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Hockey Basics for New Players

If you are new to hockey, this is a good place to begin your season! Learn the structure of WHAM games, basic positioning, a few possible penalty calls and how to serve penalties, and other things that will hopefully make your first games less daunting and more fun. For a short introduction to penalties, see the Penalties page.

About WHAM Games

  • There is a three minute warm-up period before the game.

  • Games consist of three 18-minute periods. The clock runs for the entire period (no stop-time).

  • Play stops for one minute between each period.

  • Teams switch sides at the end of each period. 

  • Players serve three minutes for minor penalties. (More about penatlies.)

  • Games follow USA Hockey Rules.

  • There is no checking in WHAM.

Before Games

  • Arrive 20-30 minutes before your scheduled game so you have time to change, chat with your teammates, and assign positions while your team is together in the locker room. 

  • Check the monitors in the rink lobby for your team's/pod's locker room number.

  • Be ready for your game a few minutes ahead of time so you are ready to hit the ice for a good warm up. 

  • When the Zamboni is finished on the ice, the refs will replace the goals and check the ice. The refs will welcome skaters to the ice for warm up with a whistle.

  • Locate your team's bench, drop off your water bottle, and begin warming up.

  • The warm-up usually begins with everyone skating a full loop around the rink. Then each team goes to their side to complete warm-ups and help warm up the goalie with practice shots.

  • When shooting to warm up the goalie, be sure to give the goalie time to reset and look up between shots. Remember, this warm-up is for the goalie, not for you, so go easy!

  • At the buzzer ending warm-up, help gather all the pucks and then meet your team at your bench.

  • Quickly take your starting place (on the ice or bench) so game can begin on time. A referee will be at center ice ready to start the game.

After Games

  • At the end of the game fist bump and otherwise exchange congratulations with your team.

  • Then line up behind your team's goalie and follow the goalie to center ice where the teams will skate past each other for fist bumps, etc. Be sure to also thanks the refs in turn. (It is also nice to thank the scorekeeper, the off-ice offical and DJ.)

  • Gather your things from the bench and leave the ice as quickly as possible so the Zamboni can prepare the ice for the next game.

After game fist bump lines.

Between Games

The Zamboni will cut the ice between each game. Help out the Zamboni driver by leaving the ice as quickly as possible after your game. This will keep all games on schedule.

Shifts: What & How?

A shift is your time on the ice during game play.


Keep shifts short (45 - 90 seconds). Short shifts keep everyone fresh and warm (!) and ready to play hard. 

Note: In the excitement of the game, it is sometimes difficult to keep track of the length of a shift. Check the clock when you leave the bench and check it again when you have gone up and down the ice once. Often this is the appropriate length of a shift, believe it or not.  

At the end of your shift, it is best to the leave ice when:

  • there is a whistle

  • your team in on the offensive

When leaving the ice, be aware of but ignore the play on the ice and skate quickly to the bench, calling out loudly for your replacement.

Very General Positioning

Hockey Positions

Each team has five players on the ice during regular play.

  • Goalie: Protects the net and prevents the other team from scoring goals.

  • Defense: 2 players (right & left) responsible for helping to defend the goal

  • Forwards: 3 players (left wing, center, right wing) primarily responsible for offensive play (making goals).

Areas of Play

The diagrams below show the general area of play for each position. It is a good idea to stay within these areas until you are more familiar with the game and positioning.


Note: The Offensive zone is at the top of the diagrams below. 


Right Defense


Left Defense


Left Wing




Right Wing

Position Responsibilities

The information below is a very general starting place. You will learn lots about positioning from your teammates.


The center follows the puck more than other positions and play a large area in the middle of the ice. They faclitate scoring opportunities on offense and assist on defense. When playing defense, they often intercept passes and pass it down the ice to the wings. The center takes face-offs.


There are two wings, left & right. The main responsibility of a wing is to place themselves near the net on their side of the ice, look for passes and rebounds, and score goals! On defense, wings hang out near the blue line guarding the other team's defensive players, intercepting passes, and very importantly getting the puck out of the zone for a potential turnover. When on defense, wings look out for when their team takes posession of the puck and quickly head down ice looking for a pass. (And avoiding off sides!) Note that wings do not go too deep into the zone when on defense. Most new players begin in this position.


The main responsibility of defense is to prevent to other team from scoring goals, so they hang out near the net. It is important for the player on defense to not block the view of the goalie - and to watch the backdoor. The defensive players shift to follow play (slot and corner), ensuring there is always one defensive player protecting the goal. On offense, the defense stays near the blue line and helps keep the puck in the zone. 

Face-off Positioning

Face-off positions follow a basic setup with slight adjustments as needed in offensive and defensive zones.

Here are two of the most common face-off situations.

Center Ice


Defensive Zones


My team is yelling "Off, off!". What does that mean?

When you hear your team yelling "Off, off!" or "Off side" you are off side and need to skate as quickly as you can back into the neutral zone. This can happen a lot when skaters are new. Don't worry, you will learn what it is and how to avoid it.

What is Offside?

Here is what the USA Hockey Rules say about Offside:

Rule 630 | Offside

(a) Offside occurs when players of an attacking team precede the puck into the attacking zone. The position of the player’s skates and the position of the puck relative to the blue line are determining factors for an “offside” violation.
     The position of the player’s stick shall not be considered in all instances deciding offside. A player is considered “offside” when the player does not have skate contact with any part of the Neutral Zone or the blue line when the puck crosses the determining edge of the blue line.

Need another explanation with visuals? Snoop Dog can help out with that! See his Hockey 101 Offside video.

A Few Other Things

Here are a few things that are good to know:

Others involved in the game:

  • Referees: Treat referees with respect. Games would not be the same without them!

  • Scorekeepers are off-ice officials and work closely with refs. If you have questions about what to do when you are in the penalty box, they can help out.

  • Zamboni driver: The zamboni drivers cut the ice to make it nice and smooth for games. Help them out by leaving the ice as quickly as possible after your game.

Good hockey practices: 

  • Treat goalies with respect. Avoid spraying the goalie with snow (snowing), don't stand in the goalie's crease (blue semi-circle area in front of net), and remember to congratulate them for good saves, etc. also, if you play defense listen for instructions from your goalie. They will let you know what they need. 

  • Don't cross the red line at center ice during warm ups. Be considerate of your opponent's warm up space.

  • You can use the doors to enter and leave the bench. You don't have to go over the boards. If using the doors, let the players entering play to come on to the ice before entering.

  • When on the ice, always face play. Be ready to make a move, receive a pass, or change directions.  

  • Keep your shifts short.

Remember, especially if you a a new skater, that your hockey will improve as your skating improves. skating practice is hockey practice. Take advantage of public skates, stick and puck, and clinics offerings!

And most importantly, have FUN!

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