How Many Players are on the Ice in Hockey? [Answered]

How Many Players are on the Ice in Hockey

While at hockey games, you may have noticed that the number of players on the ice varies depending on the time. A key aspect of hockey that newcomers need to understand is how many players are allowed on the ice at any given time. In different situations, different numbers of players are on the ice, so this is not always straightforward.

So, how many players are on the ice in hockey? As a rule of thumb, each team has five (5) players on the ice plus a goalie; however, the player’s numbers on the ice are generally determined according to the game scenario. During penalty serving, the penalized team will decrease to four (4) or three (3) and become shorthanded for two or more minutes. Each team will play with three (3) skaters during regular season overtime.

Let’s break down each scenario and find out how many players are on the ice in each one.

How Many Players Dress for a Game?

The NHL allows each team to dress a roster of 20 players for each game.

Accordingly, this is broken down as follows:

  • 12 Forwards
  • 6 Defensemen
  • 2 Goalies
How Many Players Dress for a Game

So, a team can prepare a maximum of 20 players for a game. Moreover, want to know more about how the NHL roster works? I just compiled a detailed article on it.

NHL Rosters On Game Day

NHL teams must be obliged to some rules when they select who to play in the coming game. The 20 dressed men for the match must be from the 23-man active roster in the team.

NHL Rosters On Game Day

The two, the game roster and the active roster, can replace in every game, and the team management decides how they should move around the players to create a strong line-up game day plan.

NHL central registry clears the decisions regarding the roster selection before considering them official after this, and players would be eligible to play in the game according to the team’s pre-set guidelines.

How Many Players are during the Normal Course of Play?

In the regular session of the game (without overtime or penalties), both teams will have 6 players on the ice:

  • 3 Forwards (Center, Left Wing, Right Wing)
  • 2 Defensemen
  • 1 Goalie

This ordinary course of the game is also called full-strength hockey or a 5-on-5 hockey game. The goalie stays in the net while the five players are on the ice; hence, strength is always counted as five instead of 6 generally.

5 on 5 players on the ice

Typically, the NHL game is played 5-on-5; however, there are scenarios when a team has fewer than five (5) skaters on the ice.

What Happens to the Number of Players on the Ice with Penalties? 

Penalties are pretty common in ice hockey. These are the infractions that cause a team to lose one player. If a team commits a penalty, their player will be made to sit in the penalty box for 2 to 5 minutes, reducing the number of players to 4. The other team will keep playing with the regular five players. This is called power-play and is an opportunity for the team with more players to score. In a power play, there can be three different situations. It can be:

  • 5-on-4
  • 5-on-3
  • 4-on-3 (one team has one penalty, the other two)

In the event that both teams have taken penalties at the same time, they will have to play 4-on-4. It is also helpful to understand that the teams cannot play with less than three players on the ice.

How Many Players are on the Ice in Overtime?

The number of players also gets changes during the overtime periods. If a hockey game is tied in regulation play, the game will enter the overtime period to determine the winner of the game.

A five-minute overtime period is used to decide the winner. If the overtime period is also tied, the game enters a shootout. To avoid ties in the overtime periods, the NHL has determined that the number of players in the overtime period will be 3-on-3. This increases the chances of scoring because the ice is now entirely open.

3 on 3 players on the ice

Moreover, if a team takes a penalty in overtime, the game is not played at 3-on-2. As soon as play resumes, a team gets a 4-on-3 power play. Having a 3-on-2 penalty would simply put the team at a disadvantage.

How Many Players are on the Ice for Playoff Overtime?

In the regular season, the teams play overtime at 3-on-3, but the playoffs have different rules. 5-on-5 play the overtime in the playoffs.

All the other rules remain the same in the playoff as in the regulation period. There is a 15- minute intermission time and a 20 minutes period until a sudden-death goal decides the winning team.

What Happens If You Have the Wrong Number of Players on the Ice?

It seems strange enough, but it does happen that a team may enter with the wrong number of players because to error is human! This may happen because the number of players keeps changing with different situations in ice hockey, as we have seen above. So, what to do if a team enters the wrong number of players on the ice? Pay the price 🙂

What Happens If You Have the Wrong Number of Players on the Ice

Yes, if a team comes with the wrong number of players due to any reason or miscommunication, they will have to pay the penalty. There will be a 2 minute minor penalty for the team, where they will have one lesser player for 2 minutes.

Frequently Asked Questions

What about the roster limit?

NHL teams balance their various rosters daily, which sometimes becomes complicated. However, a tight roster plan to make all players eligible to play makes hockey a benefit and entertainment play for players and fans.


In a nutshell, this is all about how many players are on the ice in hockey. The most exciting thing about this change is that it’s dynamic and keeps on changing with the different situations in the game.

Do you know what that teaches me? When life throws a different situation at you, adapt accordingly. Change your strategy, change your ways, and you’ll be successful. If you don’t adapt to new situations, there are penalties to pay! Remember, only the adaptable ones survive.

Happy Striving!

Related Posts:

  1. What is the red line in Hockey?
  2. Why do hockey players get kicked out of faceoffs?
  3. Can you have a 5-on-2 in hockey?
  4. How do hockey players know when to change lines?
Austin Taylor

Who is Austin Taylor?

Meet Austin Taylor, your go-to source for everything ice hockey! With a passion for the sport that’s as deep as the ice itself, Austin Taylor brings you concise, expert insights and nitty-gritty details on all things hockey. From gear reviews to strategy breakdowns, Austin Taylor is your trusted guide to navigating the exhilarating world of ice hockey. Get ready to lace up your skates and dive into the game with Austin Taylor as your ultimate companion.

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