Learning how to play hockey well is a great way to learn how to succeed at life. Some of the lessons hockey teaches kids and even adults include:

  • Teamwork
  • Confidence
  • Being gracious in defeat and humble in victory
  • Discipline
  • Trust
  • Goal setting (and achievement)

If you are a parent, or a coach helping children or young adults learn how to play the game, it’s important to keep these important lessons in mind. Building skills like skating, passing, shooting and stickhandling is a great way to reach all these goals.

Here are seven fundamental areas of the game of hockey which will make for great players, and awesome people.

1. The Ice Surface

Just like how Daniel had to learn to paint a fence and wax a car before he became the Karate Kid, a hockey player needs to know the ice surface before they can become a competent player. Most rinks in North America follow NHL specifications of 200 feet × 85 feet and a corner radius of 28 feet. It’s got Zamboni doors on one end, penalty boxes on one side, and team benches on the opposing side. The boards are about 40-48 inches high, and topped on most of the perimeter (except for in front of the player benches) by panes of glass.

aerial view of outdoor rink

There are several lines separating the zones on the ice surface:

  • The center red line, which splits the rink in half
  • Blue lines which mark each team’s end, and the neutral zone between the red and blue lines. The blue lines are 25 feet from the centerline, making the neutral zone 50 feet deep.
  • The face-off circles, one at centre ice for faceoffs (more on that soon) at the beginning of each game, period and after goals. There are four other face off circles, two in each end to the left, right and in front of the goal nets
  • Four face-off dots in the neutral zone for when players are offside (you’ll read about that too) and/or play is stopped in the neutral zone for a penalty

You’ll often see colorful team logos or corporate advertising on the ice. When a player scores three goals, you will often see hats float to the ice from adoring fans.

2. Zones and Creases

You’ve already read about the neutral zone. The defensive zone is the area within the blue line back to the goal and beyond to the end boards, at each end of the rink. Goal nets are 4 feet tall x 6 feet wide (between the goal posts). The crease, (meaning the painted ice area immediately in front of the goal net) is 6 feet in diameter. Players are typically not supposed to enter the crease unless they are forced in by another player. The crease is meant to be a safe place (from players not slapshots) for goalies to play. The area immediately behind the net is called the trapezoid.

The goal lines (which cross the crease and when a puck crosses them, a goal is official) are 64 feet from the blue lines, and 11 feet from the end boards.

3. Player Roles

There are five active players on the ice at any given time, and each team can have as many as twenty players. The NHL allows as many as 23 players on each roster, and 16 players on the bench and ice combined. There are six players on the ice per team at any given time.

  • Three forward offensive players, including a Center (who handles faceoffs) and Left Wing and Right Wing players. Offensive forwards play defensively when required. Their responsibility is to get the puck up the ice, deep into the opposing team’s zone.
  • Two defensive players, who assist forwards in keeping the puck out of their end during the game, and work to keep the puck in their opponent’s end during the game. If they have a clear shot at the goal, they can take a shot and try to score, though they often move the puck to a forward, who are usually closer to the goal, and more likely to put the puck behind the person in the next bullet.
  • The goaltender, otherwise knowns as the goalie, netminder and other fond nicknames. They keep the puck out of the net, using their blocker glove, catching glove, stick, goalie leg pads, mask, chest or any part of the body (hopefully) protected by padding or hard plastic. Common target areas which forwards often snipe for are between a goalie’s legs (known as the 5-hole), as well as at the four corners of the goal net.
kids taking a knee

Most of these players (except for the goalie) rotate on and off the ice with other sets of players who play similar roles. Each time period on the ice is called a “shift”, which varies in time between about forty seconds and two minutes. Coaches usually delegate when players are on and off the ice.

4. Rules and Penalties

One of the ways hockey generates character is by having a set of rules, and penalizing players who break those rules. The rules forbid actions like the following infractions which generally result in a player sitting in the penalty box for two - four minutes, depending on the severity.

