When I get around to watching the NHL, I notice a few players wearing a "C" or "A" patch on their jerseys. I understood this to be Captain and Assistant Captain.

What are the roles of "C" and "A" on the ice? Do the number of Cs and As vary by team, or does each team require to have a standard number of each?


2 Answers 2


The captain and (during his absence on ice) alternate captains (not “assistant”) are players designated to be the point of contact between the referee and the team. Only these players are allowed to discuss with the Referee any questions relating to the interpretation of rules.

This privilege applies only to the respective captain/alternate captain who is currently on ice – any player, not invited by the referee, who comes off the bench to make a protest with the officials, shall receive a minor penalty. Also, this discussions relating to the interpretation of the rules cannot concern a penalty – no player, not even the captain, is allowed to make complaints regarding a penalty. When he makes such a complaint, he shall receive a minor penalty (a misconduct penalty under IIHF rules). The referee can (and often does) explain a penalty to the captains, but they are not allowed to complain.

Note that the referee crease serves quite a different purpose: It is an area where officials can safely discuss among themselves – no player (not even captain) is allowed to enter the crease when the referee is reporting to or consulting with the other officials. Should he do so, he shall receive a misconduct penalty. But it is also the place where referees will usually discuss with the captains.

Normally, there is one captain (marked with “C”) and two alternate captains (marked with “A”), one such player in each line. The NHL rules also allow to have no captain, but three alternate captains (this must be chosen prior to the game, and in this case, the Captain cannot be present in uniform). This is not possible in the international (IIHF) rules, where one captain and no more than two alternate captains must be appointed.

As in almost all team sports, the captain and the alternate captains also have important non-official duties. They are usually the senior/experienced players, having respect of other players, officials, and spectators. They also often serve as a point of contact between the players and the manager and the rest of team management.


  • +1 Thanks for going above and beyond to shed some light for the IIHF as well as conduct off the ice. Exemplary answer with relevant sources.
    – user527
    Dec 19, 2012 at 17:09

Each team must have either

  • 1 Captain and 2 Assistant Captains


  • 3 Assistant Captains (One extra Assistant Captain to make up for the vacancy of the Captain's spot.)

The role of the players with the "Letters" on their sweater is to get information from the referee. When a penalty is called, usually the Captain of each team meets with the referee in the referee's "half circle" located near the time keepers box and the referee then explains to both Captains what penalty was called and why. This is when the "arguing" usually starts... But the whole purpose of this is to have the Captains report this information back to the players and coach on the bench. Only players with letters on their sweater are allowed to enter this box with the referee.

See below at the bottom middle of the rink. The referee's crease is labeled.

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  • I see. What's the point of assigning players to argue with the referee?
    – user527
    Dec 14, 2012 at 16:27
  • I updated my answer to answer your question. The players that are assigned "letters" are usually veterens that know the game inside and out. Their job is to completely understand the Ref's explanation. If you put a rookie in that situation, some details might be left out.
    – Zack
    Dec 14, 2012 at 16:35

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