Ice Hockey for Beginners

Maybe you’ve grown up watching ice hockey all of your life. Maybe all you know about the sport you learned from Charlie and the rest of the Ducks. 



Either way, we’ve got you covered with this post! 

As the NWHL starts its fifth season, we wanted to introduce newbies to some hockey terms/rules. For all of you experts, this should be a fun little refresher!



Be sure to head to games if you’re local to NWHL and tune in to TWITCH for live-streams of all games if you’re located elsewhere!


Also, don’t miss our podcast interview with Anya Packer former NWHL player and current Executive Director of the NWHLPA!

The Basics

Rink: The playing surface; also called the Barn (barnburner = high scoring game – burning down the barn)

Penalty Box: The area where a player sits to serve the time of a given penalty. Also the Box, Sin Bin

Boards: Glass walls that surround the playing surface


Zone: One of the tree areas of the ice as divided by the blue lines: attacking zone, neutral zone and defensive zone.

Defensive Zone: the defending team’s zone; extends from the blue line to the end boards

Neutral Zone: Area of the ice between the blue lines

Red Line: the line denoting the middle of the ice surface

Face-off spot: One of nine painted circles on the ice where a face-off may occur. Two in each attacking/defending zone, four near the corners of the neutral zone and one at center ice (also called dots)

Goal crease: an area of the ice that extends from the goal line in front of the net, often shaped like a semicircle and painted in a different color

Referee’s crease: the semi-circular area at the red line, beside the scorer’s bench; a player may not enter when occupied by a referee (during a stoppage of play)

Hash marks: small lines that are perpendicular to the edge of the face-off circles; players cannot encroach on the hash mark areas during face-offs

Point: an area just inside the blue line of the attacking zone; it is normally occupied by the attacking team’s defensive players

Guts of the Ice: the area of ice between the dots, over the length of the ice; “defending the guts of the ice” – wanting to keep attacking players from attacking zone up the middle; teams want to keep opponents “outside the dots”

The House: the area from the goal posts to the face-off dots to the tops of the circles; the area from which most goals are scored; teams want to “protect our house”



Boarding: Checking a defenseless player and causing them to violently impact the boards. 

Charging: The act of taking more than three strides while delivering a body check or leaving their feet to deliver a hit. 

Checking from behind: Whistled when a player hits an opponent who is not aware of the impending contact from behind and therefore cannot defend himself. (any form of body checking is illegal in women’s hockey)

Check to the head: A hit where the primary contact is made to an opponent’s head. 

Cross checking: When a player makes a check with both hands on the stick.

Elbowing: The act of using an extended elbow or forearm to make contact with an opponent.

Fighting: When players drop their gloves and throw punches at each other.

High stick: the act of hitting a player in the head or shoulders with a stick. A penalty (a single minor if no blood is drawn; a double minor if blood is drawn).

Holding: The act of impeding an opponent by grabbing onto them. 

Holding the stick: The act of grabbing an opponent’s stick. 

Hooking: When a player impedes the progress of an opponent by “hooking” her with her stick.

Interference: When a player interferes with or impedes the progress of an opponent who does not have the puck. Also assessed to a player who deliberately knocks the stick out of an opponent’s hand or who prevents a player who has dropped her stick (or any other piece of equipment) from picking it back up.

Kneeing: When a player fouls an opponent with her knee.

Roughing: Called when a player strikes another opponent in a minor altercation that the referee determines is not worthy of a major penalty.

Slashing: When a player hits an opponent with her stick, or “slashes” her, either to impede her progress or cause injury.

Slew foot: Sweeping or kicking out a player’s skate or tripping them from behind, causing them to fall backwards. A match penalty.

Spearing: When a player stabs at an opponent with the blade of her stick, whether she makes contact or not.

Tripping: When a stick or any portion of a player’s body is used to cause an opposing player to fall.

Unsportsmanlike Conduct: An action of a player that results in a 2-minute minor penalty deemed by the referee to be a minor act not severe enough to warrant a 10-minute misconduct or game misconduct.


