skip navigation

What’s the Rule Change Process?

By USA Hockey, 09/03/20, 3:30PM MDT


A Q&A with Matt Leaf, director of the USA Hockey officiating program

The rule change season is upon us. As we solicit submissions of changes you’d like to see in the rule book, Matt Leaf, director of the USA Hockey officiating program, along with members of the Playing Rules Committee, answer some basic of questions regarding rule change proposals and the process as whole.

USA Hockey: What is the rule-change process?
Matt Leaf:
USA Hockey is currently in a four-year rule cycle. We go through the playing rule change process and the results will go into the rule book for the next four-year cycle. Currently, we have the 2020-21 season being the last of this most recent cycle. Once we have the proposed rule changes, we will start the process for adoption at the 2021 USA Hockey Annual Congress. From there, those rules and changes that are adopted will go into effect from the 2021-22 season until the 2024-25 season.

On the officials’ page, we’ve established a dedicated section to the rule change process outlining the timeline and the proposal forms that can be submitted by any USA Hockey member. Those proposing a change should take the current rule and the language from the rulebook and show what they want to change to the rule. Their changes could include removing language or adding language, but all in all they need to make it clear what their intention is with the change.

Name and role within USA Hockey (i.e. player, coach, official) along with the rationale behind the rule change proposal are required before submitting the electronic form, which comes directly to my inbox. Once I have that, I’ll clean it up to keep it consistent with the rulebook format and terminology. Then I will distinguish which rulebook it might fit in best (junior hockey or general), and if it should be classified as a major rule change (changing the concept of the rule or game) or a housekeeping proposal (proper grammar or spelling). The deadline for submissions are November 1. I will forward proposals on to the Playing Rules Committee for review and consideration.

USA Hockey: How many rule change proposals have you seen in your time with USA Hockey?
Matt Leaf:
In the past 26 years that I’ve been involved, we get somewhere between 200 and 250 different rule change proposals. Each one of those are vetted thoroughly by the group, who are very detailed and passionate about this process. Each and every one of those proposals do get serious consideration by the Playing Rules Committee before we make a recommendation for approval, defeat or refer it to a specific USA Hockey council depending on the relevance.

USA Hockey: USA Hockey used to be under a two-year rule change cycle, why the change to a four-year cycle?
Matt Leaf:
There are a few things that went into consideration for that, but first and foremost the Playing Rules Committee and the Board of Directors felt strongly that when you make a rule change, especially a significant one, two years is not long enough to be able to really determine the impact or success of that particular change. When we were in the two-year cycle we got to the point where certain rules were always in discussion every two years, banging our heads on the wall, going back and forth and not really giving the rule the opportunity to impact the game and to monitor the impact.

The four-year cycle is also consistent with the International Ice Hockey Federation cycle. Obviously, we’re involved in the international games and Olympics, and it seems to have worked extremely well for them, so that’s also why we made that jump.

USA Hockey: Not only do we have the junior hockey rule book and youth hockey rule book, but we have the casebook, where is the updating process for that?
Matt Leaf:
There is a sub-committee formed out of the Playing Rules Committee, chaired by Dave LaBuda, our national referee-in-chief. As the rule change process takes place, they will take any proposal to this sub-committee to review as they come in and double check to cross reference situations in the playing rules casebook. They will make any changes needed as rules get adopted.

Hear more from Leaf, as well as Bill Hall, secretary and chairman for USA Hockey and on the Playing Rules Committee, John Karolcik, director of the USA Hockey Mid-American District in our full on-demand zoomcast, now available.