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Rules of the game: 10 hockey terms to know

What's a blue line for and what the heck is icing? Here are some hockey basics for the casual fan watching the Winter Olympics.

While Americans will root for the U.S. men’s and women’s hockey teams at the Winter Olympics in Beijing, it's not the top spectator sport in the U.S. And although the basic premise of hockey – get more goals into the net than your opponent – is easy to follow, one would be forgiven if they watched teams skate across the blue line with no idea of the significance of the blue line.

Here are ten hockey terms that can help the casual or infrequent fan understand the game better.

Blue line

The lines divide the rink into three zones. The middle is called the neutral zone or center ice. The two zones where the goals exist are called the end zones. But there is more to the significance of these lines, which will be explained shortly.

If a team is defending the goal in their own end zone, they are in their defensive zone. If a team is trying to score in the other team's end zone, that is their offensive zone.

Between the blue lines is the center line, which is exactly what it says. It’s a red line that cuts the rink in half.

In each end zone, there is also a red line – the goal line. These run across the rink and are lined up with the goal opening.


The walls and plexiglass that surround the rink.


This is when a player uses their body to disrupt a player on the opposite team who has the puck. Essentially, it's when one player slams into another.

Empty Net

This usually comes at the end of the game. If a team is down by a goal in the final few minutes, the coach can bring the goalie to the bench – known as “pulling the goalie” -- and replace them with another attacker. The net is left unprotected – empty.

The advantage is that the team with the empty net has an extra player to attempt to score. The disadvantage is that if the defending team clears the puck out of their zone and gets a shot away, there is nobody in front of the goal to stop it.


How play begins, whether at the start of a period, after a goal or a stoppage of play. Two players face each other. The official drops the puck on the ice between them and both scramble to gain possession.

Face-offs can happen in any one of five areas in the neutral zone. They can also happen in one of the two designated areas of the end zones next to the goals.

Goal Crease

The painted area in front of the goal. Players other than the goalie are not allowed to be in there unless they have the puck.


A player from Team A is on their own side of the center line. They shoot the puck to where it crosses the center line and their opponent’s goal line. Icing may be called. The puck is brought back to the player’s own zone and there is a face-off.

There are times icing won't be called, such as if the puck goes into the net; if the goalie leaves his position to play the puck; during a power play; or if an official thinks a defending player could have played the puck but let it go. The goalie may also “wave off” icing, indicating they don’t intend to play the puck.

Odd man rush

The number of players on offense heading toward the opponent's zone is greater than the number of defenders in front of them. If there are three players from Team A heading into the zone and there are only two players from Team B defending, that's an odd man rush.


It’s one of the most confusing rules for non-traditional hockey fans. There are a lot of aspects to it that would take a while to explain, but here is the most basic definition.

When one team is attacking, the puck must cross the blue line of the offensive zone before any players from that team cross into the zone with their skates. If any player on the attacking team crosses the offensive zone blue line before the puck does, that’s offside.

Depending on the type of offside called, it could lead to a face-off outside the offensive zone or play could continue if the defending team gains possession.

Power Play

This is when one team has more players on the ice than the other.

A player on Team A is assessed a penalty and has to sit in the penalty box. That player cannot be replaced during that penalty time. This means Team A is short-handed and Team B has the advantage of one extra player. Team B is on a power play. If Team B scores during this time, it’s a power play goal.

If a team that is shorthanded can prevent the other team from scoring during the power play, that is referred to as “killing the penalty.” If the shorthanded team scores during the power play, that’s a “shorthanded goal.” When all players are back on the ice, it’s called “even strength.”

If you hear a loud sound in the final seconds of a power play, that the goalkeeper slapping their stick on the ice to indicate to their team that the power play is about to end.

Minor penalties last two minutes and are commonly called for roughing (unnecessary roughness) or tripping. But, if the team on the power play scores a goal, the penalty immediately ends.

Major penalties are five minutes, often called for fighting or for striking an opponent with the hockey stick. Unlike a minor penalty, this violation must go the entire five minutes even if there is a power play goal scored.

If a player gets a game misconduct penalty, they can be ejected from the game. Their team can replace them after five minutes have elapsed.

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