roller hockey vs ice hockey

Ice Hockey vs Roller Hockey – What’s The Difference?

Hockey is a great game! It comes in many forms, with the most popular form being ice hockey. However, in recent years, roller hockey has started gaining popularity across North America. The sport of roller hockey has some similarities to ice hockey but there are also many differences. These differences make roller hockey a different style of game offering new challenges and scenarios, in the end creating a game that is a bit different than ice hockey, but equally as fun!

Playing Surfaces and Rinks

The playing surface is the biggest difference between ice hockey and roller hockey. The surface for most roller hockey games and major tournaments in North America is sport court. Sport court is an interlocking system of plastic tiles that help make the puck glide across. It also gives players the ability to slide when they stop. This is a big advantage in that they can almost “ice hockey” stop and change directions in a split second. These plastic tiles also can allow goaltenders to slide on their cowlings across the crease on breakaways or wrap arounds, giving them some sliding ability. Sport court surfaces are the preferred surfaces of most roller players and are found in all the major North American tournaments such as Tours, NARCh, and State Wars.

These sport court surfaces are designed to be as big as a traditional ice hockey rink and fit the dimensions perfectly. This feature makes it a convenient alternative for some ice arenas to be converted into roller hockey rinks in the summer.

Players dueling for position in a game of roller hockey
Roller hockey rink with glass boards to the ice
Outdoor roller rink with plastic boards
Outdoor sport court roller hockey rink with plastic boards

The other major differences in rinks are boards. While most have full ice hockey style boards, there are some rinks that are a bit different. For example, there are a handful of rinks that have all glass boards on one side. This makes it so all spectators can see and no elevated seating is needed. The other types of boards are full plastic boards. These boards are lighter weight and usually used to make outdoor rinks (for example Chicago used to host a tournament at their beachfront rink. ) or provide an alternative solution for European clubs that might play in a gym. 

*It is slightly different in Europe, most tournaments are played on sport court but some games are played in gyms and use wood floors. Also depending on the league the nets could be slightly shorter and have wider posts.

roller hockey vs ice hockey
European style roller hockey rink set up inside a gym.

Roller Hockey Rules

While the two sports share many, many rules, there are a few slight changes in rules for a game of roller hockey.  One of the biggest differences that you will notice between the rinks (besides one is ice and one is tile) is the lack of blue lines. That is because, in roller hockey, there are no offsides. There also isn’t any icing. This makes roller hockey more of a strategy and possession game. (Think like a giant power play, teams are very selective on their shots and breakouts).

A shot of an empty indoor roller hockey rink
Roller hockey rink with no bluelines

The other major rule difference is that the game of roller hockey is usually played in halves or quarters. In IIHF competition, games are 4 15 minute quarters. The major North American tournaments offer games being played in halves. Most major tournament halves are 18 minute periods.
*The US collegiate roller hockey governing body NCRHA, plays their games in the 3-period format.

Roller Hockey Team Size

Roller hockey teams are a bit smaller and comprised of 16 skaters (max at IIHF competitions.) Games are 4 on 4 with a goalie. This is a bit different than ice hockey where it is 5 on 5 with a goalie. Despite having a limit of 16 skaters, most teams usually only have 10-12 skaters and either one or two goalies. With all the extra space, players can get creative and make some awesome plays.

Even though it has many differences, this sport provides a different type of hockey to the traditional ice hockey player. It can also be a great intro to hockey for someone that only knows how to rollerblade. Even with all the differences to traditional ice hockey, roller hockey is a great game that is gaining popularity across North America.

This article was created by The Beer League Tribune, a great hockey blog for all competitive and recreational roller and ice hockey players.  If you are looking for some awesome ice and roller hockey content, be sure to check them out!

Leave a Comment