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Getting to Know the Rulebook: Episode 3 - Goals, Benches, Lights, and Clocks

The referees might need all 10 spots in the penalty box after this altercation.
The referees might need all 10 spots in the penalty box after this altercation.
Paul Bereswill

Welcome to another installment of our WIIM series where the authors read big, boring NHL documents so you don't have to. Today's GtK: The Rulebook continues Section 1 on the playing area, covering the goal posts, nets, benches, and signal and timing devices.

NHL 2013-14 Official Rules here. (Downloads as PDF.)

Section 1 - Playing Area: Rule 2 - Goal Posts and Nets

2.1 Goal Posts: Consider it a timely reminder, when one of the proposed changes for increasing goal-scoring league-wide involves increasing the size of the goal frame, that the cage currently is 4' tall x 6' wide. For a game like hockey where every inch matters and in a league like the NHL where the differences come down to millimeters, even a one-inch change in the goal frame will have drastic effects on overall gameplay.

This rule also includes stipulations about the net moorings (must be 10" and yellow) and the color of the goal frame (red goal posts and crossbar, white everything else).

2.2 Nets: The mesh netting on the goal frame is nylon cord. It's intended to catch pucks shot into the goal. The mesh is reinforced by padding along the base. There are lots of other specifications about the dimensions and materials of the cord which you can find in the rulebook if you're interested.

Rule 3 - Benches

3.1 Players' Benches: Benches must be provided by the rinks, and they must be uniform with each other. So "home-ice advantage" can't include depriving your opponents of their bench and making them stand the entire game.

Benches should be big enough to fit 14 players at least. There must be two doors to each bench; the doors have to swing inward for safety and gameplay concerns. (Imagine initiating a breakout in front of the benches during a line change, and the door opens out onto the ice.) One thing I find funny is that the bench doors should be "as convenient to the dressing rooms as possible," yet I'm fairly certain a few rinks in the NHL still make visiting players skate across the ice to get to their own dressing room.

Benches should have protective glass behind them for player safety from spectators. (Sometimes, though, the glass is also useful to the spectator if it works.)

Finally, I find the balancing act between these two hilarious:

The benches shall be placed immediately alongside the ice as near to the center of the rink as possible.


The players' benches shall be on the same side of the playing surface opposite the penalty bench and should be separated by a substantial distance, if possible.

So the players' benches both need to be on the same side of the ice. They should be as close to the center of the rink as possible (so as close to the center red line as possible) while also being separated by a substantial distance. Thankfully, all 30 rinks seem to function with these rules fine, and no one's complained about the benches being too close to each other or too far apart. In fact, it's provided moments like this and this, so maybe the wording of the rules has worked out just fine.

3.2 Penalty Bench: Penalty boxes must be provided. They should be able to sit ten people, including Off-Ice Officials, and be situated across from the Players' Benches.

One of the gimmicks that my college's hockey teams exploit is that their penalty box is right next to their players' bench. So when a player's penalty expires, the player doesn't even have to take a stride to get back to the bench.

When I worked the penalty box for the home team one time, the players would signal to the coach and ask what they were expected to do when the penalty expired. Most of the time it was just to travel 5 feet to their own bench. Contrast this gimmick with the NHL where players have to skate across the ice if they want to get back to their own bench when their penalty expires. So even if a rule like this doesn't seem terribly important, it does have consequences.

Rule 4 - Signal and Timing Devices

4.1 Signal Devices: Rinks must have a siren which sounds at the end of each period. If it doesn't work, common sense comes in, and they use a clock that says "0.0." They also must have red lights for goals and green lights for ends of periods, both situated behind each goal. Finally, another light (which doesn't have to be red but often is) will be at the Timekeeper's Bench to signal TV timeouts.

The rules explicitly say that the red light behind the goal "will signify the scoring of a goal." So ignore all the BS of commentators who say that the light comes on "just" to signal that the puck crossed the line, even if it might or might not be a good goal. If the light comes on, the Goal Judge thought it was a good goal.

The rules also explicitly state that "A goal cannot be scored when a green light is showing." In practice, I'm not sure this needs to be written because all video reviews go by the clock that's burned into the video instead of checking the green light. Imagine that video review:

"OK, the puck crossed the line here. That frame."

"Is the green light on?"

"Well, it starts to come on there."

"What do you mean 'starts to come on'? How bright is it? Can you really call it 'on'? We can't even see the electric currents moving!"

"Is the puck really over the line when the first flash comes on?"

"What first flash?"


4.2 Timing Devices: Rinks have to provide timers that let the players, referees, and spectators know the timing situation at all times, game clock and penalty clocks. The rules explicitly state

Time recording for both game time and penalty time shall show time remaining to be played or served

which in laymen's terms means that clocks must count down. Finally, the game clock must measure time in tenths of a second during the last minute of each period.


We're done with Section 1! Now you have all the tools you need to set up a proper NHL playing environment. Next time we start Section 2 - Teams, which will give you the teams you need to play an actual game.