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by Staff Writer / Buffalo Sabres
(Bill Wippert)
While the Olympic hockey tournament will be dominated by NHL players, they will be playing under some non-NHL rules.

The International Ice Hockey Federation rulebook differs from the rules that govern NHL play in several key areas -- playing surface, penalty procedure, protective equipment, time keeping and shootout procedures.

Overtime and Shootout

The disparity in rules covering overtime and shootouts between the NHL and the Olympics could be the most profound of the 50-plus changes to the rulebook.

In the Olympics, overtime in the group stage will be five minutes of four-on-four play before the contest goes to the shootout, which is also different from the NHL version. In qualification playoff, quarterfinal and semifinal stages, as well as bronze-medal game, the overtime period will be 10 minutes of sudden-victory format. A shootout occurs if game remains tied. In the gold-medal game, the overtime will be 20 minutes, followed by a shootout if game is still tied.  

In the shootout, it is a three-man roster that can be named after the conclusion of overtime. In IIHF play, any player can go after the three shooters have gone, including the same player on a repeated basis. In the NHL, all 18 shooters must have a shootout attempt before shooters can be repeated. Also, in the Olympics, a coin toss is used to decide the order in which teams will shoot.


IIHF rules also call for automatic icing, which is a mandatory stoppage of play as soon as the puck crosses the goal line on an icing infraction. NHL rules call for touch-up icing, which allows a player from the team guilty of icing to nullify the infraction by being the first to the puck after it crosses the goal line. Under IIHF rules, there is no discretion for linesman to "wave off" icing, which is afforded NHL linesmen.

Goalie Crease

Goalies will also need to adjust a bit as the trapezoid, the area governing where a goalie can play the puck in the NHL, is absent in international play. In the Olympics, goalies will be able to play the puck without restriction on their movements. Also, goalies don't have to worry as much about traffic close to the crease in international play. IIHF rules call for an immediate whistle if an attacking player establishes position in the goalie's crease -- even if contact does not occur. The ensuing faceoff takes place in the neutral zone.

Helmets and Head Checking

Helmets are not only mandatory in Olympic competition, but they must remain on whenever a player is on the ice. If a player in Olympic competition loses his helmet, he must immediately leave the playing surface or face discipline. In the NHL, players can compete until a whistle after having their helmet dislodged.

In Olympic play, there is also a rule banning any form of checking to the head. This rule does not exist in the NHL rulebook. Any player who "directs a check or blow, with any part of his body, to the head and neck area of an opposing player or 'dcrives' or 'forces' the head of an opposing player into the protective glass or boards" shall be penalized. Penalty options are a minor and misconduct penalty combination, a major and game misconduct combination or a match penalty. If a player is injured by a blow to the head, the referee must assess a match penalty to the offending player.

Roster Size

The final major difference between NHL play and this Olympic tournament involves the number of players allowed to dress for a game. NHL rules call for a maximum of 18 skaters and two goalies. Olympic rules allow 20 skaters and two goalies.
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