Delayed Penalty: A penalty that has not yet resulted in a stoppage of play because the team that will have the man advantage is in possession of the puck.  Play continues until the team being penalized gains control of the puck. The referee will raise his arm indicating that there is a delayed penalty situation.  The team with possession will send their goalie off the ice in exchange for another attacker, as it would be nearly impossible for the penalized team to score, as play will stop when the penalized team gets the puck.  This essentially extends the length of time the non-penalized team has the man advantage. If a goal is scored before the play is stopped, then the penalty is waived off.


Game misconduct: A player is suspended for the remainder of the game if they receive a game misconduct.  Their team continues to play at full strength unless a minor penalty is also assessed.


Major penalty: A five-minute penalty

Match penalty: a five-minute penalty that includes automatic expulsion from the game and, depending on the league, possibly subsequent games. Often called for attempts to deliberately injure an opponent, official or fan.

Minor penalty: A two-minute penalty.

Misconduct: A penalty where the offending player is ruled off the ice for 10 minutes, but may be substituted for on the ice. See also game misconduct, gross misconduct


Offsides: An offsides is called when a player precedes the puck into the offensive zone as indicated by the blue line.  When an offside occurs the referee stops play and the face off occurs outside the offensive zone.

Icing: Icing occurs when a player shoots the puck across both the center red line and the opposing team’s goal line without the puck going into the net or being able to be touched by an opposing player in their neutral or defensive zones. When icing occurs, a linesman stops play. Play is resumed with a faceoff in the defending zone of the team that committed the infraction. In many professional leagues, icing can be negated if a player from the team committing the icing touches the puck before a defender, in which case play continues (the linesman nearest the puck will indicate this with a “washout” signal). The NHL adopted a rule where the team that committed the infraction is unable to make a line change during the stoppage to discourage teams from icing the puck to “get a whistle” and change lines; this change has been adopted by many pro and high-level amateur leagues.

Player Positions

Goalie: Perhaps the toughest position in all of sports, the goalie is the one player who can control a team’s confidence. Her job is to keep the puck out of the net, and if she’s good, she can take her team a long way. Good goalies win championships.

Defensemen: A team at full strength has two — one on the left side and another on the right. Nowadays, there are three primary kinds of defensemen. One is creative and offensive-minded; she likes to handle the puck and lead the team up ice, but is not too physical. Another is defensive-minded, a stay-at-home bruiser who plays a physical game and doesn’t often venture out of her zone with the puck. And there are those rare athletes who are a combination of the two.


Right wing: She works the right side of the ice for the most part. She needs to be a physical player who is good along the boards and in the corner. She is responsible for the opposition’s left defenseman in the defensive zone.

Left wing: Traditionally a left-handed shot, but seeing more right-handers playing this position now. A right-hander has a better angle to shoot from when she’s coming in on his wing. Like the right wing, she needs to be able to dig out the puck from the corners and battle in front of the net.

Center: She quarterbacks her club at both ends of the ice. Must be good at face-offs and passing, and it doesn’t hurt if she’s a good shot as well. Coaches want a lot of creativity in this position and a lot of hockey smarts.


Special teams: A collective term for the players that play on the power play and shorthanded units.

Extra attacker: A player who has been substituted for the team’s goaltender on the ice.

Skater: Any player who is not a goaltender.


Line: A combination of a specific left winger, center, and right winger. Most teams, for the sake of chemistry, maintain specific three-man lines for different situations (first and second lines for scoring, third lines for defensive-oriented grinders)

Line Change: During play, or after a whistle, a team may choose to switch out their forwards and/or their defensemen, in order to keep their players fresh, or to match certain players against certain opposing players.

Wholesale Change: when all 5 players (3 forwards and 2 defenseman) are changed at the same time. 

Long Change: In the second period, the goaltenders change ends, meaning that the players’ bench is closer to the offensive zone rather than the defensive zone. The “long change” can be a factor when a tired line is stuck in the defensive zone and cannot come off due to the increased distance to the bench. 

Change on the fly: Substituting a player from the bench during live play, i.e. not at a faceoff. A player coming on the rink cannot play the puck until the player they are replacing is off the rink.