  • Tripping a player with your hockey stick by hooking a skate leg with the blade of the stick
  • Hooking, which is slowing a player by placing the blade of your stick against an opposing player’s torso or arm.
  • High sticking is raising your stick above an opponent’s shoulders and striking their head, neck or shoulder area. If the player gets cut and draws blood the penalty doubles to four minutes. True story.
  • Cross checking is when a player holds their stick at the bottom of the shaft and at the knob end, and they push an opposing player to move them off the puck or just to be mean.
  • Delay of game, such as purposely flipping the puck over the glass, and into the bleachers during game time. Doing so before a game, to a child or attractive fan doesn’t incur a penalty. That only incurs smiles.
  • Fighting with opposing players can carry a penalty anywhere from five minutes to a full game misconduct or more, based on referee and/or a league executive’s discretion.
  • Boarding is when a player checks another player from behind into the boards, which can be dangerous and end in concussion or further injury.

Other penalties occur, such as knee on knee contact, too many players on the ice and unsportsmanlike conduct, which don’t happen as often. Some of these penalties incur more severe penalties or suspensions, depending on the level of play, and age of players in the amateur or professional tier of the game.

Penalty shots sometimes are delegated to a player who is unfairly removed from their attempt to score. Penalty shots offer a player a chance to challenge the goalie, one-on-one without interference from other forwards or defensive players. Penalties result in one of the five players outside the net to be removed from play, which often causes an unbalanced ratio of players, known as a power play (five players vs four). Teams that score goals when they have a player in the penalty box get a “shorthanded goal” which is much more impressive. Power play goals happen when the team with more players takes advantage of that situation and buries the puck in the net while the penalized player feels like a complete dummy.

5. Shooting, Stickhandling, Passing and Blocking the Puck

Moving the puck up and down the ice, and keeping it out of the ice takes some skillful stick work, weight transfer and hand-eye co-ordination. Shooting the puck occurs in either a slapshot, wristshot or snapshot. There are many techniques involved in shooting the puck, including building up potential energy in the stick and creating optimum shot velocity. We have many tips from experts and training equipment to help players make great shots at all experience levels. Scoring a goal, as indicated above, is getting the puck into the net behind the goalie.

shooting on synthetic ice

Stickhandling helps players to move the stick off the ice, while protecting it from opposing players, and creating confusion in a goaltender’s mind as to from which direction the puck will come from, and when the shot will take place. We’ve got many tips and tools for players to build their stickhandling. Passing the puck is how players move the puck to each other, vying to get the best possible angle and proximity to the net to score a goal. We’ve gathered stickhandling and passing tips and gear together to make things convenient.

Goalies need a whole set of specialized skills, practice gear and personality. We’ve gathered training tips and gear together under our Goalie section.

6. Mind, Body and Discipline

Hockey players need a healthy body to play their best game, and they need a sharp hockey mind. You can find some excellent advice and training aids to improve both by clicking on these links. Hockey players need strong muscles to skate quickly and explosively. They need aerobic stamina to perform well on the ice over a longer period. All these senses are important to hockey

  • Sight, to see the puck, other players and the net
  • Listening, for the whistle, teammates, referees and coaches.
  • Smell, to know when a sweaty defenseman is pursuing you on a breakaway
  • Touch, for the grip on the stick and the high fives when you score a goal
  • Taste, for the hot chocolate, hot dog or other celebratory food or beverage after a great game

7. Coaches and Referees

Taking direction and feedback from coaches, referees, senior players and parents is great practice for working with superiors and elders throughout life. Sometimes you just have to take a knee, swallow your pride and do what the coach tells you to win a game. Good practice for your future career.

faceoff

Hockeyshot’s goal is to help players at all levels to improve their skills, get more enjoyment from the game, and enhance their mental and physical fitness. Hockey is often called the “fastest game on Earth”. Improving your skills and reflexes for the game takes lots of practice, study and learning from your mistakes. We’ve got some great experts who know how to make improving your skills fun, and awesome gear to practice with.

Think we’ve missed something in our “How to Play Hockey” overview? Let us know on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or Instagram. We’ve probably got the advice on one of our other channels, or our editor will add it here soon.