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Thursday 13 August 2020

Soccer-to-Hockey Translation Guide

Hockey and soccer (ice hockey and football) are similar enough from a fan or analytics perspective that if you’re familiar with one, it’s easy to become familiar with another. There could be a whole new world of sport you’re missing out on!

In this article I’ve organized many of the parallels and contrasts between hockey and soccer so that you can watch a few games and of either one and confidently say that "hockey is just like soccer except X instead of Y".



I’m more familiar with hockey, and while the main intent of this guide is to introduce fans of soccer to hockey, I hope that it the guide is helpful in both directions.


Differences that I’ve found that surprize others the most are in bold italics. Specifically, that player substitutions in hockey are far more common, that hockey players can hit each other, and that there is playable area behind the net.



Which version of each game?


There are many types soccer and hockey played around the world. This guide will refer to the game outlined in IFAB’s “The Laws of the Game” and endorsed by FIFA, as found here: https://resources.fifa.com/image/upload/ifab-laws-of-the-game-2020-21.pdf?cloudid=d6g1medsi8jrrd3e4imp


Likewise, hockey will refer to the game described in “The NHL Rulebook” found here: http://www.nhl.com/nhl/en/v3/ext/rules/2018-2019-NHL-rulebook.pdf


Why “soccer” and not “football”? To minimize confusion. People may scoff when you say ‘soccer’ but they’re never confused.


If I get around to translating NFL/XFL/CFL football to rugby, I’ll call football ‘gridiron’ or something so that there’s nobody gets to use ‘football’.


Why “hockey” and not “ice hockey”? To the field hockey fans out there, both of you can send me stern letters at jackd@sfu.ca .



You should do this for other sports.
I did, for baseball and cricket. https://www.stats-et-al.com/2018/08/baseball-cricket-translation-guide.html



Soccer (Football)

Hockey (Ice Hockey)

Playing Area

Playing Area

The field is between 90m and 120m in length and between 45m and 90m in width.


See page 37 of IFAB: Laws of the Game at https://resources.fifa.com/image/upload/ifab-laws-of-the-game-2020-21.pdf?cloudid=d6g1medsi8jrrd3e4imp for details.

The rink is 60.96m long and 21.33m wide in North America.

The rink is exactly 60m long and 21m wide in the rest of the world.


See http://www.sportsfeelgoodstories.com/hockey-rink-dimensions-size-diagram/ for details.

The net 732cm wide and 244cm tall.


The is no playing surface behind the net, so depth is irrelevant.

The net is 182.9cm wide, 137.2cm tall, and 101.6cm deep.


There is 335cm (NA) or 400cm (World) of playing surface behind the front of the net.

The playing surface is marked with painted lines, but there are no barriers to prevent the ball from rolling off of the field.

Fibreglass boards and Plexiglas walls stop the puck from leaving play. Players often bounce the puck or each other off the boards intentionally.

All markings are painted on top of the grass or turf.

All markings are painted underneath the ice and are visible through it.




Soccer (Football)

Hockey (Ice Hockey)

Flow of Play

Flow of Play

Soccer is played over 2 halves of 45 minutes each.


The match clock continues when play is stopped, but some time is added to the end of each half at the referee’s discretion based on the amount of time lost dealing with some stoppages like injuries.

Hockey is played over 3 periods of 20 minutes each.


The game clock is stopped whenever play is stopped.

In regular season matches, ties after 90 minutes are resolved as a draw.

In regular season games, ties after 60 minutes are resolved with a 5-minute overtime that ends as soon as one team scores a goal. If the game is still tied, teams resolve the tie with penalty shots.

In elimination matches, ties after 90 minutes are resolved first with two halves of 15 minutes each. If the match is still tied, the tie is resolved with penalty kicks.

In elimination games, ties are resolved with additional 20-minute periods until one team scores a goal.

Some elimination rounds are two matches long, with each team acting as the home team for one match. In these rounds, the total number of goals determines the winner. If there is a tie, the team that scored more goals as the visitor wins. If the round is still tied, single match tie breakers are used.