Even strength: Teams have an equal number of players (not necessarily their full complement of five) on the ice.

Full strength: When both teams have five skaters and one goaltender on the ice.

Hockey Slang/Terms

Apple: an assist

Backhand: A pass or shot that is taken from the backside of the blade of the stick.

Backchecking: Rushing back to the defensive zone in response to an opposing team’s attack.

Forechecking: Checking in the offensive zone in order to gain control of the puck and set up a scoring opportunity.

Bar Down: When the puck hits the crossbar and goes in the net. Also called Bar South.

Big Skate: A long looping turn instead of a more energetic stop and start to reverse direction while skating.

Blow a tire: When a player falls to the ice for no apparent reason other than losing their footing.

Buzzer beater: A goal that is scored just before a period expires. The puck must completely cross the goal line before the clock reads 0.00.

Biscuit: The puck

Break out: When a team gains control of the puck in their defensive end they will “break out” with the puck to go on the attack.   Most teams have established break out plays.

Bottle rocket: when a goal breaks the goalie’s water bottle

Celly: A celebration after a goal is scored

Cherry Picker:  A player who stays at center ice and does not help their team on defense.  They hope to pick up a break out pass with no defenders in their way.

Chip: where the puck is shot off the boards, normally up off the ice.  The purpose could be to merely clear the puck out of the zone. More often it is a passing maneuver, where you are chipping the puck off the boards to a space where you expect your teammate to be able to get it.  However, you can even chip it off the boards to yourself, as a means of getting around an opponent.

Cycling: an offensive strategy used to keep control of the puck by keeping it close the boards. Offensive players make short passes to each other along the boards until they see an opening to pass to a teammate who is moving into the slot for a shot. Makes defenders tired and/or moves them out of position.

Crashing the net: Players head with full steam to the front of the net, usually with intentions of finding a rebound or loose puck. Also known as crashing the crease.

Dump and Chase: An offensive strategy used to get the puck over the opposing team’s blue line and into the corners where players can race to get it, thereby moving the play into the attacking zone.

Faceoff: The method used to begin play at the beginning of a period or after a stoppage of play. The two teams line up in opposition to each other. One player from each team attempts to gain control of the puck after it is dropped by an official between their sticks onto a face-off spot on the ice.

Flamingo: when a player lifts his leg to avoid blocking a shot

Garbage: referring to the puck when there is a rebound, picking up the garbage means putting the rebound in the net

Gap: Space between the opponent and the puck.

Hip check: Using the hip to knock an opponent against the boards or to the ice.

Hit: a body check that “removes the opposing player from the puck.”

Howitzer: A very fast slap shot.

Hand Pass: The act of passing the puck using one’s hand. This is legal inside a team’s defensive zone, but illegal in the neutral zone and attacking zone, even if the pass originates from another zone.

Hands: refers to a player who has good stickhandling and often dangles opposing players

Iron cross: A strategy used by a team defending against a five-on-three advantage. The two defencemen, a forward, and the goaltender align themselves in a diamond shape so that imaginary lines drawn through the two defencemen and through the forward and goaltender form the shape of a cross. This is usually a highly defensive strategy, designed to kill off a penalty as safely as possible.

Jill: A jill is a simple device used to protect the pelvic area of a female ice hockey player.

Junction: the corner of the goal where the crossbar and post meets (also referred to as the “junk”)

Left wing lock: The left wing lock is a defensive ice hockey strategy similar to the neutral zone trap. In the most basic form, once puck possession changes, the left wing moves back in line with the defensemen. Each defender (including the left winger) play a zone defense and are responsible for a third of the ice each. Since there are normally only two defensemen, this tactic helps to avoid odd man rushes.

Light the Lamp: To score a goal. A light above the net turns on when a goal is scored.

Lighting a candle: Hitting someone so hard that they fall over.

Man advantage: When one team is penalized, and one of its players sent to the penalty box, the second team maintains a man advantage for the duration of the penalty (Major penalty) or until a goal is scored (Minor penalty). If two penalties are called on one team there will be a two-man advantage. If more than two penalties are called on one team the man advantage is limited to two men.

