The difference between ice hockey and field hockey

5 Differences Between Ice Hockey And Field Hockey

Depending on the country in which you stay, or where you grew up, the word “hockey” can mean different things to you. In North America and countries like Canada, Finland, Russia, the USA, Switzerland, and more, the word hockey refers to ice hockey and not field hockey. 

However, in countries like Australia, Netherlands, Germany, and India (among others) the word hockey talks about the game of field hockey. 

But what is field hockey and what exactly is ice hockey? And what are the visible differences between these two individual sports? 

This is what we will be exploring today as we go through this article.

Dissimilarities Between Ice Hockey And Field Hockey

Even though both sports go by the name, “hockey”, there are so many dissimilarities between them. However, today I have grouped the differences in the sport into five sections based on the major and most evident contrasting traits of the two sports. 

1. Surface Of Playing The Game

Difference in the playing surface in ice hockey from field hockey

First, we have the surface on which both games are played. 

In ice hockey, the game is played on an ice surface which is referred to as an ice hockey rink. The ice rink can be an indoor ice hockey rink which is artificially made and maintained to keep the game running or an outdoor ice hockey rink that is created during the winter seasons.

When it comes to the dimensions of ice hockey rinks, it measures 200 ft by 85 ft. But this is particularly true for NHL rinks and some other rinks in North America. However, when we talk about ice hockey rinks for international games conducted by the IIHF (International Ice Hockey Federation), the rink measures approximately 200ft by 100ft (more accurately 60m by 30m)

Now, when we move over to field hockey, things are a lot different. The contrasting traits start from the fact that field hockey is not played on ice but on a surface referred to as a hockey pitch. 

Unlike ice hockey, field hockey is played on natural turf (grass), artificial turf (synthetic pitch), watered turf (making the turf wet reduces friction), or an indoor boarded surface. 

Also, the dissimilarity in the playing surface is not limited to the nature of the surface but also the size of the surface. The dimension of a hockey pitch is 91.5m by 55m (100 yd by 60 yd)

Between the rink and pitch of ice hockey and field hockey, the pitch in field hockey stands out to be the biggest having an area of 5,027 sq meters (1.24 acres). This is quite massive, especially when compared with the 1,800 sq meters of the ice hockey rink. 

2. Difference In Game Equipment 

Difference in game equipment

Next is the difference in the materials of the game. There are a number of differences in the equipment used in both field and ice hockey. However, for this article, we will be looking at the stick, the ball, and the goal net. 

The Stick 

Even though the stick is the primary equipment of play in both variations of hockey, the sticks in both sports are of different sizes and means of handling it. 

Ice hockey sticks are made up of two sides which have a flat surface. The stick also has a long blade that is curved to allow for efficient handling of the puck on the ice. The same can not be said for the stick in field hockey. 

For field hockey, the stick also has two sides, however, while one side is flat, the other side of the stick is curved and rounded (having a convex meniscus-like shape)

In addition, ice hockey sticks can be held in any pattern depending on whether a player is left-handed or right-handed. This means that the hand that will be on the shaft and knob of the stick is not fixed and can be adjusted to your active playing hand. 

But, in field hockey, the left hand must always be the hand on top of the stick (at the knob) while the left-hand grips a comfortable point allowing the shaft of the stick. 

The Puck Vs The Ball

If you have seen an ice hockey game and a field hockey match, you will notice that the main item of focus in the game (which are the balls) is not made the same. Neither do they look alike in any way. 

In ice hockey what the stick is used to play is called a puck. The puck is a flat one-inch thick disc-like ball. It has two flat faces and a diameter of three inches. A puck in ice hockey is made from vulcanized rubber and it is black in color

The black color of the puck in ice hockey is standard across every league and tournament. The reason for this color is that it creates a contrast with the white color of the ice rink, making it easier to see. 

