Olympic Hockey Rules Versus NHL Rules

Hockey players at face off
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American fans of hockey who enjoy the roughness of the sport may be surprised that learn that Olympic rules for the game are much stricter about checking, fighting, and other examples of direct contact. Other differences between the NHL and Olympic versions of hockey include rules for penalty shots and crease violations.

The Shootout

The NHL has adopted the shootout for regular season games only. During the Stanley Cup Playoffs, teams play overtime until a tie-breaking goal is scored.

In the Olympics, tied playoff games are followed by ten minutes of sudden death overtime. If a game remains tied, it is decided by a shootout. If the game remains tied after the first three shooters, any player can be chosen to shoot any number of times.

The Ice Size

A standard rink in North America is 200 feet long and 85 feet wide, with goal lines 11 feet from the end boards.

In most European venues, the ice is 210 feet long and 98 feet wide. Goal lines are 13 feet from the end boards. The extra room can sometimes lead a team to use a more passive "positional" defense strategy, angling attackers away from the goal rather than pursuing the puck carrier.

Bench Strength

NHL teams can dress a maximum of 18 skaters and two goaltenders for a game.

International games allow a maximum of 20 skaters and two goaltenders on each team.

Goalies with the Puck

Under NHL rules, goaltenders cannot handle the puck behind the goal line, except in a certain area directly behind the net.

Goaltenders in international hockey can play the puck anywhere behind the net.


If an NHL player shoots the puck down the ice from his own half of the center line, an opposing player must touch the puck first before icing is called.

International hockey uses "no touch" icing. The play is whistled down as soon as the puck crosses the goal line.

Protecting the Head

International hockey treats checking to the head as a minor penalty with a ten-minute misconduct, or a major (five-minute) penalty with a game misconduct.

Penalty Shots

In the NHL, the player who was the victim of a foul must take the penalty shot, unless he is injured.

When a penalty shot is called during international or Olympic hockey, any player on the shooting team may be selected to take it.

Crease Violations

NHL players are allowed to stand in the goal crease as long as they don't interfere with the goaltender.

International referees will blow the whistle and move the face-off out of the attacking zone if an attacking player is standing in the crease.


NHL players are penalized five minutes for fighting.

Players fighting in international or Olympic hockey receive a match penalty and are ejected from the game.

Rules Against Obstruction

Since the NHL's crackdown on obstruction in 2005, some international tournaments have featured more hooking, holding, and interference than an average NHL game. The international standards and NHL standards remain out of step.