How are PWHL rules different from the NHL?

The PWHL rulebook is based on NHL and International Ice Hockey Federation rules, but there are some notable differences between the PWHL and the NHL’s rules.

Emma Keenan, Sarah Nurse, Rebecca Leslie
Emma Keenan, Sarah Nurse, Rebecca Leslie / Mark Blinch/GettyImages

The Professional Women’s Hockey League kicked off its inaugural season on Jan. 1. Ahead of the first game between Toronto and New York, the PWHL’s rulebook dropped. The PWHL utilized National Hockey League and International Ice Hockey Federation rules when shaping their rulebook. American Hockey League officials are working PWHL games this season.

Despite having the NHL and IIHF as models, the PWHL is carving its own path. The PWHL’s Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations, Jayna Hefford recently said in a statement, “The entire PWHL has embraced the opportunity to be innovative with how our game is played.” During the preseason, the league experimented with rule adaptations.

While traditional rules will look familiar to hockey fans, the PWHL made some changes. The new era of women’s hockey brings new rules.

The PWHL’s rules are unique

The PWHL’s rulebook consists of notable differences from the NHL. A key difference between the leagues exists in the points system. In the NHL, a team earns two points for a regulation win or an overtime win and a point for an overtime loss. 

The PWHL has adopted a 3-2-1-0 point system, similar to recent years in the Premier Hockey Federation, a predecessor in women’s professional hockey. PWHL teams earn three points for a regulation win, two points for overtime and shootout wins, one point for an overtime loss, and zero points for a regulation loss. This rule difference increases the value of winning in regulation while still differentiating between an overtime win and an overtime loss.

Shootout rules in the PWHL differ from the NHL and IIHF. In the NHL, the shootout is a best-of-three shots. If no winner is determined, the shootout shifts to sudden death. No player is permitted to shoot again until all players in the lineup have taken a shot. In IIHF rules, a player may take another shot after five players have participated. In the new PWHL, the shootout is a best-of-five. If no winner is determined, the shootout becomes sudden death. A player is eligible to shoot again without limitations.

An intriguing difference in the PWHL’s rulebook exists in penalty rules. The new league marks a departure from traditional penalty killing rules, where the penalty continues to be served despite a short-handed goal. In the PWHL, if a team serving a minor penalty scores a short-handed goal, the penalty time is terminated.

Is checking allowed in the PWHL?

Women’s hockey has always been deemed less physical than men’s hockey. The new league aims to bring more physicality to women’s hockey. The PWHL differs from other women’s leagues in its decision to include body checking as permissible in the rulebook. 

While body contact has traditionally been allowed in women’s hockey, checking has not been. The PWHL allows checking when a player has clear intent of playing the puck or is attempting to gain possession. If two or more players are competing for puck possession, a player may not use the boards to eliminate an opponent from play.

The hockey community will take note of how the PWHL fares with the rule tweaks this year. With the PWHL’s first season underway, hockey fans can now check out the rules in action. Here's everything you need to know to watch all the action this season.