New Rule Book for global game
by Adam Steiss|05 JUN 2021
The 2021 IIHF Annual Congress approved the new Rule Book.
photo: Martin Merk
Following official approval by the 2021 IIHF Annual Congress, the IIHF will introduce a new Rule Book for the 2021/22 season with the objective of unifying the rules of the game across the world. 

Created by a specially appointed Rule Book Writing Group comprised of experts from IIHF and European professional leagues and in consultancy with the National Hockey League (NHL), the Rule Book was developed using the combined Official Playing Rules of the IIHF, the National Hockey League (NHL), KHL, and various European leagues.

The objectives of the new IIHF Rule Book are as follows: 
  1. Harmonize the ice hockey playing rules to ensure consistent application across all major leagues and clubs, as well as Member National Association tournaments, women’s hockey, and junior hockey
  2. Ensure playing rules are consistent for all participating teams competing in the Olympic Games in Beijing 2022 and other competitions governed by the IIHF 
  3. Ensure that the Rule Book can be amended on an annual basis to stay up to date with the rules of the game 
  4. Prioritizing health and safety of players while preserving the entertainment value of the sport 
“The goal is to create a standard for ice hockey’s playing rules so that they can be used uniformly across leagues and clubs around the world,” said IIHF Vice President and Player Safety Committee Chairman Bob Nicholson. “As leagues have continued to grow and develop around the world, sometimes the rules are being adjusted or changed. This sometimes leads confusion from players, fans, and officials with application of the official playing rules in IIHF and other international competitions.”

“It is so important that everybody understands, enforces, and plays within the rules our sport, regardless of where they come from. This is why we want to have a rule book for all, starting with the top leagues.”

With COVID-19 placing a pause on most of the IIHF season, cancelling 28 World Championship and club tournaments in the 2020/21 season alone, the IIHF was able to coordinate and plan the development and release of the Rule Book together with representatives from leagues in Europe and North America. Following Congress approval, the Rule Book will be in place for all IIHF events, starting with the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship and Olympic Qualification tournaments taking place in August 2021. 

The need to create a unified Rule Book was recognized after discussions within the IIHF Officiating Committee, which received feedback from game officials who expressed their concern over the enforcement of rules at IIHF tournaments, especially with North American officials coming over from the NHL and other leagues.

“Leagues have been improving various aspects of the rules on their own, this led to small but significant differences in how the game is being officiated in different countries,” said IIHF Council Member and Officiating Committee Chairman Sergej Gontcharov. “While a goal is being disallowed at one event, it is a good goal in other competitions. This is why the objective of this undertaking was to get everyone back on the same page together.”

“A lot of players are coming to leagues from different countries,” said IIHF referee Yevgeni Romasko, who also served as a referee in both the NHL and KHL. “They have to have a lot of time to adapt, from the beginning up to the middle of the season.”

The 2021/22 Rule Book will amalgamate existing IIHF, NHL, KHL, and European league and competition rules. It will contain the same rule numbers and sections used in every league and tournament.

The new Rule Book will also aim to have the highest possible standard of player safety and fair play and in this spirit will keep IIHF interpretations on how to judge the severity of fouls by the action, and not by the result of the play. It will also introduce new penalty selections, to make it easier to help referees maintain the correct standard when moving between leagues and competitions.

Some of the major rules that will be integrated include:
  • A restricted area for goalkeepers behind the net to create more offensive play (i.e. trapezoid familiar to NHL and KHL)
  • Video review and coach’s challenge for more situations where technology allows
  • Some physical fouls will include a major penalty without an automatic game misconduct as a penalty selection 
  • When entering the attacking zone, the blue line is considered three-dimensional and an attacking player’s skate in the air above the blue line will be considered onside (i.e. NHL offside rule that is also employed in Sweden and in the KHL)
One of the major rule differences that currently exist between the IIHF and NHL for example, is Fighting. The IIHF will adapt the language used in the NHL’s fighting rule, in order to better prepare its referees to handle various situations that might arise when a fighting violation does occur on the ice. However, the zero-tolerance approach to fighting in IIHF events will remain in place, along with the IIHF rules governing Checking to the Head or Neck. 

“Fighting of course has no place in international hockey, and any player fighting in an IIHF game will still be ejected from that game.” said IIHF Officiating Manager Danny Kurmann. “While fighting sometimes occurs in NHL games, we recognized the value of integrating the NHL rules on fighting as they contain situations that can be identified and properly enforced against.” 

“We believe that this will better equip our officials and also our independent disciplinary panel when adjudicating fighting situations.” 

Special sections for women’s and junior hockey will also be integrated into the new Rule Book, in order to separate the different rules applied at each respective level. 

“The role of the International Ice Hockey Federation is to create the best environment for ice hockey players around the world, no matter if you are playing the game at a lower division, at the amateur or at the professional level, whether you are a woman or a man; you need to understand and respect the game at the same time,” said IIHF Council Member and Officiating Committee Co-Chair Marta Zawadzka. 

The decision to create a unifying Rule Book was welcomed by representatives of various leagues and clubs in North America and Europe, including the Champions Hockey League, Alliance of European Hockey Clubs, and Hockey Europe. 

“This unified Rule Book is a positive step forward for the game,” said Stéphane Quintal, senior vice president of player safety for the NHL and member of the IIHF Player Safety Committee. “I believe that this will help to establish consistency across all leagues and also facilitate the integration of NHL players at the World Championship and other international events.

“On behalf of the European Hockey Alliance, we would like to express support to the IIHF for the initiative to create a rule book that unifies the world of hockey,” said Raeto Raffainer, Chief Sport Officer for SC Bern and member of the IIHF Coaching Committee. “The EHC and the IIHF had a meeting some weeks ago, where we said that the clubs and the leagues in Europe are willing to assume a bigger responsibility for such an important project in the future.”

“(A) unified Rule Book, we need it!” said Peter Zahner, President of the Champions Hockey League. “It’s so easy for players for coaches, for fans, for media, and it will help for the future.”

Going forward, the IIHF will discuss with various representatives from leagues and clubs to create a roadmap for the Rule Book to be implemented across all top leagues in the coming seasons.