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6 Things: Olympic rules

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks

With only 11 days until the men’s hockey preliminary round gets under way, the time for getting acquainted with all things Olympics prior to the Games is running out.

Your average hockey fan is well adept to follow the action and understand what’s taking place, but during the Olympics even veteran fanatics of the sport might become a bit bewildered.

The differences between the National Hockey League's rules and the guidelines the International Ice Hockey Federation abides by are parallel in some areas, night and day in others. The game time counting up from 0 to 20 minutes is just the start of where things differ.

Here are six things you should know about men’s hockey at the upcoming 2010 Winter Olympics.


Whether he was instructed to or if he has taken it upon himself, Roberto Luongo has been handling the puck a lot more behind the net than in seasons past. He’s resembled Marty Turco on a few plays and Alex Auld on some others, but there’s no doubt he’s gotten a lot more comfortable playing the puck. That will come in handy for Luongo, and every netminder at the Games, because NHL Rule 1 – 1.8, the one that limits the goalkeeper’s restricted area to the trapezoid behind the goal, is not in effect by the IIHF. Don’t expect to see anything like this, goalies will still be cautious with their play, but keep an eye out for how they handle the puck behind the goal line.


Similar to the NHL, the IIHF says helmets are a must, both during the game and the pre-game skate. The international rules get a little stickier after that though: a helmet “must be worn so that the lower portion of helmet is not more than one finger-width above eyebrows” and the “chinstrap must be properly fastened so that only enough room for one finger can be inserted between the strap and the chin.” Helmets are important. Check. But in addition to that, visors are too – kind of. While the NHL has no regulation pertaining to visors, IIHF Rule 224 makes wearing a visor mandatory for players born after December 31, 1974. That being said, of Vancouver’s seven Olympians, both Sami Salo (born Sept. 2, 1974) and Pavol Demitra (born Nov. 29, 1974) have clearance to ditch the shield during the Games. I guess the adage is true, you can’t make an old dog wear a new visor.


With how strict the IIHF is in regards to major penalties, Zenon Konopka of the Tampa Bay Lightning, the NHL’s leader in penalty minutes (185) and major infractions (21), is likely relieved Team Canada didn’t bring him on board. The IIHF isn’t as lenient as the NHL when it comes to boarding, charging and elbowing, each violation carries with it a major penalty with an automatic game misconduct, compared to the NHL where a minor or major could be enforced and a game misconduct tacked on depending on the circumstances. Another substantial difference is in regards to fighting as in the IIHF you can forget the instigator rule because “A match penalty shall be assessed to any player who starts or engages in fisticuffs.”


Team Canada keeper Martin Brodeur won’t have to worry about Sean Avery being cemeted in his grill, but the IIHF has Rule 534 in place to prevent anything like what Avery did to Brodeur during the first round of the playoffs in 2007-08. While the NHL expanded its unsportsmanlike conduct rule to include Avery’s screening tactics, which included waving his hands and stick in front of Brodeur, that rule can be open to interpretation. What constitutes illegal screening? According to the IIHF, anything done by an attacking player inside the goal crease does. Even without interfering with the netminder, if an attacking player deliberately lands in the paint “the referee shall stop the play and the ensuing face-off shall take place at the nearest face-off spot in the neutral zone.” Cut and dry, no ifs ands or buts. Beautiful.


No differences exist between the NHL’s overtime rules during the regular season and that of the IIHF’s preliminary round – five-minute extra session played at four-on-four with a shootout used if the teams remain tied following overtime. In the Stanley Cup Playoffs, five-on-five sudden death is played until someone scores, whereas in the Olympics and specifically qualification, quarter-final, semi-final and the bronze medal game, 10-minute of OT is played followed by a shootout. For the gold medal final, time is extended to 20 minutes before it goes to the heart stopping one-on-one battle. In an NHL shootout no player can shoot twice before every skater on the team has taken a turn, while in the IIHF, after the first three shooters go, any and all players are free to participate again. Get ready for as much Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews shootout goals as you can handle; they’re a combined 11-for-15 in shootouts this year to sit first and third in the NHL.


A few other notable changes the IIHF adapts to Olympic hockey include: automatic icing; no commercial stoppages (there are 400 seconds of commercial time-outs per NHL game); any player can be designated to attempt a penalty shot; there are two extra skaters a side brining each team total to 22; the maximum length from heel to end of the shaft of a stick must not exceed 64” (163 cm) – that’s an inch longer than in the NHL; there is a curvature limit of 0.6 inches (1.5 cm) for goalie sticks – in the NHL there is no curve constraint; it is up to the goalie whether or not to have a knob of white tape at the top of the shaft and in the NHL its mandatory; and compulsory announcements of one-minute remaining in the period continue for the first and second, but is changed to a two-minutes remaining in the third frame. Chaos, I know.

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