hockey rules terms

Confused About Hockey Terms While Watching the Playoffs? Let Us Help!

With the NHL playoffs starting this week it’s probably time that you learned what some of the key terms in the game of hockey mean. If you’re just getting into the game, or going to watch some playoff hockey with friends, you won’t want to be stuck asking questions about the rules the whole time. So, to help, we put together this list of some of the most common hockey rules and terms that you’ll need to know in order to follow the games. For this article we are going to assume that you know terms related to the equipment and how goals are scored, and by that we are assuming that you know what a hockey puck and stick are and that a goal is scored when the puck goes into the opposing teams net. Those are the extreme basics when it comes to hockey. Where most people start to get lost is when it comes to some of the rules of the game. This also includes what the lines on the ice mean, what a power play is, how a shootout works, and things of that nature. So, let’s take a quick look at some of the common terminology and rules that you should know when watching playoff hockey.

Hockey Rules to Know

When it comes to hockey there are a couple different rules that people have a hard time picking up on if they don’t have any knowledge of the sport.

Icing The Puck

This is when a player has the puck and shoots or passes it from their side of the red center line and the puck ends up crossing the red goal line on the other side of the ice without being touched. If icing is called, then the puck is brought back to the offending team’s side of the ice for a face-off. Icing can also be up to the discretion of the officials in some cases. If an opposing player could have gotten to the puck and played it before it crossed the goal line, then icing may not be called. It can also be waived off if the official believes that it was an attempted pass that may have gotten away from a player. The only time during the game when icing is not called for any reason is when the team that would have been called for icing is defending against a power play (which we will explain further down). Icing is a deterrent to players trying to clear the puck all the way down to the other side of the ice when they have no players down there. Teams would rather not have a face off occur back down at their end of the ice if they can avoid it.


Offsides is the other major rule that people sometimes have problems understanding. Offsides is meant to prevent players from camping out down by the other teams net waiting for a quick pass. Offsides will be called when an attacking player crosses the opposing team’s blue line before the puck. The puck must cross the blue line before a player’s entire body crosses. This does mean that a player can be straddling the line before puck crosses, but they must wait until the puck crosses to bring their other leg across. There are many other rules that come along with playing hockey, but these two tend to be the most confusing for newcomers to the game. Other rules like high sticking and penalty shots are typically more obvious when it comes to understanding what they mean, but with the fast action of an NHL hockey game, it’s not always easy to pick up on what offsides or icing means if you’ve never heard the terms before.

Hockey Terms to Know and Understand

Speaking of terms… aside from the rules of the game, there are also some hockey terms that are helpful to know when watching a game. With there being a crazy number of terms related to any sport, we want to focus on just a handful of them that come up regularly during a game and may not be as obvious to those unfamiliar with the game.


The crease is what the blue semi-circle in front of the goal is called. There are certain rules that protect the goalie when they are within this section.

Empty Netter

Sometimes when a team is trailing towards the end of the game, they will remove their goalie from the game in order to have an extra attacker staking on the ice. This gives them the advantage over the other team, but also leaves their net wide open. If the other team scores while the goalie is not in the game, this is referred to as an empty netter.

Full Strength

This is what it’s called when a team has all five skaters plus their goalie on the ice at a time. When a player receives a penalty and is placed in the penalty box, they cannot be replaced on the ice, so therefore a team with a player in the penalty box would not be considered to be at full strength.

Hat Trick

A hat trick is when the same player scores three goals in a single game.

Power Play

A power play is when a team has a player advantage over the other team due to penalties. So if team A has 5 players on the ice, but team B only has 4 due to a player in the penalty box, the team with 5 players would be considered on a power play.

Slap Shot

This is a type of shot in hockey where a player winds up their stick and pulls it quickly forward. This is different than when a player slides their stick across the ice quickly, which would be considered a snap shot. There are many different rules and terminology used in the game of ice hockey, but this list should give you a better understanding of some of the more confusing ones. Other terms and rules can be carried over from other sports or can have more literal meanings based on their names (turnover for example). With the NHL playoffs starting this week, we hope this hockey knowledge will help you to enjoy the games a bit more when watching with your friends and family.
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