Field hockey on the order hand popularly uses a dimple ball in their games. The ball is usually white with small uniform dimples scattered evenly around the entire ball. In contrast to the black puck in ice hockey, field hockey balls are spherical and they also come in colors such as white, yellow, orange, and pink

The reason for the dimples in field hockey balls is for promoting speed and increased grip on the turf while playing on a wet surface. While the purpose of the bright colors is to allow for visibility of the puck and they may change based on the color of the surface and light intensity. 

However, white is the most commonly chosen color for the ball in field hockey.

The Net

Another visible difference between ice hockey and field hockey is the size and dimensions of the goal net. The rink size in ice hockey is considerably a lot smaller when compared to the playing surface in field hockey. 

And just as there is a big difference in field size, there is also a proportional difference in the dimensions of the goal net.

Firstly, in ice hockey, the net has a dimension of 6ft by 4ft (72 inches by 48 inches). This means that the net has a width of 6ft and a height of 4ft. The size makes it easier for goalies in ice hockey to cover the net from shots from the opposing team and it also resonates well with the small size of the rink. 

Since we are talking about the resonance between the size of the goal net and the playing surface, it will be off if a sport with a field that is almost three times the size of an ice hockey rink possesses a goal net of the same size. 

Therefore, in contrast to the 6×4 ft dimension in ice hockey, the dimension of the net in field hockey is 12ft by 7ft (3.66m by 2.16m). This means that the dimension of the goal net is double with a width of 12ft and a height of 7ft. 

3. Difference In Players’ Equipment 

Difference in the equipment used by ice hockey and field hockey players

Another difference between the two sets of sports is in the dress and amount of body gear worn to games. Since they are played under different sets of conditions, the dressing of players will be adapted to their specific conditions.

The Body Gear

For body gear, let us start with ice hockey. Players in ice hockey wear thick and protective gear because of:

  • The temperate of the rink with is needed to maintain the condition of the ice
  • To protect themselves against high-impact collusion

Ice hockey is a very fast game, and this speed on ice makes the game prone to collusion between players and the puck. Therefore, as a means of ensuring the welfare of players on the ice, they wear protective rigs. 

Some of the gears worn include:

  • Helmet
  • Jersey
  • Shoulder Pad
  • Elbow Pad
  • Knee Pad
  • Jockstrap
  • Shin Guard
  • Mouth Guard
  • Chest Protector
  • Gloves

As for field hockey, although players also use protective rigs, it is not as much as that of ice hockey. The equipment worn by players in field hockey includes: 

  • Jersey
  • Shin Guard
  • Mouth Guard
  • Elbow Protector
  • Leg guard
  • Face mask

However, for protection, the goalies in ice and field hockey, wear an extra set of protection. For example in field hockey, the goalie wears a helmet, has an extra set of padding for his shoulders and chest, and also has a hand pad for stopping the ball. 

The Skates Vs Cleats

To be able to move on the ice, ice hockey skaters make use of skates instead of cleats used in field hockey. Using skates allows players to move on ice easier and faster. This is also part of what makes ice hockey a fast-paced game. 

Whereas, in field hockey, cleats are worn by players to move on the ice. Cleats allow for better stance and grip of the playing surface.

The Helmet

In ice hockey, every player wears a helmet. Initially, when ice hockey began, players did not wear helmets and this led to concussions and several injuries to the face and skull. 

Later on, helmets were added to the game and they have been an important part of the rule. In fact, players are penalized and given a minor penalty for intentionally removing their helmets during games.

However, in field hockey, only the goalie wears a helmet. Although, players are allowed to wear a face mask or goggles as a means of protecting their face and eyes.

4. How It Is Played 

How the game is played

When we look at the differences in how the two sports are played, more differences become visible between the two sports. 

Scoring And Goals

In every sport, the main purpose of the game is to score a goal. In ice hockey, a goal can be scored from any point on the ice. It does not matter if it is on the defensive, offensive, or neutral zone, as far as it enters into the net, it is counted as a goal. However, unlike in field hockey, ice hockey players need to be wary of offsides and icing.

