Players On The Ice Rink

How Many Players Are On the Ice Rink In Hockey?

Ice hockey has quite enticing sides, which don’t get talked about enough. And you’re here looking for some answers. The number of players on the ice rink during different parts of an Ice Hockey game is something that’s highly variable. You might find it confusing too. 

Today, we’re here to clear the clutter once and for all. Read on with us to get into the insights behind the number of players on the Ice in an Ice Hockey game. 

The Standard 6: 

Like any other sport in the world, the amount of players a team can carry is very well defined in Ice Hockey too.

Players On Ice Rink

That might feel like a contradictory statement because we’re discussing the rapidly changing amount of players on the ice rink, but there’s a standard, with which each game is started in NHL. 

Usually, each team comes out on the Ice Rink with 6 players. Excluding the goaltender, who isn’t counted as the usual skater, there are 5 players who actively take part in the gameplay in Ice Hockey. 

Out of these 5; 3 skaters are the forwards, and two have the role of defensemen. 

What Is NHL Roster Size? 

There’s a standard number of 6 players from each team in an NHL game. But there’s a level more fundamental than this one. The players for the game are chosen from the roster that each team has.

NHL regulates the team rosters every season. Right now, the maximum number of players a team can have on its roster is 23.

This hasn’t been the same always, there were variations in this number. You can read more about the NHL roster in a detailed manner in our Ice Hockey Section here. 

Does Only Roster Player Get Called Up?

To put it simply, no. After the trade deadline ends, the NHL roster limit is waived off. And the teams can call up minors for the NHL matches.

It gives teams the cushion to make rotations in the squad, and also discover new talents, and test new prospects on a competitive level.

Not only the young talent gets a window of opportunity, but some veterans who’re sent down to minor league also get a chance to show their worth. 

What Is Game Roster Size?

Since we have mentioned the NHL roster, we now have a base to build the argument. While the trade deadline is still valid, each team can dress up a maximum of 20 players from its active NHL roster of 23 players. 

Players On Ice Rink

Along with 18 skaters, there are 2 goaltenders on the game squad.

The Ever-Changing Number: 

Here it gets fascinating. It may be easy to say that there are 6 players on the ice rink for each team, but it’s the number that keeps on changing throughout the game.

It has its own practical reasons and factors. Which mainly revolves around how the game has been built and regulated over several decades in the last 2 centuries. 

From now on in this article, we will discuss the reasons behind this variation.

The Effect of PIM: 

If we had to name one factor which has the most to do with the number of players on the Ice rink is PIM. PIM stands for Penalty Infraction Minutes.

Every time a player commits an infraction, they have to serve minutes while being discarded from the gameplay for a certain amount of time. Which results in a change in the number of players a team is carrying. 

PIM has its own variations and types. We have a detailed article written on it. Read it here. 

Every time a team loses a player due to PIM, the opposing side is said to be on Power-play. Where they are technically dominant in terms of players present on the ice rink.

This is the moment that all teams try to exploit by scoring! We will be discussing more such possible situations ahead. Keep reading!

For context, here are the types of Penalty Infraction Minutes and their respective Durations. 

Minor Penalty2-Minutes
Major Penalty5-Minutes
Misconduct PenaltySuspension From game

The Over-Time: 

Next, we have the Overtime. Like soccer, there’s additional time to settle the odds if the game is tied after the standard time ends. In Ice Hockey, there are three periods of 20 minutes.

After the third and final period, if the game is tied. There is overtime.

The players on the ice rink have different rules when the overtime commences. And here are two situations that vary according to the number of players on the ice rink:

Regular Season

Let’s talk about the overtime in regular NHL games. After 60 minutes of gameplay, there is 5-minute overtime with the sudden death goal rule. 

According to our topic in question, the teams go out in a manner of 3-on-3 in the overtime.

This means that each team has 3 players excluding the goaltender. If you count the goalie in, it’s 4 on each side in the overtime of regular NHL games. 

Players On Ice Rink


But there is another possibility too. Yet another variation in the number of players present on the ice rink.

It’s the Stanley Cup Play-Offs. Because there is no penalty shootout like in the regular games. There is another 20-minute period as the overtime. 

Like the time regulations, the amount of players is also the same as standard gameplay in the Stanley Cup Play-Offs. This is a 5-on-5 game, and the goaltenders are the 6th of their respective sides. 

Can You Have A 5 on 2 In Ice Hockey?

After the conversation we had before, you must be asking questions. There are different possibilities that pop up due to the implications of PIM.

Teams can incur situations when they are shorthanded. Or on the contrary, can have the power-play in their favor too. Here are some of the possible team orientations that arise consequently: 

  • One-Player-Down: The match will look like 5-on-4 in this instance because one of the teams has a player serving the Penalty Infraction Minutes. 
  • Two-Player-Down: Here, the game will be like 3-on-5, which shows the two players on one side are serving the PIM. 
  • Both-Teams-Shorthanded: Another possibility is when both sides have players serving the PIMs. It can result in 4-on-4, or 3-on-4.
  • Regular-Overtime: Since there are already 3 players on the rink, if any team incurs an infraction, the other team is given the power-play as they can add a 4th skater to their gameplay and shorthand the side with PIM. There can’t be less than 3 players on the rink for each team in any given scenario. 

So, can we have a 5-on-2 in Ice Hockey? No, a team can’t have less than 3 skaters on the rink during the ongoing game in any scenario. 


Since we’re wrapping it up, it’s incredible to know how the number of players on the Ice rink changes in different scenarios. We covered all the possible situations when this happens. Next time you watch Ice Hockey, you won’t get confused about the players a team carries during Power-plays and Overtime. 

There’s a lot more to come in our Ice Hockey section! Make sure you check it out and keep up with us for more! Adios!

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