping, and hooking, spearing and cross-checking. A player who commits these types of fouls must sit in the penalty box ("sin bin") for from two to five minutes. Even more serious fouls can draw 5 or 10 minute, or even game misconduct, penalties. Fighting is usually a game misconduct in youth hockey, and sometimes the league will suspend the player for several games thereafter, depending on the severity of the infraction. In junior hockey, fighting is a 5-minute misconduct, but, depending on the league, it can also be a game misconduct. In of the higher junior hockey leagues, like the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in Canada, the rules are almost exactly like the NHL.

The team that is penalized must play "shorthanded," while the other team, at full strength, is on the "power play." The penalized player is allowed to return when the penalty expires, or when the other team scores a goal, whichever occurs first. For a description and pictures of the official's signals for penalties, click [link to new article on signals] .