If you are new to watching or playing the game of ice hockey, you might be wondering what some of the rules are. One of the more common issues that come up during a game is the call of “icing.” If a hockey official calls a player for “icing,” it means the player shot, hit, or deflected the puck from his side of the ice across the center red line to the goal line of the opposite team without a player on the potentially offending team touching it.

Understanding what icing means in hockey

What is icing in hockey

“IMG_1224” licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr by M I K E M O R R I S

Icing is pretty straightforward, but it’s one of the more misunderstood terms in hockey. One of the key elements of icing means the player had to hit the puck across the center red line. The red line divides the ice into equal halves. If the puck does not cross the center red line to the other team’s goal line, then the official will not call icing.

To better understand how icing works, here are several more examples of situations that are not considering icing:

  • If the hockey player’s stick is touching the center red line, there will not be an icing call.
  • If the player shoots the puck before the center red line, but it does not travel all the way to the other team’s goal line, then it is also not considered icing.
  • If the team that shot the puck touches it first after the puck passes the goal line, then there is no icing.
  • If the player shoots the puck before the center line and makes it to the opposing team’s goal line, the linesmen has discretion not to make an icing call if they believe the opposing team could’ve played the puck prior to it traveling into the red line.

The reason for discretion with the last one is to keep the defensemen from just allowing the puck to dribble all the way to the end slowly. They have a duty to get the puck and continue play.

What is the point of icing in hockey?

Now that you know what icing in hockey means, you might be wondering why it’s a big deal and why is icing illegal in hockey? Icing is considered a delay tactic. Years ago, teams that were ahead would try to waste time to maintain their lead. By sending the puck all the way down to the other side of the ice, the leading team could run down the clock. However, this maneuver angered spectators and the team that was trailing.

History of the icing rule in the National Hockey League (NHL)

Flipping the puck all the way down to the end of the ice rink and then having to chase after it interrupts the game’s flow. Officials were looking for a way to discourage players from engaging in this behavior. There were multiple instancing of icing during some games — as many as 50 times in one game! Fans were very frustrated and threw debris on the ice at some games. That is why the rule against icing was created in 1937.

If a referee makes an icing call, the offending team will be penalized. However, they do not get a penalty. Instead, the sanction requires the offending team to face-off in their own end, near their goalie. That is a risky situation because the other team could win the face-off, resulting in an excellent chance to score.

There is one situation where icing won’t be enforced. When a team is short a player after receiving a penalty, they will be allowed to ice the puck without any potential repercussions. Icing will be called on a power play situation, but only if it’s the team that is not shorthanded.

The rule has undergone multiple revisions over the years. After the NHL lockout in 2004-2005, the NHL amended the icing rule to increase the consequences. The reason was there was still too much icing going on whenever teams were in trouble in their defensive zone.

When the 2005 – 2006 season opened, the NHL changed the rule so that the team who was guilty of icing the puck could not make any line changes once the play was whistled down. This change was major for the offending team because they often had tired players who now had to remain on the ice. However, the opposing team could switch players to people who were fresher and possibly more skilled.

One of the most recent changes came in the 2013 – 2014 season, when the NHL decided the race was not to the puck by the corner face-off dots. That means if a defending player is ahead in racing to the face-off dots, the official will call icing. If the potential icing player is ahead at the face-off dot, the official will allow team play to continue. The term for this is hybrid icing.

Whoever is the first to touch the puck will determine the outcome of a potential icing call. If the defensive player is the first to touch it, then the official will call icing. If a player from the team who shot the puck down the ice is the first to touch it, then the official will let the game continue.

Differences in icing between NHL and other leagues

Icing in an NHL game is different than in other leagues, which you may hear referred to as no-touch icing. In an NHL game, a defender must touch the puck prior to an offensive player to validate an icing call. When the offensive player arrives first, play will continue. With other leagues, the play will be dead as soon as the puck crosses the goal line. The defenseman does not need to touch the puck, which is why it’s called no-touch icing.

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