How to Play Ice Hockey

By Matt Smolsky , last updated December 17, 2011

Ice hockey is a fast moving sport that requires great skill and determination. How to play ice hockey is easy to describe, but before taking the ice in a serious hockey game, be sure to practice some of the concepts discussed in this article.


The first item you'll need is ice, preferably smooth ice. While frozen ponds sound like a good idea, they're not the best place to play ice hockey unless you're experienced. Also, they're not very safe, unless the weather is cold enough to create thick enough ice to support the weight of many players. Try to find a local indoor rink that's climate controlled.

You'll also need hockey sticks. They are made of wood or a composite material. A hockey puck is essential. Pucks are made of hard rubber. Each player will need skates, gloves, extensive padding under their clothes and, most importantly, a helmet with face protection. Goalies need special padding, a special helmet, and a catcher glove. Some goalies also wear a neck protector, which is recommended. You'll need a net anchored on each end of the ice rink.


Each team has six players, one of which is the goalie. The other five players skate up and down the ice trying to score. A goal is scored when the puck is shot into the net. The goalie on each team guards the net, though each member of the team is responsible for defense when the opposing team has the puck. The five skaters are generally divided into three forwards and two defensemen. Whether a player is positioned on the left or the right depends on which side a player is strongest with their stick.

A hockey rink is surrounded by boards, which are low solid walls with Plexiglas on top. The boards are there to keep puck from flying far off the rink. The boards are also used by players to "check" or push an opposing player into them. This stops the opposing players progress and is allowed under the rules.


Ice hockey is a physical sport with a lot of contact. Players will attempt to disrupt the opposing teams play with a variety of techniques, some of which involve slamming them into walls. It's a full body contact sport. There's a high risk of injury in ice hockey since players move at 20 to 30 miles an hour. It bears repeating that wearing helmets in ice hockey is a must if you want to prevent concussions or more serious head injuries.

Ice hockey is a fairly simple game to play, and the style of play is the same in most leagues. The game is played on a hockey rink. Players control the puck with their hockey sticks. The puck is moved across the ice by carrying it at the end of the stick and by passing the puck from one player to another.

Hockey looks a little like soccer on ice. A big difference is that players can touch the puck and redirect it with any part of their bodies. They can't hold the puck or carry it across the ice. Players on defense can use their hands to pass the puck to teammates, though this is not a common occurrence given the fast-paced nature of play. Kicking the puck into the net or using hands to score is not allowed.

Substitutions are allowed during play. A team can substitute one player at a time or an entire side.

If play is stopped for any reason, it is resumed with what's called a faceoff.

The main reasons play is stopped are offsides, icing, and when the puck leaves the rink. A player is offsides when he or she enters the offensive, or attacking, zone before the puck enters the zone. It's similar to offsides in soccer. Icing is called when the puck is shot across two red lines and the puck is untouched. If the shot goes into the goal or must be played by the goalie, it's not icing.

There are a variety of reasons a player can be penalized, including tripping, boarding, elbowing, roughing, high-sticking, too many players, delaying the game, and other personal fouls. Players are penalized by being removed from the game and forced to sit in a penalty box for a number of minutes. During this time, the penalized player's team must play with one less player. It's in these cases that the offense will substitute in offensive players in an attempt to score on a power play. Once the penalty time is over, the penalized player returns to the game and the power play is over.

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