Power play: A power play occurs when one team has more players on the ice than the other team as a result of penalties assessed to the shorthanded team.

Michigan: also called a “high wrap,” or simply the “lacrosse move,” the maneuver of lifting the puck with the stick and throwing it under the top corner of the goal, while skating behind the net, while the goaltender protects the bottom corner. 

Muffin: A shot that wavers in the air when traveling towards the goal, usually used in recognition of a goal that should have been stopped, or a bad shot.

Net front presence: An offensive tactic of screening the opposing goaltender, looking to tip shots from farther out, and/or collecting rebounds from the goaltender

Neutral zone trap: A defensive strategy focused on preventing the opposing team from proceeding with the puck through the neutral zone (the area between both blue lines) and attempting to take the puck from the opposing team.

Odd Man Rush: When the number of offensive players heading into the attacking zone is greater than the number of defenders, such as a 3-on-2 or a 2-on-1.

Open Net: When a player shoots the puck at the net with the goalie off the ice or out of position.

Pipe: the goal post

Pinch: A pinch is when a defenseman either (a) attempts to hold the offensive blue line when the opponent has the puck and is attempting to clear their zone, or (b) leaves the blue line and pushes further into the offensive zone to play the puck.  In both cases, the defenseman is making a gamble that he is going to win the puck battle, and thus improve his team’s chance of scoring. The risk is that he loses, and the other team goes on the attack with an odd man rush. It is considered a risky play, which requires good judgment.  A defenseman who loses a lot of pinches can expect to be scolded by his coach and/or teammates.

Penalty shot: A penalty shot is assessed when a defender is in extreme violation of a rule to prevent a scoring opportunity. Examples are tripping a breakaway opponent from behind, the throwing of a stick or use of hands on the puck by a defender other than the goalie. The offensive player is awarded an opportunity to take control of the puck at center ice and skate in on the defending goalie one on one in an attempt to score.

Poke checking: Using the stick to poke the puck away from an opponent.

Pull the goalie: Remove the goalie from the ice in order to temporarily replace him with an extra skater (attacker).

Quick whistle: A stoppage in play that occasionally occurs when an on-ice official view of the puck is obstructed while the puck is still moving or playable but the official stops the play with a whistle. The most common example of this is a goaltender appearing to have trapped the puck underneath his catcher, yet the puck is still freely moving and within legal striking distance of the opposing players. The official will whistle the play “dead” with the puck still visible to others. This often draws an unfavorable reaction from hometown crowds when the whistle negates a perceived scoring chance for the home team.

Screened shot: A shot that the goaltender cannot see due to other players obscuring it.

Shift: The period of time a player, line or defensive pairing is on the ice before being replaced by another.

Shorthanded: A team is said to be shorthanded when they have fewer players on the ice than the opposing team as a result of a penalty or penalties.

Shortie: A goal scored by a team that is shorthanded.

Shortside: The side of the goal closest to the shooter.

Shootout: A series of penalty shots by both teams to determine the winning team after a regulation game and overtime period ends in a tie. In the NHL this occurs only during the regular season.

Slot: Slot is the area on the hockey rink directly in front of the goaltender between the face-off circles on each side. A prime scoring area.

Sniper: A player with a powerful, accurate shot skilled at finishing plays. 

Stick checking: Using the stick to interfere with an opponent’s stick.

Stickhandling: The act of controlling the puck with one’s stick, especially while maneuvering through opponents.

Sunburn: When a goal is scored, and the light behind the goaltender is lit up, it is said that the goalie got ‘sunburned.’ Also used when a goaltender has allowed too many goals (i.e. Our goaltender is getting sunburned tonight).

Saucer Pass: A pass in which the puck is passed to another player such that it flies in the air like a flying saucer. This makes the pass very difficult to intercept by opposing players but it will still land flat on the ice making it simple to control for the receiving player. — Sauce for short

Strong Side/Weak Side: The strong side is the side of the ice where the puck (and most of the players) are located.  The weak side is the other side. We speak of moving the puck from the strong side to the weak side of the ice to get away from pressure.

