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By USA Hockey, 01/30/17, 4:15PM MST


Reviewing the Playing Rule Change Process

USA Hockey is always looking to improve. After all, if you’re not striving to get better, do you ever actually get better?

Because of that, every four years (since 2001), the USA Hockey Officiating Department takes steps toward making rule changes, thanks to the playing rule change process. This year, the final decision on prospective changes will take place at USA Hockey’s Annual Congress in June, and the new rules will go into effect for the 2017-18 season through 2020-21.

So how exactly does that process work? Matt Leaf, USA Hockey’s director of the Officiating Education Program and staff liaison to the Playing Rules Committee helped us answer some need-to-know questions on the matter.

USA Hockey: What is the Playing Rules Committee?

Matt Leaf:
  USA Hockey has a very diverse and experienced Playing Rules Committee that thoroughly reviews and considers each proposal. The committee is made of key USA Hockey volunteers that represent coaches, officials, players and administrators. Contrary to what some people believe, it is not one or two people sitting in an office deciding rule changes.

USAH: How do you submit a rule change proposal and what happens once submitted?

Playing rule change proposals are submitted to me as the staff liaison to the committee. Once received, I format them into a document that compares the current language to the proposed change for each proposal. The Playing Rules Committee meets in early winter and will discuss and make a preliminary recommendation on each proposal. These recommendations are then forwarded to the various councils/sections and committees and are also posted on The board of directors will review and make any amendments to the proposals during the winter meeting and they are again posted on for all of our membership to see.

The Playing Rules Committee will meet once more during the annual congress in an open forum and will review each proposal, taking into consideration any feedback received from the respective councils/sections and committees. At this time, they will make a final recommendation on each proposal to be presented to the board of directors for adoption or defeat. The board can accept the recommendation of the Playing Rules Committee or can make its own determination. Once the board has voted and adopted the changes, work on editing the rulebook gets started right away, so the new version can be ready at the start of the season.

USAH: So a lot of people are involved. Who can submit playing rule change proposals and how can they do so?

 Any member of USA Hockey can submit a playing rule change proposal.  According to our bylaws, they can be accepted until Nov. 1 prior to the annual congress when they get voted on. A formal proposal form can be found on

USAH: What are the types of changes USA Hockey is looking for? Is there a certain philosophy that the Playing Rules Committee tries to follow?

 The Playing Rules Committee is looking for any change that will make the game better and/or make the rules clearer and easier to understand without compromising the spirit and intent of the rules.

There are four main areas dealing with the game that the committee takes into consideration when reviewing possible changes:

  1. Fair Play – No competitor gains an advantage and the rules are equal for all participants.
  2. Safety – Players must be allowed to compete in a safe environment where players committing dangerous actions are held accountable. Although this does not exclude physical play, it must be done so within the rules and with a respect for the opponent.
  3. Adaptability – Proposed changes must recognize the changing game and also the wide range of ages, skills and participation that has to be included.
  4. Balance between offense and defense – A natural fairness between the two, where neither side dominates. This includes a special emphasis on encouraging puck possession and development of all hockey skills.

In addition, there are five areas from a rules writing style standpoint that are taken into consideration. This includes making sure common rules are placed within the same rule or section (codification); minimizing exceptions to the rules; clear and precise language (brevity); use of clearly defined words and expressions relevant to the game (definitions); and use of fundamental statements that allow readers to understand and properly apply the rules without learning each rule verbatim (local organization).

USAH: This happens every four years, and as we can see from the past, there are some logistical adjustments made. Are there any odd suggestions that stand out in the 16 years of accepting proposals?

 There certainly have been a few submissions over the years that caused some head-shaking and gave members of the Rules Committee a reason to chuckle. A few that stand out include the creation of a two-point line, where any goal scored from behind the designated line would be worth two points. The rationale was that it could boost scoring and give a team that was behind a better chance to catch up. The second memorable one was a proposal to add a section in the rules pertaining to goalkeepers that would allow for a “shooter tutor” to be used in an official game if one team did not have a goalkeeper present.

Take a look at the Playing Rule Change proposals for 2017.