Hockey 101: The basics of the game for new hockey fans in Utah

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — In April 2024, Utah welcomed its first National Hockey League team, which had come over from Arizona after the sale of the team was given the green light, transferring all assets of the team to Utah Jazz-owners Ryan and Ashley Smith.

Season tickets went on sale on April 18, ahead of the 2024-2025 season — and fans quickly reserved more seats than the Delta Center currently has available.

LEARN MORE: Meet leaders, key players in Utah’s new NHL team

But, with hockey being so new to the Beehive State, some Utahns may not understand how the game works. Here are the basics of the game so you can be prepared when the season is expected to start in October.

Below you will find information summarized from the official rulebook for the 2023-2024 NHL season. The full 234-page document can be found online.

How long is a hockey game?

There are three periods of 20-minute gameplay with a rest intermission between the periods (with intermission either being 18 minutes long or another time designated by the League).

If the two teams are tied by the end of the regular 20-minute periods, the game can go into an overtime period that should not last longer than five minutes. The first team to score is declared the winner and is given an additional point.

How are points measured in the NHL?

A goal is scored when the puck goes between the goal posts at the hands of a player from the attacking side.

Each goal counts as one point, which is credited to the player who “propelled the puck into the opponent’s goal,” according to the rulebook.

“Only one point can be credited to any one player on a goal,” the rulebook said.

How many players on an NHL team?

Each team is made up of 20 players — 18 of which are skaters, with the remaining two being goalkeepers.

A list of the players’ names must be submitted to the “Official Scorer,” the rulebook said.

If an ineligible player (someone not on the list of players given to the scorer) is on the ice when a goal is made, the goal will be “disallowed,” even if the ineligible player was not involved with the scoring of the goal.


While there are two goalkeepers, only one is allowed on the ice at a time. The substitute goalkeeper “shall, at all times, be fully equipped and ready to play,” according to the rulebook.

Each team can appoint one captain, who will be able to discuss questions relating to rules with referees during the game. A captain must wear a three-inch letter “C” on the front of their sweater, and co-captains are not allowed.

However, a team can have one captain plus two alternate captains — or no captain and three alternate captains. Alternate captains must wear a three-inch letter “A” on the front of their sweaters and they must be designated before the game.

If a player or alternate captain comes off the bench to speak to the referees, they may receive a minor penalty. Complaints about penalties are not related to the interpretation of rules, and may result in minor penalties.

Basics of an NHL game

At the end of each 20-minute period, the rink must have a “suitable sound device that will sound automatically,” according to the rulebook.

A red light behind the goalposts means a goal has been scored and a green light means the period or the game has ended. Goals are not able to be scored when there is a green light.

The clocks in the rink show the “time remaining to be played or served,” the rulebook said.

There are penalties for fighting and other physical altercations. If a player is bleeding, they are not permitted to return to the game until they are no longer bleeding, or until the wound is covered.

“It is required that any affected equipment and/or uniform be properly decontaminated or exchanged,” the rulebook said.

Types of penalties

  • Minor penalties

    • Players (other than goalkeepers) are ruled off the ice for two minutes with no substitute players.

  • Bench minor penalties

    • Players removed from the ice for two minutes.

  • Double-minor penalties

    • Players ruled off the ice for four minutes with no substitutes permitted.

  • Coincidental penalties

    • Coincidental minor penalties

    • Coincidental major penalties

    • Coincidental match penalties

  • Major penalties

    • Player shall be ruled off the ice for five minutes with no substitute.

  • Match penalties

    • A player is suspended for the “balance of the game” and is immediately ordered to the dressing room.

    • May be imposed on any player who deliberately attempts to injure or does injure an opponent.

  • Misconduct penalties

    • A player (except a goalkeeper) shall be ruled off the ice for 10 minutes.

  • Game misconduct penalties

    • The player will be suspended for the balance of the game, but may be replaced by a substitute.

  • Penalty shot

    • A penalty shot allows a team a scoring opportunity that was lost when an offending team committed an infraction

If there are three players who are being penalized, the penalty time of the third player will not begin until the other two players’ times have elapsed. Goalkeepers can also face penalties, but substitutes are often allowed, or other players serve the penalties for the goalkeepers.

There are also punishments when players receive physical infractions (like fighting or punching), restraining infractions (such as holding or interference), stick infractions (including cross-checking or slashing) and other infractions.

Basic guidelines for an NHL rink

Rinks are required to be 200 feet long and 85 feet wide with rounded corners. The official 2023-2024 rulebook for the NHL said, “The corners shall be rounded in the arc of a circle with a radius of twenty-eight feet (28′).”

The surface of the ice should be separated into three zones: The defending zone, the neutral zone and the attacking zone. Blue lines separate the rink into the respective zones.

The defending zone is the area where a team’s goal is located, the neutral zone is the center of the rink and the attacking zone is the area that is the farthest from the goal the team is defending (where their opponent’s goal is located).

There is also an area of the rink called the “goal crease,” which includes a light blue, filled-in semicircle in front of each goal post. The “referee’s crease” is a red-outlined semicircle area with a 10-foot radius, situated in front of the Penalty Timekeeper’s seat.

In each zone of the rink, there are circles. The neutral zone (center of the rink) has a blue circle with a 15-foot radius surrounding a blue spot in the exact center of the rink with a 12-inch diameter.

Also in the neutral zone, there is a total of four solid red spots with a two-foot diameter — these spots are five feet away from the blue lines (with two spots on each side) and 44 feet apart from each other.

In each endzone, there are two additional red face-off spots (two feet in diameter) surrounded by circles with a 15-foot radius, located on either side of the goals.

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