skip navigation

Keeping it simple

By Matt Leaf - USA Hockey Director of Officiating Education, 07/26/17, 9:00AM MDT


Playing rule changes aim to clarify and simplify

As you have undoubtedly heard by now, USA Hockey recently completed the playing rule change process, with those adopted changes going into effect for the 2017-18 through 2020-21 seasons. The conclusion of this nine-month process brought many changes but very few additions that will have any significant impact on the game.

USA Hockey believes that, in a general sense, the game is in a good place. There was no need to make any significant changes. Still we used this opportunity to clean up some language, and to clarify and simplify existing rules.

A few key points to be aware of before you head into the 2017-18 season:

• “Fair Play and Respect” continues to be the primary focus of the playing rules points of emphasis moving forward. Throughout the rules, special emphasis is given to eliminating intimidation tactics and holding all involved in the game accountable for their actions, including coaches, players, officials and spectators. 

• The standards of play for both restraining fouls (implemented in 2006) and body-checking (adopted in 2009) are also staples in establishing expectations as to how the game is to be played, and are ongoing initiatives that require attention by officials and players alike.

• The vast majority of changes that have been made apply to both the youth and the junior editions of the playing rules books. However, there may be a few rules that are specific to one or the other, so please be sure to familiarize yourself with the appropriate book, as those changes will be highlighted in each edition. 

• One of the significant changes made that encompasses several different rules in Section 6 is the inclusion of a description (or definition) of each infraction as a note at the beginning of each rule. These changes were made to make it easier to identify each infraction without having to read various sub-sections of the rule. We are confident you will find this a welcome addition to the rules writing format.

• Changes to Section 1 (The Rink) of the playing rules book were made to clarify the existing rules and to make the language consistent with United States Ice Rink Association documentation on rink specifications. None of the rink dimensions or markings have changed.

• Section 2 (Teams) finds a couple of significant additions and changes in wording.  The first is the addition of language specific to the line change procedure during stoppages. This specifies that, when play has been stopped, the visiting team shall have five seconds to place their line-up on the ice, followed by the home team now having five seconds to make their player change. Once the line change procedure is complete, the official conducting the face-off will blow their whistle to indicate the face-off procedure is starting and the players have five seconds to be lined up for the face-off. The primary purpose of this new language is to add clarity to existing rules and to establish a clear distinction between a player change violation and a face-off violation since they are both governed by different rules.

The other change to Section 2 clarifies the language pertaining to substitution of a goalkeeper and when they are eligible to return to play. This rule has always created confusion, and the intent of the language change is to make it clear that a goalkeeper who is changed during play can return at any time. However, a goalkeeper changed for another goalkeeper (or for a player, when done to avoid the minor penalty for the goalkeeper skating to the bench during a stoppage) during a stoppage of play must wait until the next stoppage of play to return to the game.

• Section 3 (Equipment) includes a couple minor changes. The first change strengthens language that prohibits the altering of a HECC-approved helmet or facemask and then goes on to state that any player who is wearing improper equipment is removed from the game until corrected. The second change falls under Rule 308 (Electronic Equipment) and results in the deletion of the requirement for an electronic device to be removed from the bench if used illegally. The team is still penalized and the device cannot be used for illegal purposes, but the officials are also not authorized to confiscate the device.

• The only real change to Section 4 (Penalties) is the addition of holding/grabbing the facemask to the list of aggressive infractions falling under Rule 411 (Progressive Suspensions).

• Section 5 (Officials) also is light on change, with the only new language outlining a protocol to be followed if one of the officials working in the four-official system becomes incapacitated. 

• Section 6 (Playing Rules) is where you will find most of the highlighted changes as you go through the new rulebook. Most of these changes are cosmetic in nature and designed to assist those reading the rules in better understanding the actions. Some areas of note include two changes to Rule 601 (Abuse of Officials and Other Misconduct). 

The rule that calls for a game misconduct to be assessed in lieu of the 2nd misconduct assessed to the same player in the same game has been clarified to specify that this rule applies to all misconducts. In addition, the language pertaining to “racial/ethnic slurs” was broadened to include any language that is deemed to be “offensive, hateful or discriminatory in nature,” calling for a game misconduct penalty to be assessed.

Similar to all other governing bodies, USA Hockey’s face-off rules now stipulate that all face-offs must take place at one of the nine designated face-off spots. Any last-play face-off will take place at the closest face-off spot in the same zone where play was stopped instead of along the imaginary lines.The only exception is a team cannot gain a territorial advantage in the neutral zone, so the face-off may take place at the nearest face-off spot closer to their defending goal rather than the closest spot. Another change to the face-off location rules establishes that an attacking-zone face-off will take place for a hard shot that deflects off the goal post and out of play, no longer punishing a team for taking a good shot on goal.

• Rule 615 (Fighting) changes resulted in eliminating the adult exception and allowing a game misconduct penalty to be assessed (with a two-game suspension attached) for a player whose actions resulted in an opponent’s helmet being removed during an altercation.

• Rule 624 (Icing) probably has the most significant change of any rule, with the elimination of legalized icing while shorthanded in the 8U through 14U classifications. Under the new rule, essentially, icing is still in effect regardless of on-ice strength. The spirit and intent of this rule change is to take away an advantage given to a team who has committed a penalty infraction. In those areas where this rule has been utilized, there has only been a minor increase in stoppages (less than two per game) and there has been an increase in short-handed scoring opportunities as players are encouraged to possess the puck and make plays.

• The overtime rules also added some new language to Rule 638 (Tied Games) that now prohibits overtime play in USA Hockey-sanctioned games with fewer than four players (three skaters plus a goalkeeper, or four skaters). Local leagues and tournaments still have wide latitude as to the overtime length and format, but in an effort to maintain the integrity of the game and to be consistent with regulation playing rules, the use of 2v2 or 1v1 overtime formats will no longer be a viable option.

• The final change to Section 6 is adding “slew footing” to the title of Rule 639, which now reads as tripping/clipping/leg checking/slew footing. 

Other changes include several updates to glossary definitions using modern terminology that is also consistent with the rules. New casebook situations have also been added and any situation that has changed from the previous rulebook/casebook has been identified in the 2017-21 version of the casebook as new.

The mobile web-based rulebook has been updated and is ready for use. The mobile version of the rulebook/casebook can be found at In addition, USA Hockey is excited to roll out new technology to help officials across the country. The new rulebook and casebook will be available in early August as a native app for your Apple, Android and Windows devices. Check your device app stores and keep an eye out for future communications about this exciting new product.

The season will be upon us shortly and we would like to thank you in advance for your continued involvement in our officiating program. Naturally, rules knowledge, including the thorough understanding of the spirit and intent of each rule, is a critical component of the success of any official and we hope this article has helped you identify and better understand the changes that USA Hockey has made in an effort to make this great game even better.   

Of course, you don’t have to agree with every change, but your efforts to enforce all of the rules to the best of your ability is greatly appreciated and will positively contribute to the environment in which the game is played. 

Good luck, and have a great 2017-18 season!