Imagine the game of hockey when there were no rules. Go all the way back to the first time a bunch of guys got together on the ice with some makeshift sticks and a homemade puck. They simply dropped the puck and then took turns passing, stickhandling and shooting, all trying to score the most goals. There were no rules, except for the rules about how to score goals. All of the rules were about offense. And in that first game, the players respected each other enough that if they did something that didn’t seem right, they simply apologized and went on playing.

Then, as time went on and the game became more and more popular, it attracted players who were less skilled than some on the opposing team. These less skilled players tried to do things to compensate for their lack of skill in order to prevent the more skilled players from scoring. Thus, you had tripping, hooking, holding and interference infractions that had to be stopped. So, rules were made which made these actions illegal and anyone who did such a thing was made to sit out on a chair all by himself – very much like the “dunce chair” in old time school stories.

Eventually, the game attracted some players who were not only less skilled, but who were jealous and vengeful. They didn’t like to be “shown up” by the skilled players, and so they began to engage in activities that were designed to punish skilled players and cause pain. Thus, you began to see cross checking, high sticking, spearing, slashing and checking from behind.

In order to protect their star players, teams began to select “enforcers” and thus you had roughing and fighting added to the mix. If you were going to get physical with the star players, you had to be prepared to answer to the tough guy on the other team.

Modern day hockey rule books are filled with rules and penalties which have evolved right from the very first game. And every time someone finds a way to “cheat the system”, a new rule is created. The most skilled players today are the players who have learned how to bend the rules the best in order to make themselves look good on the ice and prevent the truly skilled players from scoring. There are so  many rules today that many of them cannot be called and as a result, the biggest, toughest, meanest players are the ones who are chosen to play on the elite teams. They may not be the ones who can skate the fastest, or shoot the puck the hardest, but they can survive the punishment in front of the net and can dish out the hard checks. They are the ones who can battle along the boards and who can crash the goalie looking for rebounds in order to win the game 1 to 0 or 2 to 1.

In most leagues today, a good coach can take a mediocre team and teach them how to be competitive on just about every level. If they play a system, and if they learn how to use the rules to their advantage, they can match goals with the best of teams.

It’s too bad hockey had to develop in this manner, but that is what happened and now all we can do is live with it and accept rules as a fact of life.


The After The Whistle Hockey Handbook is designed to provide you with a better understanding of some of the more important playing rules of hockey and how referees are likely to interpret them throughout the course of a hockey game.  Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Well, if you have ever been to a hockey game, you know that there is nothing simple about the rules of hockey and how they are administered.

In order for players, coaches, parents and hockey fans to truly appreciate the finer points of the game, it is essential that a basic understanding of the rules be developed. However, in this case, a ‘little bit of knowledge’ can be almost as bad as no knowledge at all.

In fact, you can generally identify the people in the stands who do not know the rules. They are the ones who say very little during the game. When they yell and scream, it is usually a few seconds after others around them begin. And they are the ones who seem to look puzzled while they are yelling, often leaning over to ask what happened. They are followers and often they follow the wrong people.

Then there are the people who have just enough knowledge about the rules to make them dangerous. These are the fans that give you the impression that they know everything there is about hockey, and yet if you listen closely, you realize that they really and truly don’t have a clue. I say they are dangerous because they react without thinking to just about anything that goes against their own players. They are loud, obnoxious, and get everyone emotionally upset.

Then we have the true experts. These are the fans who understand the rulebook from cover to cover. They also know how the game is supposed to be managed and personally have a solid understanding of the intricacies of the sport. When they speak out, you should listen, but they don’t react often. There are always one or two of these people watching every game. Referees can spot them and actually respect them. When you hear their voices, they either have seen something that needs to be addressed, or they are picking their spot for strategic purposes.

When I was coaching I always told my players to concentrate on the game and let me worry about the referee. I told them that I couldn’t score goals, so if I was ejected from the contest it wouldn’t matter much. Also, I told them that I knew just when to let up and just what to say to get a point across. Finally, I let them know that even though it might look as if I was upset at times, I would never allow myself to get angry. When you know the rules, you are always in control of your emotions and you know when and how to get your point across.  Referees respect people like this and will listen.

Our goal is to bring everyone who reads this Hockey Handbook and the companion full-length internet book on our web site at as close to the ‘expert’ category as possible. I shudder to think that by reading this book some people may end up with just enough knowledge to be in the dangerous category, but I will keep my fingers crossed and hope that we can do a good job of helping you become an expert.

As we begin to examine some of the more important rules, one thing you have to keep in mind is that no matter how well you know the rules, and no matter how obvious the infraction may seem at times from your point of view, the referee is the critical person in the contest. The game will be called from his point of view - no two referees are alike and no referee can see everything that happens on the ice. If a call is not made that you feel should have been made, before you react, remember that the infraction may not have looked as bad from where the referee was standing. The referee may not have seen the infraction or may not have felt that a penalty was warranted due to the game situation or for a multitude of other reasons.

As you become better educated through this section, remember to keep your priorities straight. The knowledge and insight you gain is to be used to get more enjoyment out of the game, not to pick on referees.




Minor Penalty: This is a 2:00 minute time penalty put on penalty clock if there are no coincidental penalties assessed at the same time.

Bench Minor: This is a 2:00 minute time penalty put on penalty clock for an infraction which takes place at the bench. Usually, this occurs when a coach or player says something derogatory to the referee and the official cannot identify the guilty party. It may also be assessed for a number of other ‘team’ penalties.

Major Penalty: One of the most severe penalties in the game. It is a 5:00 minute time penalty which is put on penalty clock and may also result in a game misconduct. This means that another player from the team must sit out the five-minute penalty. It is possible for a major penalty to be assessed without the game misconduct.

Coincidental Penalties: These occur when the penalty time to one team can be cancelled out with the equal amount of penalty time to the opposition. The remaining penalty time will usually show up on the penalty clock.

Match Penalty: This is another 5:00 minute time penalty for a serious infraction. It does result in removal from the game and requires a player to sit out the time in the penalty box. 

Misconduct: This is a 10:00 minute penalty that is not placed on the penalty clock. Immediate substitution for the player is permitted and the team will not play short-handed, provided there were no other time penalties assessed along with the Misconduct or to any other player on the same team at that particular stoppage of play. Misconducts are a referee’s way of giving an unruly player a ‘time-out’ to cool off.

Game Misconduct: The player or coach receiving a Game Misconduct (GM) will be removed from the game and the President of the association who has jurisdiction over the team will usually review his penalty. It often results in further suspensions.

Gross Misconduct: The player or coach receiving a Gross Misconduct will be removed from the game and their penalty will be reviewed by the President of the association who’s jurisdiction the team plays under for further suspensions. Gross misconducts are not called very often and signify a very serious infraction.

Game Ejection: When a player receives three (3) stick infraction penalties (NOT TRIPS TO THE PENALTY BOX) in the same game this player will be removed from the game. In some associations there is a rule that calls for a game ejection once a player receives four (4) penalties in the same game.