National Hockey League (NHL) players who are appointed to Team USA, the United States national hockey team, must know the difference between competition rules that apply in the NHL and those that exist in the Olympics. The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) formulates the rules that govern hockey games in the Olympics, and many of these rules are the exact opposite rules found in the NHL.
Olympic rules require hockey players to wear a helmet at all times while the player is on the rink. This differs from NHL play because, in the NHL, a player can be on the ice without a helmet until the referee blows the whistle. However, in the Olympics, if a player loses his helmet during competition, he must immediately withdraw from the ice or face a penalty.
The Olympics has a zero tolerance policy towards head checking. This means that any player who checks his opponent to his head, including the neck, will be subject to a penalty. The NHL does not have any rules against head checking.
In the event of a tie during an Olympic hockey game, there will be five minutes of four-on-four sudden death overtime play (10 minutes if the game is a playoff or bronze medal game and 20 minutes if the game is for the gold medal). If after the initial sudden-victory time period the teams are still tied, the Olympic rules call for a shift to a shootout format with a coin toss deciding which team will shoot first. In the NHL, overtime play is handled in the opposite manner. NHL ties are determined by a shootout for all regular season games with sudden death overtime play only being introduced during the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Goalies in the Olympics have more freedom than those playing the NHL. In the Olympics, goalies are permitted to play the puck anywhere behind the goaltender's net. In the NHL, goalies are only allowed to play the puck if it is directly behind the net with all other areas off bounds. Another plus for goalies during the Olympics is that the referee will blow the whistle if an offensive player invades the goalie crease, with contact not being a requirement for the penalty.
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