What is icing in hockey? (with diagrams)

Of all the rules in the game there are a few rules you really need to know to understand this game, and one of them is icing in hockey. However, it can also be one of the most confusing!!!!

What is icing in hockey? The center red line divides the rink into two halves. If any player shoots the puck from anywhere on his side of the center red line (the side with his goalie) down past the goal line of the opposing side then icing is called. This results in an automatic stoppage in play with a faceoff in the zone of the team that iced the puck. 

The icing rule is not simple and has many nuances and exceptions to it. As you see from the table below we will go over the basics and then get into the many nuances of the rule.

Origin of the Icing RuleIntroduced in 1937 to prevent teams from delaying the game by shooting the puck down the ice.
Icing Rule Implementation And NuancesDesigned to deter teams from icing the puck, as it results in a faceoff in their zone, giving the opposition a scoring opportunity.
Hybrid Icing/No-Touch IcingAims to prevent injuries by changing the race for the puck from the end boards to the faceoff dots in the defensive zone.
No Line Changes After IcingIntroduced post-2004-05 lockout to increase the consequence for the team that iced the puck, preventing them from making line changes.
Icing While Killing a PenaltyTeams are allowed to ice the puck without stoppage during a penalty kill to balance the play.

Why was the icing rule introduced?

The icing rule was first introduced in 1937 because teams in the NHL had started to shoot the puck down the ice as a delaying tactic at the end of games when they had the lead. 

With no stoppage in play a team could simply shoot the puck down to the other side of the ice and the clock would run down burning precious seconds off the clock. This was causing great frustration from the paying spectators and the teams that were behind in the game.

Problem: Who wants to pay to see players simply shoot the puck down the ice all game?

Solution: Introduce the icing rule!

The icing rule was implemented so that if you shot the puck down the ice before you had reached the center red line and the puck goes down past the goal line then the play will be whistled down and a faceoff will result in the zone of the team that had shot the puck down the ice. 

This is seen as enough of a deterrence to not ice the puck, because, generally, teams do not want to have a bunch of faceoffs in their zone potentially giving the opposition a chance to establish an offensive an attack to score.

Let’s put in a diagram to make sure that you are understanding the basics of the rule before we go onto some more specifics and exceptions around the rule:

icing in hockey diagram that explains the rule
  • The first three are all examples of icing. It does not matter where the puck was shot from in your half of the zone. If you shoot it before you get to the center red line it is still considered icing.
  • The fourth example is not icing because the puck has gained the red line before it was shot past the goal line

Two more things to help you understand icing:

  1. If the puck is shot before the center red line, but does not make it to the goal red line then it is not icing.
  2. If the puck is shot before the center red line, and makes it to the red goal line the linesmen has discretion to not call icing if he believes that the opposing team had the ability to play the puck before it got to the red line.

    Really, this means that a defensemen cannot just allow the puck to slowly dribble all the way to the end boards, he must make an effort to get the puck and keep the play going. In all their rules the NHL always tries to minimize the number of stoppage of plays – they want to keep the play going on as much as possible.

What is hybrid icing or no-touch icing?

An important aspect of icing is that it is not automatic, the team that shot the puck down the ice can actually get the icing waved off. This means that if a team that shot the puck down the ice touches the puck first after it passes the goal line there will be no icing. 

In the past for an icing to be called the defensive player would need to touch the puck when it passed the goal line before an opposing player. Unfortunately, this created a situation where a number of defensive players were being checked extremely hard from behind into the boards as they they raced for the puck to make sure that icing was called. This had caused a number of serious injuries over the years.

To prevent injuries from these plays while still keeping these races for the puck alive the NHL adopted the hybrid icing or no-touch icing rule. 

The hybrid icing or no-touch icing rule means that the race is no longer to the end boards for the players to touch the puck, but, instead, the race is to the faceoff dots in the defensive zone. If the defensive player beats the potential icing player to the faceoff dot the official will blow the whistle for icing. However, if the potential icing player is ahead at the faceoff dot the official will allow the play to go on. 

At that point whoever touches the puck will determine whether it is icing or not. If the defensive player touches it then it will be icing. However, if the team that has shot the puck down the ice touches it first then the play will continue. 

No line changes after icing

After the lockout in 2004-05 the NHL amended the rule of icing to increase the consequence to the team that caused the infraction. 

It was determined that teams would still ice the puck too much when they were in trouble in their defensive zone, whether it was in the middle or the end of a game. To cut down on the number of icings the NHL wanted to put more teeth to the rule.

Therefore, at the start of the 2005-06 season it was determined that the team that iced the puck was not allowed to make a line change after the play was whistled down. This had big consequences to the team that iced the puck.

Often the team with the icing call had tired players on the ice, and now those same players would have to stay on the ice. The opposing team would be able to switch on players that were fresh and possibly more skilled than the players that were on the ice – and this would all take place with the faceoff in their offensive zone only a few feet from your goaltender! This has resulted in players being more cautious not to ice the puck.

Embed from Getty Images

How players learn to ice the puck without icing?

Of course with any rule change players are quite smart in learning how to adapt to the rule. Instead of icing the puck, players have learned how to perform a little trick that gives them the benefit of icing without having iced the puck.

You will notice that a player will often flick the puck way up into the air and down the ice. A puck that is flicked up in the air will usually not have enough power to get all the way down the ice and past the goal line but it will have enough of an effect to allow the team to be able to clear the defensive zone and make a line change. 

This is essentially icing without any of the consequences of icing!

Icing while killing a penalty

There is one time in the game where a player is allowed to ice the puck without the play being stopped: during the penalty kill. A team that is shorthanded (have less players on the ice) due to a penalty are given the ability to ice the puck in helping to stop the other teams power play. 

A power play without the ability to ice the puck is deemed to be too much of an advantage. To make sure the scales are not tipped too much the rules allow a team to ice the puck.

This allows the penalty killers to be able to change more frequently and have fresher players on the ice. 

As well, icing on the penalty kill keeps the flow of the game going. It would be reasonable to think that players would still ice the puck a lot if they were shorthanded – they might not be able to change but at least they get a small rest. This would create many more stoppages in play, whereas the NHL is always concerned about keeping the game going. 

Gaining the red line

The rule of icing definitely has a large effect on how a hockey game is played. One of the most common things to watch for is players trying to skate the puck up and over the center red line. This is termed gaining the red line.

Once a player gains the red line they can now shoot the puck into the other team’s defensive zone. 

Embed from Getty Images

The strategy of gaining the red line does two things:

  • Once the puck is shot in the zone a team will now have enough time to make a line change without giving away any scoring chances
  • Or, the team can shoot the puck into the zone to try and establish an offensive forecheck to score a goal.

This is why you see – hundreds of times a game – a player trying hard just to get to the red line to shoot the puck into the zone. 

Can goalies ice the puck?

Yes, a goalie can ice the puck. If the goalie shots the puck down to the other end of the ice like any other player it will still be called icing.

Can a goalie wave off icing?

No they cannot wave off icing but they can prevent an icing by going out to play a puck. The act of the goalie coming out to play the puck or touching the puck before it crosses the goal line will nullify the icing. 

What if a player from the other team touches the puck?

If a player from the other team touches the puck in any way before it gets to the goal line the icing will be waved off and play will continue.

This is most often seen where the puck is shot out of the defensive zone and it deflects of a member of the other team and still goes all the way down the ice. In this case, there is no icing and the play continues. 

Icing in recreational leagues

In most recreational leagues icing in hockey will automatically be called when the puck crosses the goal line. 

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