The Importance Of Rule Knowledge By Jack Young


With the summer winding down, and hockey season right around the corner, let’s talk about how important rule knowledge is to our great game of hockey.


Rules provide players, coaches, parents, and officials an idea of what is allowed and what is not allowed during the course of a game.  Rules govern practically everything, from the legal size of equipment to penalties.  The rules of the game allow order to be kept. Without order in our great game, who knows how hockey would be played.


The players, coaches, and parents depend on us, as officials, to understand all of the rules of the game.  Is it possible to know every single rule in the rulebook? Probably not.  Is it possible to keep yourself up to date on the important and necessary rules to work the level of game you are? Absolutely.  


We are the two, three, or four people who hold every person in the arena accountable for their actions.  We are the people who others look at when action is needed.  Officials come in all ages with some as young as 12 years old and some as old as 70.  It’s not always easy to earn respect with coaches when you’re 12 or 70, but it can instantly be earned  with proper rule knowledge and enforcement.  


As officials, our job is not always an easy one nor is it one that comes with respect.  Respect for officials is not always given, even when earned.  We must remind ourselves that although others may disagree with our judgement, we must judge a play based on what actually happened, our knowledge of the rules, and common sense.  


Improper knowledge and use of the rules can lead to an avalanche of problems.  For instance, let’s say an official gave a player a major and game misconduct for kicking.  According to USA Hockey, the penalty for kicking must be a match penalty.  So, instead of having a player sit for an extended period of time because of the match penalty, the official may have allowed the player to play sooner.


How could the official avoid a situation like this?  Better knowledge of rules?  Maybe a small piece of paper including all the penalties on it?  The luxury of having a small cheat sheet in your riot pad in your pocket is that you have the capability of pulling it out at any point and confirming your call. Being able to use the cheat sheet in certain situations allows you to make the correct call.  Although, overusing the cheat sheet can lead to perception and credibility issues with the players, coaches, and parents.  Cheat sheets can be found on various websites, including Hockey Ref Shop.


Rule knowledge is something every official can improve on.  Having good rule knowledge can deescalate certain situations and avoid other stressful situations if the proper call is given beforehand.  Proper rule knowledge and enforcement can avoid another game misconduct later in the game if the correct call was able to deescalate a situation earlier in the game.  Proper rule knowledge can get an official promoted to the higher level.  If they are capable of dealing out the appropriate penalties in a stressful situation in a proper fashion, that could get the official a higher level game the next weekend.  It’s incredibly hard to work a U18 midget game and only know a few rules.  The official’s skating could be the best in the country, their appearance could match NHL officials, but if their rule knowledge is sub-par, there is a slim chance that official is going to have a successful game.  


Being an official is an extremely important role to hockey.  Without us, hockey would be chaos. We control that chaos while understanding fairness, promoting safety, and taking action when needed.  Officials must prepare for the unexpected; take a look in your rule book and who knows when a situation like USAH rule 615 situation 6 will happen?  Will you know what to call?


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  • Brian Forster

    While knowing the “rules” is VERY important, understanding the attitude of the game and applying the rules accordingly is even more important….it is called “having a feel” for the game presented to you.

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