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Novice Hockey :: Game Play Guidelines

The Game Play format is referred to as the Two-Team Game Play Model (see Figure 3). This model is built on two teams playing one another in two halves. Each Novice team is divided into two units. Each team is required to dress two goaltenders, one for each half-ice game.

In some minor hockey communities, team composition may be smaller. If this is the case, the ice is still divided in two halves, but only one half will be used for game play. The other half of the ice can be used as a practice surface (see Figure 4).

  • In the two teams, two half-ice games model, each team will consist of up to 18 players (16 skaters and two goaltenders) divided into two units of nine players. Each team unit of nine players will have one goaltender and eight skaters. Smaller numbers will allow for players to double shift to ensure there are always four players on the ice. Coaches must make sure all players take turns double shifting.
  • While not a requirement, the ideal length of a game is 40 minutes (2 x 20-minute halves) plus a three-minute warm-up and a two-minute break between halves.
  • It is recommended that in each half, the centre spot should be marked to indicate where the face-off will take place. This is to be established at the midpoint between both nets.
  • When play is stopped due to the goaltender freezing the puck or a goal being scored, the referee will signal the attacking players to back off three metres. Once the attackers have moved back, the players may resume play as soon as the possession team has control of the puck. In the event a puck goes out of play, the referee will provide a new puck to the non-offending team and the offending team will be required to provide a three-metre cushion.
  • Incidental contact may happen, but body-checking is not permitted.
  • There is no centre-ice (red) line, and therefore no icing.
  • There are no blue-lines in play, therefore there are no offsides.
  • The home team shall defend the two ends of the rink, while the visiting team shall defend the centre-ice nets.
  • When the buzzer sounds to end the first half, the visiting team will switch ends and switch benches, so players can play against the other half of the opposing team.
  • Teams will share the respective player benches with each team using the gate closest to the net they are defending.
  • The main score clock can be used to keep time for both games simultaneously.
  • No score is kept.

The rules for half-ice novice game play have been created to maximize player engagement by increasing opportunities to interact with the puck and other players. A simplified version of the game allows younger players to focus on elements of the game they enjoy most.

Playing Rules

  • 4 vs. 4 format – plus each team with a goaltender
  • Each team is required to have two goaltenders, one for each half of the ice
  • Three-minute warm-up
  • Rink set-up:
    • One set of barriers or two sets of barriers with a space in between for spare players
  • Game length – 40 minutes (varies by region)
    • Two 20-minute halves
  • Shift length – one minute in duration with an automatic buzzer or whistle sounding to indicate players change. The clock continues to run throughout the 20-minute half.
  • Both games are synchronized
  • Officials work together to keep the games synchronized.
  • Players change on the fly
    • If there are fewer than four players on the bench, the active player designated to stay out for the following shift must tag up at the bench prior to continuing play.
  • There will be two face-offs during the game:
  • The first face-off will start the game.
  • The second face-off will start the second half.


  • Player shifts are recommended to be one minute in length. A buzzer or whistle will sound to signal line changes.
  • On the buzzer/whistle sounds, players must relinquish control of the puck immediately and vacate the ice. The new players enter the ice immediately.
  • Failure to immediately relinquish control of the puck or new players entering the ice surface prematurely may result in a penalty (see below) for the offending team.

Change of Possession

  • Goaltender freezes the puck – the official blows the whistle to indicate the attacking team backs off and defending team gets possession.
  • Puck shot out of play – the offending team backs off and the official gives the non-offending team a new puck.


  • Minor penalties are noted with the official briefly raising their arm to indicate a penalty will be assessed. At the conclusion of the shift, the official notifies the coach of the infraction and the number of the offending player.
  • If the offending team controls the puck after the infraction, the official blows the whistle and calls for a change of possession; the non-offending team is given room to play the puck (three-metre cushion).
  • The offending player will sit out the next shift, but the team will play even strength.
  • Should an infraction occur that would normally require a player to be ejected from the game (game misconduct, match penalty or gross misconduct), the player will be removed from the remainder of that game. Even under these circumstances, teams will not play shorthanded and no game incident report will be required.

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