Tape to tape: a pass that perfectly lands on your teammate’s blade

Tic-tac-toe: refers to a quick passing play that results in a goal

Toe drag: when a player uses the end of his blade to dangle the opposition

Tag up: The act of returning to the neutral zone after a delayed offside is signaled by the linesman.

Top shelf: The upper area of the goal, just below the crossbar and above the goaltender’s shoulders.  (also called Top Cheese, Top Cheddar)

Trap: Also called the “neutral zone trap”, is a defensive-style hockey strategy in which a team loads up the neutral zone with players so that the opposing team has a difficult time crossing the blue line and gaining the zone.

Zamboni: A popular brand of ice resurfacer – vehicle that reconditions ice before play and between periods of a game to smooth out and clean the ice for optimal glide of both puck and skate. 

Goalie Moves/Terms

Stoned: when a goalie makes a great save

Stack the pads: when a goalie lays on his side and puts his pads on top of each other to make a save

Waffle-boarding: A quick save with the goalie’s blocker, usually a sideways-sweeping motion. 

Standup goalie: A goalie that often stays on their skates when a player shoots, as opposed to a butterfly goalie.

Butterfly: A style of goaltending wherein the goalie tends to drop to their knees to cover the lower half of the net with his or her leg pads.

Flopper: A goalie prone to going down on the ice to stop pucks. The opposite of a ‘Stand Up’ goalie.

Goal line save: when the puck touches the goal line but does not cross it

Puck Moves

Wraparound: when a player takes the puck around the back of the net and tries to score in one full motion

Freezing the puck: the act of trapping the puck so it cannot be played.

Spin-o-rama: a player completing several tight circles with the puck fully under control of her stick, eluding pursuing opponents who cannot keep up or intercept the player

Deke (Deking): used by an offensive player with the puck to confuse a defender or goalie. It is a fake or feint move.  A common deke is to lower the shoulder in one direction but actually turn in the other.

Dangle: when a player does a series of dekes in a row to get around the opposing players

Shooting Terms

Five hole: The potential scoring areas around a goal are numbered from one to four starting in the lower right corner and proceeding clockwise at each corner of the net.  The “5 hole” is between the goalie’s legs.

Five hole of the net

Wrist shot: A type of shot that involves using arm muscles (especially those in the wrist and forearm) to propel a puck forward from the open-faced, concave part of the blade of a hockey stick

Snap shot: The purpose of the snap shot is to combine the main advantages of the wrist shot (shot accuracy and quick delivery) and the slap shot (puck speed). Unlike a slap shot, there is no backswing windup, and very little follow through.

Slapshot: A slapshot is a hard shot, usually with a big wind up, wherein the player bends his stick on the ice and allows the energy stored in bending the stick to launch the puck forward. (also called a Clapper)

Snipe: a perfectly placed shot

One-timer: The act of shooting the puck directly off a pass without playing the puck in any way.


Video goal judge: An off-ice official who reviews a goal by video instant replay

Linesman: An official responsible for conducting most faceoffs and for calling off-side and icing infractions. Can call some penalties. Usually two linesmen on the ice during a game.

Goal judge: An off-ice official who signals when a goal has been scored, usually by turning on a red light above the net

Referee: The official in charge of the game. Responsible for maintaining the flow of the game, calling penalties and starting and stopping play. Can be one or two referees on the ice during a game. — Stripes, Zebra, Linesman, Official

Hockey Gear

Blocker: The rectangular pad that a goaltender wears on the stick-holding hand –waffle pad

Bucket: a helmet

Cage: Metal grid that attaches to the front of a helmet to protect the face

Catcher or Catching glove: The webbed glove that the goaltender wears on the hand opposite the stick (also known as the trapper)

Mitts: A player’s hands or gloves

Paddle:The wide portion above the blade of a goalie’s stick

Pillows: The goaltender’s leg pads

Shaft: The long part of the stick that is straight and is held by the player

Sweater: a hockey jersey

Twig: A hockey stick (even though very few are made from wood anymore)


Links to Check Out