However, when it comes to field hockey, it is different. The only point where players are allowed to take shots in field hockey is in the “striking zone”. The striking zone is a semi-circle that encapsulates the goal net and the space in front of the goalie.

If a player makes a shot outside of the striking zone, it is not counted as a goal if it enters into the goal net.

Physical Contact With Puck/Ball

During ice hockey games, the rules authorize players to make some level of physical contact with the puck. For instance, players are allowed to use their hands to hit the puck to a player in their defensive zone and they are also allowed to catch the puck from the air. Also, kicking the puck is also allowed by players.

The same can not be said about field hockey. In field hockey, there are strict rules on using any part of the body to obstruct the movement of the puck. This includes purposefully blocking the puck with body parts or standing in the line of shot to stop with the body. 

5. Difference In Game Rules 

Difference in the rules in ice hockey and field hockey

Since the way the game is played differs, it is only appropriate that they way the rules of the game are different. 

Duration (Length Of Play Time)

Ice hockey is played for a duration of 60 minutes which is divided into three periods of twenty minutes each. In between these periods, the game has two intermissions of 15 minutes. 

When it comes to field hockey, it also has a duration of 60 minutes. However, unlike ice hockey, it is divided into four quarters of 15 minutes each. Also, another difference is that in field hockey there are three intermissions

Each intermission in field hockey last for 2 minutes except for intermission during half time. This means that the intermission between the first and second quarters, and the third and fourth quarters last for 2 minutes. While the intermission between the second and third quarter (half of the game time), last for 15 minutes. 

Number Of Players 

Ice hockey is composed of six players from each team on the rink. The teams compose of:

  • A Goalie
  • 2 Defensemen
  • 3 Forwards

There can only be a maximum of six players at any time on the ice from a team in ice hockey. However, the number of players can be reduced when they serve penalty time in the penalty box. 

The number of players in field hockey is quite different. In field hockey, each team has 11 players on the ice. The distribution of players works just like the same format in soccer. The formation of the 11 players depends on the formation used by the team.

The names of the position, in field hockey, include:

  • Attackers
  • Midfielders 
  • Defenders 
  • Goalie

In addition, in ice hockey, there are 14 players on the bench who perform shifts and line changes with their teammates. But in field hockey, the number of players on the bench is five

Penalties And Fouls 

The way penalties and fouls are given in ice hockey and field hockey differs from one to another. In ice hockey even if an infraction occurs, it is assessed as either:

  • Minor Penalty:
    A minor penalty in ice hockey is given for an offense or infraction that is given to actions that are not severe. When a minor penalty is assessed to a player the player will serve a two-minute penalty time in the penalty box.
  • Major Penalty:
    A major penalty is given when a player or players commit infractions that are severe or can cause injuries to a player. In addition, players who are assessed a major penalty serve a penalty time of 5 minutes. 
  • Misconduct Penalty:
    Misconduct penalties are more severe penalties for actions that were deliberately meant to injure a player or attack an official of the game. They may result in the ejection of a player from a game and even future games.

However, when we move to field hockey the three punishments for offenses are free hit, penalty corner, and penalty stroke.

  • Free Hit:
    A free hit in field hockey is given when a player is fouled on the field. Specifically, it is given to a player when he is fouled anywhere on the field but outside of the striking zone. 
  • Penalty Corner:
    A penalty corner is given to a player when the defense of the opposing them commits a foul in the striking zone. However, the foul must be unintentional that does not affect the scoring chance of the opponent. 
  • Penalty Stroke:
    These are given to a player when the defense of the opposing team intentionally commits a foul inside the attacking 25 line or inside the striking zone of the opposing team which prevents a goal or a scoring opportunity. 


Another key difference between the two sports is that in field hockey, there is no offside rule, unlike ice hockey. This means that players are able to pass the ball to themselves no matter where are. 

Also, since ice hockey requires the use of frozen water (ice), it can only be played in a cold environment. This means either in a place where natural ice forms or by artificially forming ice in an arena. 

So this brings us to the end of the differences between ice hockey and field hockey. Thank you for reading.

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