Fundamentals of Rule Knowledge for Hockey Officials

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Fundamentals of Rule Knowledge for Hockey Officials

To learn from professional officials be sure to check out our online courses  at Team Stripes Academy

This might seem to be common sense, but rule knowledge is quite important in moving to the higher levels. We all know the basics, but it is the obscure or rarely read rules that are often the most important to know. When trying to move up the ranks of the officiating world – it is not so much the number of rules you do know – as it is the few you don’t, which really come back to hurt you.

I’ve heard plenty of stories where an official won’t know the proper rule – heck, it still happens to me more than I care to admit. And more often that not you get away with it since it might not have a significant impact on the game. However, it is the crucial decisions in those big games where a call is missed, or the incorrect rule is applied which can really hurt your ability to move up the ranks.

Even in working the playoffs for a junior league – or NCAA – whatever it may be, often the easiest way to eliminate officials that won’t move forward to the next rounds is to see which ones made a rule error or a poor penalty selection.

Knowing the rules well is quite important in these critical moments, and it can be difficult as an assignor or Referee-in-Chief to confidently recommend an official for higher levels when they don’t have faith in the official’s knowledge.

Like I said – I still make mistakes. I still ask my fellow officials after the game about a certain situation that occurred during a game – some of which I interpreted incorrectly. However, it’s knowing them in those situations that really matter which are the most important situations to know your rules well.

So, read your rule book frequently, and ask lots of questions as you progress in the officiating world. Especially if you are with a senior crew working a game, do not be afraid to throw questions at them during the intermissions and after the game. Most officials you work with want to help you improve.

For casebook situations – be sure to check out our website which offers a complimentary “State Referee Decision” (SRD) test with answers (for Hockey Canada) – stay tuned for other rulebooks as well. A complete guide can be found at the Team Stripes homepage at Below are some of the questions you will find:

  1. A) During a game, the Referee becomes aware that a team does not have a designated captain, but rather has four alternate captains. SRD
  2. B) The visiting team officially and properly requests that you measure the width of the home team goaltender’s pads. SRD if the pads are found to be legal. SRD
  3. C) A player who is about to come onto the ice on a legal line change plays the puck with her stick when one of her skates is still on the players’ bench. SRD

It cannot be stressed enough how important it is to understand these types of situations that will arise. It is important to be prepared to know how to react to ensure the rules are followed.

Furthermore, it can help you as an official to know the purpose and intent behind certain rules. It will help you get a perspective on what the rule is trying to achieve. Most rules that have come into the game of hockey have been through an evolution in the way the game was being played, or because the game would be better served by adjusting certain elements within it.

For example, in the early days of the NHL, scoring was a major concern. When too many goals were being scored in the first few years of the league’s existence, goalies were permitted to drop onto the ice to make saves, something that was prohibited prior to that. When lack of scoring became a concern several years afterwards, leagues started allowing forward passes to be made, that is until they found that teams were sending players all the way to the opposing team’s end and sending long stretch passes down the ice. You might guess what happened next –sure enough, the off-side rule was put in place.

You might have thought the rulebook has stayed much the same much since the beginning days of hockey, but the fact is that it has changed significantly. When you look at your rule book from now on try and ask yourself “why did the rule makers put this in?” – and “what were they trying to achieve?”. In fact, if you follow the NHL you can probably see there is always significant discussion surrounding certain rule changes. It is something that as officials we should be mindful of as we enforce the existing standards that have been set in the rulebooks.