Officiating guidelines for a Return to Hockey

Hockey Canada has compiled this Return to Hockey document so officials have access to the information they require to safely get back on the ice, and are comfortable with their role as the third team on the ice.

This document addresses the needs of on-ice officials, both from a standpoint of certification for the 2020-21 season, and guidelines and procedures for working games at all levels. This includes everything from the basics of face-offs and line changes to greeting coaches before a game.

Download the Officiating Guidelines (PDF)

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Do officials need to wear a cloth mask while on the ice?

The wearing of a cloth mask during a game is the choice of the official. Like players, the mask may hamper breathing during exercise and may also become sweaty. However, if the official feels more comfortable wearing a cloth mask, they should choose to do so. A cloth mask should be worn by all officials anywhere in the facility prior to and just after leaving the ice.

Wearing a cloth mask alone will not prevent the spread of COVID-19. Officials must consistently and strictly adhere to good hygiene and public health authority guidelines, including frequent hand washing and physical distancing. Continue to monitor public health authority guidelines specific to the wearing of cloth masks.

2. Should officials be required to wear gloves while on the ice?

Hockey Canada does not recommend that officials wear gloves. The concern is if the official’s hands come in contact with the virus while wearing the gloves, the virus will remain on the gloves until changed. If the official then touches their face, the virus would be transferred and there is a greater risk of contracting the virus. Therefore, unless the official plans on changing gloves after every face-off, gloves would not be an effective way to prevent transmission.

More important for officials is to:

  • Bring hand sanitizer to the game and utilize it during stoppages of play when possible and at the end of each period.
  • Avoid touching their face, nose, mouth and eyes with unclean hands.
  • Immediately address any injuries, such as an exposed cut, before returning to the game.

3. Should officials consider using electronic whistles?

Electronic whistles are an acceptable option for on-ice officials. Using a standard finger-grip whistle could propel moisture droplets into the air and potentially expose other officials, players and coaches to the virus. Electronic whistles are a personal choice that each official can make. Regardless of the type whistle used, however, it is important that the official cleans/disinfects the whistle between periods and after each game.

Officials should make every effort to avoid blowing their whistle when in close proximity to other players or officials. When necessary, officials should blow their whistle in a different direction.

4. How do officials handle pre-game handshakes with coaches?

The Hockey Canada procedure is for officials to approach each bench and meet the coaches. Officials should not shake hands with coaches, and should maintain proper physical distancing six feet from the bench. Official(s) are encouraged to make eye contact with the coaches.

This is an excellent opportunity to establish expectations regarding communication with the coaches, or captains, during the game. This should also be the standard practice/position if it is necessary to communicate with a coach during the game.

5. What is Hockey Canada’s recommendation regarding pre-game or post-game handshakes for players and team officials?

Hockey Canada has eliminated the practice of pre- and post-game handshakes between players and team officials as a result of COVID-19. This will remain in effect until otherwise directed. Officials should not shake hands, or bump fists, with players or coaches. If coaches approach the officials on the ice after the game with the intent of shaking hands, a quick wave and thank you as the official maintains physical distancing would be appropriate.

6. Many officials’ dressing rooms can be small. How are officials going to be able to practice physical distancing when there may be limited space for officials?

Officials must follow public health authority guidelines, and those of the facility, and respect physical distancing where required. There are times when physical distancing may not be possible and the recommendation in those situations is to wear a cloth mask.

If physical distancing is required in a designated officials’ dressing room, officials should work with facility staff to see if more rooms may be available. If the officials’ dressing room is small, a rotation system could be considered. This may also require a little extra teamwork as the next game crew can arrive and get dressed a little earlier so the crew coming off the ice has some space, or the crew coming off the ice can wait a few minutes until the next crew is dressed and can step out. The bottom line is good teamwork may be necessary to respect everyone’s space.

In some cases, there may be situations where access to the officials’ dressing room is not permitted. It may require officials arrive at the rink fully dressed except skates, helmet and sweater – just like the players. It is important to work with the local association to understand facility restrictions and protocols so officials can be prepared upon arrival at the facility.

7. What protocol should officials follow if a player is spitting/blowing their nose without a tissue on the ice or in the bench area?

