Olympic vs NHL: Rules And Regulations


The men’s Olympic hockey tournament is starting to heat up with the United States playing Friday, 21 February, against Canada in the Semi-finals in Sochi, Russia. Before we dive into the Olympic finals we should briefly discuss how International Hockey Federation rules differ from the National Hockey League rules. There are six major differences between the IHF and NHL.

The first major difference between Olympic hockey and the NHL is the size of the ice on which they play. In the NHL the ice is 85 ft wide and 200 feet long. The Olympic ice is similar in length, meaning it is 200 ft long, but is 15 feet wider measuring a total of 100 feet wide. In addition to a wider ice rink, the neutral zone on Olympic ice is actually larger than in the NHL, measuring 58 feet long as opposed 50 feet. Additionally, the goal line is 13 feet from the end line rather than 10 feet, which means that there is more area to play behind the net. Goalies also have a larger goal crease with a 3 foot increase, going from 8 to 11 feet. Because of the larger neutral area this means that offensive and defensive zones are smaller by 6 feet. When you stop to do the math, you may realize there is a 2 foot difference that hasn’t been accounted for, and that is because the goal line in Olympic hockey is 13 feet from the end of the ice instead of 11 as it is in the NHL. These differences in ice size may seem small, but it can have a major effect on how individuals play on the ice.

Goalies in the NHL are restricted to playing the puck only in the trapezoid area behind the net and playing in front of the goal line, however in Olympic hockey any area of the ice is available for the goalies to play on, including the area behind the net. In addition to the freedom in handling the puck anywhere on the ice, the goalies also have another rule that isn’t in the NHL. According to Olympic rules, there are no players allowed in the goalie crease, and when this does occur, play stops immediately.

One major deviation from the NHL is the rules regulating fighting in the league. The International Hockey Federation ejects any and all players that engage in fighting on the ice. Not only is all fighting banned but also penalties that are minor in the NHL carry a steeper consequence under the IHF. This means a normal two-minute NHL penalty carries more time under Olympic rules.

Players born on January 1, 1975 or later are all required to wear helmets with visors that cannot be tinted, according to the IHF rules. Although the NHL has recently placed into effect a rule that any new player to the NHL  must have a helmet with a visor to play,  it did not require those who are already playing to adhere to this rule. 

The last rule that differs is one we saw in action during the USA game on Saturday against Russia. During the playoff season in the NHL, games are never decided by a shoot out but instead are always decided in sudden death overtime. The Olympic rules differ. During playoff games, there are ten minutes of sudden death over time played followed by a shootout. If the game remains tied after both sudden death and the first three rounds of a shootout, then the shootout continues until one team wins. Under Olympic rules, after the first three rounds of a shootout any player may take the remaining shots for the team. This also goes for penalty shots, meaning that any player may take penalty shots, they are not limited to the player who was the victim as in the NHL.

There are other small differences between the IHF and the NHL such as the number of players that can dress for the game, and hybrid icing vs automatic icing, but the 6 main differences are the ones laid out previously. Friday starts the Semi-finals of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia and only eight more days until the Rangers take the ice again to play Chicago. Keep Warm, Go Rangers, and GO USA!