Every four years, USA Hockey’s Board of Directors votes on proposed rule changes. Ahead of this season, there have been new rules implemented for 2021-25. First, the rule book language has been updated to emphasize the principles outlined in the “Declaration of Safety, Fair Play and Respect.” These include eliminating hits that are meant to punish or intimidate an opponent or where there is no effort to win possession of the puck. Additionally, the offside rule eliminates tag-up offside at all Youth and Girls levels of play. Immediate offside is now applied at all levels except High School and Adult classifications. Another notable rule change is that players may not ice the puck while on the penalty kill, with High School and Adult classifications being excluded. The final major notable rule change is changing “body contact” to “competitive contact,” incorporating language from the Declaration of Safety, Fair Play and Respect. This is to emphasize any contact within the sport as being competitive in nature, with aims to possess the puck, and is encouraged at all levels of play.
This is a topic of conversation for many coaches, officials and parents. While games early in the season may see an uptick in additional whistles, research has shown that once player adaptation has occurred, the change adds only two additional whistles to the game while increasing the number of quality hockey decisions. It’s important those playing defense learn how to gather the puck, look up and find either an outlet pass or a way to possess the puck for their team up ice. Additionally, the emphasis on forwards finding creative solutions in the neutral zone while not dumping the puck with a teammate who is offside will be an added benefit for our players.
This is another instance of Youth and Girls hockey rules being created to develop better hockey players, and to create a game that is more fun and competitive for players. Instead of changing the playing rules to allow the penalized team a counterbalancing action, this rule keeps the normal 5v5 rules in play during a penalty. This rule change keeps normal competitive situations, such as working to creatively possess the puck to center ice prior to dumping the puck or advancing into the offensive zone. Players can still send the puck down the ice, however, this rule change encourages players to do so with greater intent and incentivizes players to think through difficult situations while down a player instead of thinking the only option is to throw the puck down the ice. They will have to think through solutions such as finding an open teammate, clearing the puck partially down the ice or even possessing the puck to center ice before dumping it into the opponent’s end. This will also provide a proper advantage to the power play, which has earned the offensive advantage by forcing a penalty.
In June of 2019, the USA Hockey Board of Directors passed the Declaration of Safety, Fair Play and Respect or The Declaration as it is often referred to. The purpose of The Declaration is to influence a better hockey culture, with an emphasis on eliminating illegal hits in the game. Body checking is a skillset, just like skating or shooting a puck. Legal body checking is a skill to properly win possession of the puck through proper angling and physical engagement. Illegal body checking is when a player attempts to punish or intimidate an opponent, especially with a hit to the head, hit from behind or a late hit. This should never occur in youth hockey. It’s important we all understand the boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable physical play at all levels of the game, and the emphasis USA Hockey has placed on proper body checking and competitive contact.
No, not at all. In fact, most of the updated language and the principles of The Declaration are designed to promote competitive contact and physical engagement for the purpose of winning possession of the puck. USA Hockey is changing the culture of body checking, eliminating body checks that are delivered to a vulnerable or defenseless opponent, are done solely for the purpose of punishing or intimidating an opponent, or are delivered using the hands, stick, elbows or forearm with no effort to gain possession of the puck. It really is based on two core principles: 1.) the opponent must be in control of the puck to be eligible to be body checked and 2.) the purpose of the body check must be to gain possession of the puck. Therefore the stick of the player delivering the check should be below the knees, with an effort to win possession of the puck. The responsibility is on the player delivering the check to avoid placing a vulnerable or defenseless opponent in danger of potential injury by not hitting from behind, not hitting in the head and not hitting an opponent who does not have control of the puck.
The only rule changes that high school players were not affected by was the new offside rule and the ability to ice the puck while shorthanded. This was done by USA Hockey in an effort to create a four-year grace period for students to play through, while youth level players are taught the new rules. In four years, the objective is to have the youth and high school rules synonymous relative to these rule modifications. High school players must abide by USA Hockey’s rule book language change that has been updated to emphasize the principles outlined in the Declaration of Safety, Fair Play and Respect, emphasizing any contact within the sport as being competitive in nature with aims to possess the puck.
Communication is always the most important aspect of effectively coaching youth hockey. If you can communicate the new rules to players, your athletes will learn, make mistakes and learn from those mistakes, just like every aspect of hockey. They’re smart, talented athletes. They’re going to adapt and play the sport well! It is also important to communicate respectfully with officials, and set a proper example for your young athletes.
USA Hockey is always looking to advance the sport and make it as competitive and fun as possible. Rule changes only occur every four years, to ensure that rules stay consistent long enough for the game to adapt. This also ensures that the proper research and data can be collected to support or deny proposed rule changes.
This is a common question throughout our hockey community, and important for USA Hockey to explain. The NHL is the best hockey league in the world, with the best hockey players in the world. It is a business built for fan entertainment. What we see on television every night is very different than the game our kids play, or even the game we as adults play. USA Hockey’s foundation is creating a game that is fun and competitive for our youth and adult players. None of these players are professional, and most will never be professional hockey players. USA Hockey’s rule book and the NHL rule book will always be different, naturally due to the game being played on the ice. However, there are many instances and examples historically of USA Hockey, the NHL, and even the International Ice Hockey Federation, the international governing body of ice hockey, adopting rules from one another after they’ve been studied and analyzed on the ice. The game of ice hockey is always changing: the players are faster than ever, the evolution in equipment has made for changes and the culture surrounding the game is changing. It’s important that as a hockey player, hockey family and even hockey fan you can see and understand the differences of levels of hockey, and the rules associated with them.
Every four years, USA Hockey's rules for the sport of ice hockey are reviewed and are able to be changed, modified or restructured. The process starts the summer before with rule change proposals submitted to USA Hockey. Following review by several groups including the Playing Rules Committee and the Board of Directors, the rules are voted on at USA Hockey's Annual Congress in June. The rules are then valid for the following four seasons. For more information about the USA Hockey rule book, and the process to implement new rules, click here.