Officials should encourage and promote proper hygiene habits with players, as outlined in the Hockey Canada Safety Guidelines. Officials may provide reminders and, if necessary, communicate warnings to players and coaches regarding as covered in the Officiating Points of Focus under subsection – Spitting.

8. How should officials handle the management of player equipment on the ice? (e.g. broken/dropped sticks, neck guards, mouthguards, gloves, etc.)

Officials are directed not to pick up any equipment that may be on the ice. At the first stoppage of play, officials shall direct the player to retrieve their own equipment. When players are being escorted to the penalty bench and equipment is left on the ice, officials should follow the Hockey Canada Officiating Procedures and direct one player from the same team to collect any equipment.

9. Should officials disinfect their gear after each game?

It is recommended by Hockey Canada that officials wash their equipment (jersey, pants, etc.) after each day of assignments, following manufacturer guidelines. It is also good practice to disinfect the helmet/visor and whistle.

It is important that officials ensure equipment is kept clean.

10. Do officials have access to water bottles during a game?

It is suggested that officials should have their own pre-filled water bottle at the penalty bench. Water bottles should be washed after each game. Officials are prohibited from drinking water from bottles belonging to goaltenders or players.

11. Should pucks be disinfected prior to use?

It is not a requirement of Hockey Canada that pucks are disinfected prior to use. However, where possible, and in cooperation with teams and associations, it is suggested that all game pucks could be disinfected with an alcohol-based wipe prior to being used. Also, any pucks that go out of play should be disinfected prior to being used again for game play.

12. Will in-person clinics be permitted for officials?

Members will determine how clinics will be delivered in their jurisdiction and must adhere to public health authority guidelines. Members may be permitted to conduct face-to-face clinics, following guidelines, if desired. If there are restrictions, Members may have to host virtual clinics.

13. What should officials do if they feel ill or sick?

If an official feels ill or sick, they are directed to stay home and follow the direction of their physician and public health authority. Officials should refer to the protocols outlined in the Hockey Canada Safety Guidelines and their Member’s Return to Hockey plan.

14. If a player contracts COVID-19, that player’s team must self-isolate as per public health authority guidelines. Would the self-isolation also apply to any on-ice officials that may have come in contact?

Officials should refer to their public health authority guidelines and the information in Section 7 of the Hockey Canada Safety Guidelines.

15. If an official falls ill from an infection that can be shown to have come from contact during a game, and if any lost salary is not covered by the official’s regular employer, what compensation for this lost salary, if any, could be available through Hockey Canada’s insurance program?

If an official should contract COVID-19 or become ill because of contact in a game and this results in lost salary from their employer, there is not a policy under the Hockey Canada program that would provide this type of coverage.

16. Is there any special training that officials should take related to COVID-19?

Hockey Canada has established a set of minimum requirements for officials training for the 2020-21 season. This includes information related to COVID-19 and will be provided to all officials for review.

In addition, Hockey Canada, through the guidance of the Health and Safety Task Team and developed by Respect in Sport, has created an eLearning module: Planning a Safe Return to Hockey.

The module, which will be hosted on Hockey University and available at no cost to membership, offers a concise overview of Hockey Canada’s Return to Hockey Safety Guidelines. The program looks at key information to help reduce the risk of COVID-19 in the hockey environment. Throughout the module, membership will be pointed towards detailed information on specific prevention topics. All Members are encouraged to become familiar with public health authority guidelines and the Hockey Canada Safety Guidelines.

The Officiating Task Team recommends that all officiating instructors, officiating coaches/supervisors and all Level III/IV/V/VI officials complete the COVID-19 eLearning module.

17. How should officiating coaches or supervisors communicate with game officials in cases where restrictions are in place for physical distancing?

If physical distancing, masking, and other public health measures can be respected, officiating coaches/ supervisors should be admitted to facilities and to the officials' dressing room. If officiating coaches/ supervisors are prohibited from visiting the officials’ dressing room, they should consider other means to communicate with officials following a game, which may include by phone, virtual meetings or by email.

Associations are permitted to utilize on-ice coach/mentor officials, but also must respect and follow public health authority and facility guidelines.