Hockey FAQ: Icing and Off-sides


In this FAQ, I will discuss two aspects of the game that are probably the most common rules new fans to the game have trouble understanding. But, they are very important rules and are part of what makes this game so great.

Three Areas of the Ice

The first thing one must understand is that there are three distinct areas of the ice called “zones.” They are divided by 2 blue lines and the red center line. The area between the two blue lines is called “center ice” or “the neutral zone.” Each end is defended by one of the teams. When a team is under attack, that end of the ice is their “defensive zone.” The opposite end is their “offensive zone” and the other team’s “defensive zone” and vice versa. There are two more red lines, one on each end of the ice that the goals sit on. Those lines are called the “goal lines.”

Icing the Puck

Icing is when a player shoots a puck from his side of the ice, beyond the center line, and into the opposing team’s zone, without the puck touching any players skate or stick.

If the puck is shot down the ice by Team A from beyond the center line, it must travel all the way to the end of the ice and cross the “goal line”. A player from Team B must beat the players from Team A back to the faceoff dots in that end in order for icing to be called. Team A is told they have “iced” the puck, and the puck will be taken back into Team A’s zone for a faceoff.

Some exceptions to this rule are any time a team is “short-handed”, meaning one or more of their players are in the penalty box. During that time, they are allowed to send the puck the length of the ice without icing being called. This is allowed as a method of “stalling” until their teammate’s penalty is over. The other exception is if the puck ends up being “on goal” or if the opponent’s goalie touches the puck. In those two cases, icing is not called.

The referees can also determine that an opponent had the ability to touch the puck but chose not to in order to draw an icing call on the other team. If that determination is made, icing is not called but is “waved off.”

The reason for this rule is so that teams can’t send the puck to the other end when the other team is attacking in order to alleviate the pressure from the opponent. As an added deterrent, the team who ices the puck cannot make any substitutions when the whistle is blown after an icing call.


This term is to describe how the puck goes from the neutral zone into an attacking team’s offensive zone. Basically, the puck must always go across the blue line first. There is an exception to this which we will cover a little later.

The puck has to either be carried into the zone on someone’s stick or at least passed across the other team’s blue line prior to any of the offensive players crossing into the other player’s zone. To determine “onside” or “offside”, the officials have to note the position of a player’s skates, not a player’s stick. One of the player’s skates must remain on the ice in the “neutral zone” until the puck has crossed into the “offensive zone.”

Also, any time that the puck leaves the “offensive zone” and crosses the blue line back into “center ice”, all players from the offensive team must exit that zone before the puck can re-enter the zone.

The Offside rule prevents the offensive team from leaving a player on the other end and making passes the length of the ice, creating a play where someone gets to their opponent’s goal with the puck and is one-on-one with the goalie.

If a player has the puck, and the player goes over the blue line before the puck does, as long as he is in control of the puck, the play is not off-side.

All off-sides result in whistles, unless puck possession by Team A is immediately surrendered to the opposing Team B after entering the zone, Team A vacates the area, and Team B can play the puck without any delays in the game. This is referred to as “delayed offsides”. If the official notes the play is offsides, he will raise his arm. When he sees that the offensive team is retreating out of the zone, he will lower his arm and not blow his whistle, allowing play to continue uninterrupted.


It may seem confusing until you’ve watched it for a little while, but hopefully, these explanations will help and you’ll be able to enjoy this great game even more. 


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