Where can the goalie play the puck? (with pictures)

The hockey goalie is one of the most fascinating positions in all of sports. We know the main job of the goalie is to stop the puck from going into the net, but some of the other rules around a goalie can be confusing. For instance, where can the goalie play the puck on a rink? Often, you see the goalie rushing for the puck before an opponent gets there, or behind his net handling the puck. Can he play the puck only in the crease or are there other areas where he is allowed to touch the puck?

A goalie can play the puck anywhere between the red line in the middle of the ice surface and the goal line at the end of the rink and in the trapezoid area behind the net. If the goalie plays the puck outside of these areas it will result in a two minute penalty.

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Where can a goalie play the puck?

Green lines show where the goalie CAN play the puck

A goalie has a large area where he can play the puck. The goalie is allowed to skate out and use his goalie stick to capture and pass or shoot the puck everywhere between the center red line and the red goal line that extends near the end of the ice surface between the two boards and goes through the crease.

In addition, the goalie is allowed to play the puck in the trapezoid area behind the net of his goal. The trapezoid area is defined by lines that are 6 feet from either goal post and extend diagonally to points 28 feet apart at the end boards.

Where can a goalie not play the puck?

#1: Over the red line to the opponent’s half of the rink

The goalie is not allowed to be involved in the play at all over the red line into the opponent’s zone. This includes both playing the puck or checking an opponent.  If the goalie does either of these things he will receive a two minute minor penalty. This rule can be found in the NHL rule book under section 27.7.

I can honestly say in my 40 plus years of watching hockey that I have never seen a goalie be penalized for this. The only time I have ever seen a goalie pass the red line is to go down to the other end for a fight, but at this time the whistle would have been blown and the play would have been called dead.

This is a rule that was adopted from the earlier days of the NHL when goalies wore much less padding that did not restrict their movement. It is possible to imagine a goalie making a save and then rushing the puck up the ice. Or, you could see a goalie playing more of a rover style that involved being in the net part of the time and out at others.

In an old era of hockey, you can see why this may be problematic. Today, with so much padding & equipment, a goalie is already too restricted to be skating all over the rink.

Red lines show where the goalie CANNOT play the puck

#2: In the designated areas behind the goal

There are two designated areas behind the goal where the goalie is NOT allowed to play the puck. Each one of them is located in the corners of the rink which are beside the trapezoid and behind the goal line.

In these designated areas the determining factor would be the position of the puck. This means that the goalie cannot touch the puck once the puck has gone into either of these designated areas, but the goalie is allowed to stand in these areas and play the puck as long as the puck has not crossed into the designated area.

If the goalie does play the puck while it has gone into the designated area he will be assessed a two minute minor penalty. And, as with all goalies assessed a minor penalty the coach will choose another player to serve the penalty on the goalies behalf.

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One caveat to the rule: the goaltender would not be assessed a minor penalty if he touched the puck in the designated area while he maintains skate contact with his crease. What this would look like in actual play would be something similar to the goaltender being down on the ice while his skate is in the crease and he swings his stick at the puck in the designated area.

Why do they limit the goal playing the puck in certain areas?

The limit of the goalie playing the puck in the restricted areas behind the net was introduced in 2005-2006 as an attempt to increase offense.

Prior to this season there was no such restricted area for playing the puck, and many felt that one of the reasons that scoring had decreased in the NHL was that goaltenders had become so good at handling the puck.  The ability for the goaltenders to retrieve pucks allowed them to move the puck quickly to their defensemen and stop offences from being able to create a good forecheck and establish offensive zone possession.

The belief was that instituting the restricted areas would stop the goalies from playing as many pucks shot into the zone, and give a better chance for the offence to regain the puck thus creating more scoring chances.

Advantages of goalie playing the puck

The main advantage of the goalie playing the puck is to help their defensemen out. The goalie is able to get to the puck, stop it and pass the puck to one of his defensemen before the offensive player gets there. This enables the defensive team to transition quickly from defence to offence as well as save the defensemen from getting checked by the offensive team. Over the course of a game or season this is invaluable to prevent wear and tear on the defence.

Many teams have been frustrated by a goalie who is great at playing the puck by retrieving it and sending it to the defence before they can establish any pressure. Some of the best goalies at handling the puck all-time are Martin Brodeur and Marty Turco, while current NHL players Carey Price, Ben Bishop and Mike Smith are known for their stick-handling abilities.

Disadvantages of goalie playing the puck

The major disadvantage of a goalie playing the puck is that any mistake made by the goalie is usually a massive mistake often leading to a goal.

When the goalie leaves his net to play the puck the major worry is that now there is nobody in the net! So if he goalie happens to have a bad pass or the forward pressures them to cause a turnover it leaves a wide open net for the offensive team to shoot out. It does seem that when a goalie makes a mistake in this area it ends up in a goal.

Take a look at this one.  It’s game 1 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals between the Edmonton Oilers and Carolina Hurricanes. Ty Conklin, the Edmonton goalie, goes out to play a puck behind the net with 30 seconds left in the game and the score tied 4-4. This is a textbook example of a goalie handling the puck poorly!



Goalies handling the puck outside of their crease is a significant part of hockey. As with any other skill, some do it well and some do it poorly. If you remember that the goalie can handle the puck basically anywhere except for the corners of their zone and past the red line you will understand the game correctly.

But hope for times when the goalie mishandles the puck – this always creates a great combination of angst and excitement in the game!

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