NHL and Youth Hockey Rule Differences

Hockey is one of the most complex sports to officiate.  Coaches are often times quick to reprimand an official for making the wrong call, but sometimes the rules in professional hockey become confused with the rules governing youth hockey. Here are a few subtle but interesting differences between NHL rules and USA Hockey’s rules:

Kicking the Puck (in relation to goals) – Many players, coaches, and officials believe the current rule for “kicking” the puck in the net reads that goals shall be allowed as long as there is “no distinct kicking motion.”  Here are the real rules:

NHL Rule #78.5 – Disallowed Goals – ii:  “When the puck has been kicked using a distinct kicking motion.”

USA Hockey Rule #614d – Kicking Puck:  “The goal shall not be allowed if the puck has been kicked, thrown or otherwise deliberately directed into the goal by any means other than a stick.”

Tripping (Clipping) – When a player dives to poke the puck away from an opponent and makes contact with the puck (first), but takes the opponent down, many believe no penalty should be called because the primary play was on the puck. Should it be a penalty or not in youth hockey?

NHL Rule #57.1 – Tripping: “If, in the opinion of the Referee, a player makes contact with the puck first and subsequently trips the opponent in so doing, no penalty shall be assessed.”

USA Hockey Rule #639 – Tripping: “…Any player who deliberately leaves his feet and contacts an opponent with any part of his body thereby causing the opponent to trip or fall shall be assessed a minor penalty.”

Checking from Behind – The NHL, Hockey Canada, and USA Hockey are all working to eliminate checking from behind from the game. There are a couple important distinctions between the NHL and USA Hockey:

NHL Rule #44.2 – Checking from Behind – Major Penalty: “Any player or goalkeeper who cross-checks, pushes or charges from behind an opponent who is unable to protect or defend himself, shall be assessed a major penalty. This penalty applies anywhere on the playing surface (see 44.5).”

USA Hockey Rule #607b – Checking from Behind: “A major plus a game misconduct penalty shall be imposed on any player who body checks or pushes an opponent from behind head first into the side boards, end boards or goal frame.”

High Sticks – NHL fans are used to seeing officials “check for blood” after a high stick to determine how severe the penalty should be.  Here are the differences between USA Hockey and the NHL:

NHL Rule #60 – High-sticking: Rule #60.2 dictates minor penalty criteria: “Any contact made by a stick on an opponent above the shoulders is prohibited and a minor penalty shall be imposed.”  Rule #60.3 dictates double-minor penalty criteria: “When a player or goalkeeper carries or holds any part of his stick above the shoulders of the opponent so that injury results, the Referee shall assess a double-minor penalty for all contact that causes an injury, whether accidental or careless, in the opinion of the Referee.”  The next rule (60.4) dictates the criteria for a Match penalty.  There is no verbiage for a major penalty on a high-sticking infraction in the NHL official rules.

USA Hockey Rule #617 – High Sticks: “A major plus a game misconduct penalty shall be imposed on any player who injures an opponent by the use of a high stick.”

Face Off Location – A player comes streaking down the ice and fires a high-hard shot off the crossbar and out of play. Where the ensuing face off is positioned depends on the league:

NHL Rule #85.1 – Puck Out of Bounds: “…One exception to the above shall be when the puck deflects off the goal frame, including the goal post or crossbar, when caused by either team, either shot directly or deflected off any player or official, the face-off shall always be conducted in that end zone at the nearest face-off spot.”

USA Hockey Rule #611f – “When an infringement of a rule has been committed or a stoppage of play has been caused by any player of the attacking team in the Attacking Zone the ensuing face-off shall be made in the Neutral Zone on the nearest face-off spot.”

Don’t be surprised if the officials aren’t aware of these differences.  The game is so complex and the rule book is so long and specific, it’s almost an impossible task to know every rule perfectly.  When you also factor in many high level officials are officiating in several different leagues – each with their own set of particularities – it can be a daunting task to keep everything straight.  Honest officials are trying their best to ensure an unbiased game.  In youth hockey, we’re all out here to learn and improve.  Help officials in a positive, productive manner understand the differences if they are in error.

References: USA Hockey’s “The Official Rules of Ice Hockey” – Link, “2009-10 Official NHL Rulebook” – Link

2 Replies to “NHL and Youth Hockey Rule Differences”

  1. Checking from behind can be very dangerous. It can cause injuries. I think checking even in youth hockey should be allowed but i do think there should be a mandatory training session on how to through a check and recieve a check as part of checking staying in youth hockey. If they are taught properly then they follow the rules just like any other rule in hockey.

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