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Ask the Official: High Sticking and Playing Rule Changes

By MHOA, 10/26/20, 12:15PM CDT


The Minnesota Hockey Officials Association (MHOA) offers players, parents, coaches and officials the opportunity to submit questions regarding USA Hockey and Minnesota Hockey playing rules to MHOA. An official will respond directly to all questions submitted, and select questions may be anonymously re-printed in the Minnesota Hockey newsletter.

To submit a question, click here.

Question: When it comes to waiving off a goal for high sticking, why is it shoulder height for each player rather than the crossbar like they do for high school?  At certain ages, there can be a huge height variance, and the current rules seems to give taller kids an advantage over smaller kids.

Answer: High sticking in USA Hockey is shoulder height for consistency reasons. Although players aren't consistent in height, the rule itself provides consistency over the wide age ranges the USA Hockey rules govern.

Imagine the difference between a Squirt/10U player and Midget/18U players (many high school age players participate under USA Hockey in other parts of the country). Most Squirt/10U players would be clearly playing puck far above the shoulders if the guideline was crossbar (4 feet).

From a referee perspective, it is also much easier to determine if a particular player plays the puck above his or her own shoulders compared to a set height such as the crossbar. These infractions happen all over the ice and the crossbar may not be in the vicinity to provide a frame of reference to determine if the puck was played with a high stick.

Question: Why are the rules so different between different leagues? It seems like every year I see coaches and officials misapply USA Hockey rules because they’re associating rules with high school or college rules.

Answer: Rules in each league differ for various reasons. One big factor is that certain rules make more or less sense depending on the age, size and skill of the players in those leagues. That’s why USA Hockey, even within its own rules, has certain rules that vary based on age, such as whether body checking is allowed.

It would certainly make officials’ jobs easier if there was more consistency, especially between USA Hockey and the National Federation for High Schools, which is what Minnesota high school hockey utilizes. There are many officials who work both levels, and occasionally officials do make mistakes because of the differences. We also see a number of disagreements between coaches and officials stem from these differences between leagues. 

The bottom line though is our job as officials is to know and enforce the rules as they are currently written.

The good news is USA Hockey produces a rule comparison by league each season. It would be wise for coaches and officials who work at multiple levels to look at it each year and refresh their memory. To view the 2020-21 comparison, click here

Question: I heard at the rink last night it’s a rule change year. What does that mean and who is in charge of making the changes?

Answer: That’s correct. USA Hockey is in the last year of its four-year cycle with the current rules. This year they will go through the playing rule change process, and the results will go into the rule book for the next four-year cycle.

If you go to the Officials page of the USA Hockey website, they have established a dedicated section to the rule change process outlining the timeline and the proposal forms that can be submitted by any USA Hockey member. If you’re interested in proposing a change, you can take the current language from the rule book and show how you want to change to the rule.

The deadline for submissions is November 1. Then, USA Hockey staff adjusts all of the proposed changes into a consistent format and submits them to the Playing Rules Committee. The Playing Rules Committee reviews them and makes recommendations to the USA Hockey Board of Directors or refers them to the appropriate USA Hockey Council. Each rule change is vetted and thoroughly reviewed, and then, eventually, the USA Hockey Board of Directors will vote on the proposed changes at their Annual Meeting next summer.

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