Multi-game eliminations are resolved with an odd number of independent games, usually 7. The first team to win a majority of the games wins the round.

Play starts with one team controlling the ball.


Play is restarted with a throw-in if it leaves play from the side, a corner kick if it leaves play from the end by the defending team, or a goal kick if it leaves play from the end by the attacking team.


A throw-in is an over-the-head throw of the ball back into play by a player from the team that did not touch the ball last when it left play.


A corner kick is a kick into play by the attacking team.


A goal kick is a kick from the goalkeeper’s area by the defending team.

Play is always started or restarted with a faceoff, in which the referee drops the puck for one player from each team to contest.


At the start of each period or after a goal, the faceoff is taken from center ice.


The location of other faceoffs depends on the last legal position of the puck before the stoppage of play.




Soccer (Football)

Hockey (Ice Hockey)



The ball has a durable flexible surface. It weighs between 410 and 450 grams, and has a diameter of 22cm. Smaller balls are used for training and junior leagues.


The ball in inflated to between 600 g per cubic m and 1100 g per cubic m of pressure at the beginning of the match.

The puck is a flat, solid disk 2.5cm thick and 7.6cm diameter. It is made of hard rubber and weighs about 170 grams. The same size puck is used at every level. Sometimes a 250-gram puck is used for strength training.

The same ball is used throughout the match unless it becomes defective.

When the puck leaves play or becomes defective, a new one replaces it.

Players need shoes with little knives on the bottom called cleats.

Players need shoes with one big knife on the bottom called a skate.

Protective equipment includes shin guards, a mouth guard, and a groin cup.

Protective equipment includes shin guards, a groin cup, a visored helmet, upper body pads, padded pants,  padded gloves, and a mouth guard.

All players have a fibreglass stick.

Goalies have a larger stick, one special glove with a net, a helmet that covers the entire head, thicker pads, and a neck guard.




Soccer (Football)

Hockey (Ice Hockey)

Team Composition

Team Composition

There are 10 starting players, 1 goalkeeper and 1 backup goalkeeper. Between 3 and 12 substitutes are available for each team.

There are 20 players on a hockey team, including 12 forwards, 6 defenders, 1 goalkeeper, and 1 backup goalkeeper.

Only a fixed number of substitutions may be made, typically 3 and never more than 5.


This includes substitutions for injury and substitutions between halves.


Substitutions may only happen during stoppages.

Substitutions may be made any number of times, even during play.

This is done so frequently that no player other than the goalie is typically on the ice for more than 60 seconds in a row.


Groups of players called ‘lines’ are typically on the ice together. For example, a player might not just be a center, they would be a 3rd-line center, whom usually plays alongside two 3rd-line forwards.

Typically 10 running players and 1 goalkeeper are allowed on the field at once.

Typically 5 skating players and 1 goalkeeper are allowed on the ice at once.

The goalie may elect to leave their assigned area at any time and behave as if they were another non-goalie player.

The team may choose to remove or ‘pull’ their goalie at any time to allow an additional skating player.


This is common practice for the losing team near the end of the game.

Teams play in one several formations depending on the general strategy they wish to employ.


A popular formation is “4-4-2 flat” , or 4 defenders, 4 midfielders, and 2 forwards, in that order.


A much more aggressive, complex formation is “3-4-3”, which uses only 3 defenders, but 3 forwards.


Others include the 3-5-2, 4-3-3, and 4-5-1 formations.



Sources: https://www.soccermaniak.com/soccer-formations.html





Formations change by situation, given that the rink is relatively small, especially with skates making everything faster.

There are usually 3 forwards and 2 defenders on the ice at a time.


When trying to kill time during a penalty, a team typically uses 2 forwards and 2 defenders. They will often form a square ‘box’ in the defensive zone to block shots and steal the puck.

When the goalkeeper is removed, a team uses 4 forwards and 2 defenders. The defenders will wait and the ends of the blue line to stop the puck and prevent offsides.


