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Ice Hockey vs Soccer: 15 Differences and 15 Similarities

The majority of sports can be reduced to these three elements; tactics, physique, and technique. In simple words: mind, body, and skill. Soccer fits perfectly in the middle of this triangle, which makes it a more complete game than hockey. 

When it comes to gameplay, the first thing to notice about ice hockey and soccer is that they both require substantial amounts of vigor and body strength.

I have been a huge fan and player of both sports all my life, and I can categorically state that there are at least 15 differences and 15 similarities between the two sports. So, let’s have a look!

15 Differences Between Ice Hockey and Soccer

The differences between the two games are easy and clear to understand. It can be easily said the two games have more differences than similarities. There is a big difference between the games when it comes to the fields on which they are played. 

Not only the pitch, the required equipment, the number of players, the duration of the games, but much more else is different in Soccer and Ice Hockey. 

1. Pitch

Hockey is played on an unusual surface of ice called a skating rink, and that is why it is mainly popular in those regions that are sufficiently cold for natural ice. 

However, artificial ice rinks have made it possible for indoor games year-round. Soccer on the other hand is played on a soccer pitch (field of play), which is a rectangular field covered with leveled grass or artificial turf. 

2. Equipment 

The size of the ball (or in hockey, the puck) and its speed around the pitch differ in both games. Ice hockey uses equipment when playing, but soccer only needs a soccer ball.

3. Number of Players

There are eleven players on a soccer team while there are six players on an ice hockey team. 

4. Duration

The full duration of a soccer game is one and a half hours with two 45-minute halves. The full duration of an Ice hockey game is sixty minutes with three 20-minute periods. 

5. Technique

When it comes to the technique of progression of the gameplay of both sports, there’s a big difference. Firstly, soccer players use their feet to move the ball while ice hockey players use their hockey sticks to slide the puck along the ice rink. 

In soccer, a player can dribble when he goes past opponents, although this requires a lot of personal skill. 

In hockey, however, the passing and shooting happen at great speeds of the puck so the goalkeeper is required to show great levels of concentration to stop it. 

6. Physical Strength

Soccer games entail many kilometers of running around the field. Hockey calls for a combination of high levels of skating stamina and body strength. (Source)

Soccer players have to spend hours on end running around the field. Ice hockey players should be experts in skating, passing the puck, and maintaining their balance, so they both call for extreme body fitness, strength, and athleticism. 

But ice hockey requires more strength because of the unusual field and the fact that sticks are used to move the puck around (Dunn & Nelson, 2017).

7. Aim

The ethos of the game in both soccer and hockey is basically to score, albeit using different objects. 

In soccer, players try to score as many goals as possible by putting the ball behind the opponent’s goal post which is guarded by a net, while in hockey a puck is shot towards a smaller goal of the opponent. 

8. Substitutions

In soccer, a player can only be substituted during a stoppage in play and with the permission of the referee. 

In ice hockey, players are substituted ‘on the fly’, meaning a substitution can occur even in the middle of the play as long as the proper protocol is followed. 

In soccer, a player who has been replaced can take no further part in the match. 

9. Offside vs. No Offside

Both sports have offside rules, and are different from each other. In soccer, offside occurs when an offensive player crosses an imaginary line created by the last line of defense, regardless of the position on the field.  

This rule keeps the players from picking behind the defenders and waiting for a teammate to kick the ball to him, allowing him to escape on a breakaway. 

Offside in hockey occurs when an offensive player crosses the defending team’s blue line ahead of the puck. 

You will notice players having one skate inside the zone and one outside, a legal move that saves them from being called offside and allows them to cross the blue line. 

10. Referee and Umpire

There are usually one referee and two assistant referees in professional soccer according to rules. In some games, there may be a fourth or even fifth referee calling the game. 

There’s also a head referee who is responsible to enforce the laws and rules of the game. 

In hockey, there are two referees (umpires) and two linesmen assigned to each game. 

This ‘four official’ system (or two-referee system) was first introduced in 1998-99 on a trial basis and was fully implemented later in 2000. 

Verdict: one referee and two linesmen vs. two umpires and two linesmen.

11. Diving

One of the notable exceptions to this is that soccer entails a lot of diving while hockey does not.  

12. Commercials 

The flow of the game might be the most important comparison between Ice Hockey and Soccer. Anyone who has watched an entire soccer match knows that there are no commercial breaks whatsoever unless it is during pregame, halftime, or post-game. 

This makes the game smooth and continuous no matter the circumstances (unless weather disrupts your feed) Ice hockey employs a somewhat similar system but does allow for a few commercial breaks during the course of a period. 

13. Branding

Each sport has a distinct region in which the game is popular, or it originated there, and historically tied to, for instance, Canada for Hockey or England for modern soccer.

The branding of hockey is much different than the branding of any other sport. What works for a hockey jersey, won’t work for a football one. 

Both sports have their own unique design jargon that is peppered with history, tradition, cultural influences, sociology, and production limitations. 

14. Globalization

Through globalization, soccer was able to experiment and grow aesthetically and visually. While soccer is the most popular game on the planet, hockey is a game whose popularity is restricted to North America and northern Europe. 

15. Rules and Laws

The set of rules of both games also differ. In fact, soccer players don’t really like rules, their rule book has actually ‘laws’ instead. Also, there are only a few laws. Whereas hockey has a lot more, simply called ‘rules’. 

Hockey lets the officials on the playing surface. In soccer, they hardly let only one official on the field, and two or three others might be allowed to stay around the edges, not any closer. 

Ice Hockey vs. Soccer – Similarities 

While it’s true that the surface, the offside rule, the size and type of the ball are the main features that differentiate one sport from the other, there are also striking similarities. 