                     Source: NHL. "Gritty's Pups on Ice"


Soccer (Football)

Hockey (Ice Hockey)

Penalties and Rules

Penalties and Rules

Infractions are punished with yellow cards and red cards. There is no immediate consequence of a yellow card, however a player with a yellow card that commits an additional offense may recieve a red card.


A player with a red card is removed from play for the rest of the match, and their team must continue the match with one fewer player.


In some tournament formats, yellow cards persist between matches.

Infractions are punished with 2-minute minor penalties, 4-minute double minor penalties, and 5-minute major penalties.


During a penalty, the punished player must leave the ice, and the punished team must play with one fewer player on the ice. The benefitting team is said to have a “power play”.


Minor penalties expire early when the team with a power play scores a goal. Major penalties do not expire early.


Punishments are independent and do not accumulate within a game or between games.

Fighting is not allowed and will probably result in a red card and other disciplinary action.

One-on-one fighting results in a 5-minute penalty for both teams. Since both teams have a player in the penalty box, both teams continue to play with five players and a goalie on the ice.


Fighting must be a one-on-one affair, and can only be done with bare fists. Sticks, skates, and other equipment may not be used as weapons.

Players may not intentionally touch the ball with any part of their arms beyond the shoulder.


Goals and goal-scoring plays that involve a rebound off a player’s arms are disallowed.


Handling the ball is not prohibited in cases where the ball is rebounded off a player’s head or feet, or when the player is using their hands to break a fall.

Players may touch the puck with any part of their body, but certain actions are not allowed.


Players may not pass to teammates with their hands. Players may pass with their skates, but such actions are rare.


Goals in which the puck was thrown or kicked into the net are disallowed. Rebounds off skates  that do not involve a kick are allowed.

Players may, however, use their hands to take a mid-air puck and move it to their own stick.

A player is in an offside position if they are nearer the opponent’s goal line than all opposing players (except the goalkeeper).


If a player in an offside position is involved in a play by their team, play is stopped.


Offsides do not apply to goal kicks, throw-ins, or corner kicks.

A player is in an offside position if they are nearer the opponent’s goal than both painted blue lines. (This area is called the ‘offensive zone’ to the player and the ‘defensive zone’ to the opponent)


If the puck enters the offensive zone when a player is offside, play is stopped.

Physical contact is allowed provided that it is nopt careless, reckless, or with excessive force according to the referee.


Prohibited contact includes charging, jumping at, tripping, tackling, striking, or pushing someone.




Physical contact in the form of ‘checking’ or a controlled tackle is allowed against a non-goalie player controlling the puck (or was controlling it within the last half a second).


The checking player may not use their stick or skates to check, they may not check a player from behind or in an otherwise vulnerable position, they may not aim for the head or the legs, and they may not allow their feet to leave the ice during the check.

Checking into the boards is allowed.

Knocking an opponent over is relatively common, and isn’t prohibited.

Luis Suarez bites people. ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uy31pdfntUw , at 0:35, 0:48, 1:17)

Brad Marchand licks people. ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pgi3Gv9uqjA , at 1:04)



                     "DC Puppy World Cup" by Miki J. is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Soccer (Football)

Hockey (Ice Hockey)

Fan Experience

Fan Experience

On average, teams score about 1.2 goals each in a professional game.

On average, teams score about 3 goals each in a professional game.

There is one top-tier league called the EUFA Champion’s League and several national professional leagues like the Premier League (England), Serie A (Brazil), and La Liga (Spain).


There are interleague matches, and EUFA is made of top teams from their respective national leagues in Europe.

There are two top-tier ice hockey leagues: The NHL in North America, and the KHL in Russia and part of Europe. The NHL is older and has more money, but the skill level between the two leagues is very close.


There are no games between the leagues, but some players change leagues.

It’s usually easy to keep track of where the ball is on the field.

It’s often very hard to track where the puck is on the ice. It gets a lot easier with time, but even players lose track of it sometimes.


Don’t be intimidated and use the player movements as context.



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