Therefore playing and practicing hockey can help you in playing soccer and vice versa. Hockey players realize this and to better the coordination of their feet, juggle a soccer ball before games.

1. Team-oriented

Both sports are team-oriented. There are almost no one-on-one matchups to exhibit singularity outside of the team. 

There are always the best players in every team but they still need the rest of the team to play and succeed. 

The lone individualistic exceptions are penalty kicks (for soccer), and penalty shots/shootouts and face-offs (in hockey). 

2. Shared History

There is also a shared history between the sports, both being developed in the last few decades of the 19th century. (Source) There are fundamental cultural and conceptual similarities between the two sports. 

3. Possession

In both games, if your team can’t keep the puck or ball for ten seconds or more, your team won’t be able to get into the offensive end, which is crucial to score a goal. 

Therefore, possession is an important tactic not only in hockey and soccer but in almost all similar sports. This is even more evident on power-plays where you want to keep possession of the puck until a shot opens up. 

The concept applies to Ice hockey and soccer alike, possession if fought over until a scoring opportunity opens up.

4. Uniforms   

Other than helmets and gloves in hockey, the uniforms of hockey and soccer teams are also remarkably similar: Pullover shirts, laces at collars in some cases (historically), shorts, and high socks. 

Heavy use of stripes and solid color utilization is also common; the early designs of uniforms and kits are evidence of this. 

Team logos are featured on the front. Shorts are a different color than the shirts and socks and contain stripes as well.

5. Path of the Ball or Puck 

There is one ball or puck in both games that are shared between all players. Each team has a goal it must defend. Both games have a field of play with definite borders. 

When one team has a ball, you are rewarded by managing to put the ball in the other team’s goal; this tactic is also the same between both the sports. 

6. Wingers 

Hockey wingers are also similar to wingers in soccer because they are meant to penetrate the corners and then get the ball or puck towards the net or goal. In hockey, you do the same thing, except you are able to go behind the net, unlike soccer.

7. Fouls

Both sports also contain fouls of various kinds. A well-placed free kick in soccer can equal a power play in hockey if done correctly. 

Yellow/red cards equal majors and game misconducts/match penalties in hockey as well. 

The red card/game misconduct/match penalty comparison is the most obvious, as one is often suspended for an offense along these lines in hockey, while red cards automatically carry at least one-game suspension, and that can be lengthened. 

8. Receiving

Receiving a puck in Ice Hockey is extremely similar to receiving a ball in soccer. Taking a touch in soccer and deflecting a puck with your skates are very similar because in both cases you need to be absolutely sure where you are headed. 

9. Centermen or Midfielder

The responsibilities of centerman in hockey are similar to the responsibilities of midfield players in soccer because they both track up and down the field, which means they participate in both offense and defense. 

10. Showing

Notice how players sometimes come towards the ball or puck if their teammate has possession.

If one team is in the offensive end attacking, and a teammate is at the point with the ball/puck, they do something which is the act of coming towards the ball/puck to provide your teammate with someone to pass to. 

This is called ‘showing’ in soccer. 

11. Scoring

The players of both games are aware that they can never score from the corner, so it’s important to get the puck/ball to the net. 

This is why in hockey, players either cycle the puck back to the point for a big shot or throw the puck in front of the net to score a scramble goal. 

Soccer players adopt the same strategy. They cycle back to the attacking midfield player so that he can take a long-range effort from outside the 18-yard box, or throw it into the 18-yard box via to get a scramble/header goal. 

12. Deception 

Hockey players utilize similar shoulder drops and fakes to those used in soccer as deception is a big part of both sports. 

The effect this causes in both games is the same i.e. throwing off the opposing defending player, misleading him by making him think you’re going for something you are actually not. 

If you play hockey, you will notice that soccer defenders fall for the same basic fake moves as in soccer and vice versa.  

13. Choosing the Players

The act that has the deepest yet the unnoticed effect on the game is the choice of players. Choosing a lineup that has the best chemistry is the most important step if you want to bless your team with success. 

For instance, the manner in which a hockey coach puts together his 4 lines can change the entire dynamics of the game. This won’t get together perfectly if you put the 1st line players with 4th liners. 

The same goes for soccer players, for a smooth game, the lineup should consist of players who work like they are a part of a well-oiled machine. People often underestimate the effect of player choice by coaches on the outcome of the game.    

14. Attack and Defend

The underlining defending and attacking are also similar in both games. For example, the most commonly used pattern in hockey is to have two defensemen, two wings, and a centerman. 

It can be said that it is extremely similar to, albeit miniaturized 4-4-2 formation in soccer. Soccer formations utilize 4 defenses, 2 wingers, and 2 midfield players.  

15. Strategies and Tactics

Other strategies and tactics between the two sports are also similar including concepts of leading, passing, and defending. Tackling the ball or puck and footwork or stick work. 

If you are a soccer player but like to watch hockey or vice versa, the time spent watching either game won’t be lost because what you will learn from it would be applicable on the soccer field. 


It is a well-known fact that more people like to play and watch soccer than hockey. There are always more soccer players showing up for a game hence the bigger teams. 

One reason;  hockey players have to expend more energy in shorter bursts, therefore needing more time to rest. So in hockey, there is more stoppage of play, mainly for faceoffs. Hockey players can also swap in during a shift change, putting in substitutions to get fresh skaters on the ice. Shifts in hockey usually last for a minute to two minutes but rarely longer as the coach will roll different line combinations onto the the ice throughout the game.

Soccer players generally play the whole game. They can do that because, with so many players on their team and such a big field, they can pace themselves more than hockey players can. 


Dunn, J. G., & Nelson, A. B. (2017). A Between-Sport Comparison of Situational Threat Perceptions in Ice Hockey and Soccer. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 49–465. (Source)