What is the purpose of the goalie crease in hockey?

The goalie position is unlike any other position in hockey. There are special rules and circumstances that define this position. One of the most common questions is around, what is the purpose of the purpose of the goal crease? Why do they even have it?

The goal crease is the light blue painted area that is directly in front of the goalie’s net. It belongs to the goaltender and is used both for protection and for reference as a guide to positioning in making saves. Opposing players are allowed to go into the crease as long as they do not interfere or impede his ability to stop the puck.

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The goalie crease rules have a long history of change. Even if you go back only twenty years ago, a player was not allowed to go into the goal crease at all or the goal would be disallowed. (We will talk about the Brett Hull 1999 controversy later on).

This is the biggest misunderstanding about the goal crease, where people think that if a player is in the crease then it will be called no goal. This used to be true – if a player had so much as a toe in the crease there would be no goal – but the NHL changed these rules heading into the 1999-2000 season. A player is allowed to go into the crease if he has an opportunity to play the puck.

So if you are allowed to go into the crease to score a goal, why have the crease at all?

The goalie crease still does have three important functions:

  1. As a reference for the goaltender to help him in positioning while making saves
  2. It is the place where a goalie is allowed to freeze the puck to stop play (with a couple of other instances outside of the crease).
  3. It still does provide protection for the goalie in the course of play for safety and the ability to top the puck


The Crease: A Reference for the Goaltender

I have played a lot of hockey as a forward and a defensemen, and a couple of games as a goaltender. See why the goalie is the hardest position to play of them all.

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One of the most important (and hardest) parts about goalie is making sure that your positioning is correct. The thing that you are supposed to protect is behind you and with the quick action of players this causes a goalie to move side-to-side. This makes it hard to make sure that you are in the optimal spot in the crease to be cutting off angles and covering your net properly.

This is where the painted crease comes in. It provides the goalie with a great reference point as the the best place to stand.  The lines of the goalie crease are in front of him, which he can see, whereas the net is behind him.

Goalie coaches will always be encouraging the goalie to come to the top of the goalie crease to cut down the angle. In addition, the goalie will use the crease to help him as a reference to not go to far to the left or right when challenging a shooter.


The Crease: A Place to Freeze the Puck

The crease is the place where the goalie is allowed to cover or ‘freeze’ the puck to cause a stoppage of play. (Note: they are not allowed to do this if no opposing player is remotely close to them and must play the puck to keep the play flowing – see the full explanation of where a goalie can play the puck here).

The goaltender is allowed to come out of his crease to block angles and if during that time the puck falls to the ice they are allowed to cover it outside the crease.

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However, the goalie is not allowed to race out of his crease and simply jump on a puck and freeze it and force a stoppage of play. This will result in the goalie receiving a two minute penalty for delay of game. Have you ever wondered what happens when a goalie gets a penalty?


The Crease: Protection for the Goalie

The goalie crease does provide protection for the goalie as he tries to stop the puck. No contact to a goalie is permitted while the goalie is in the crease. Again, a player can go into the crease, but if there is any contact towards the goalie (incidental or otherwise) this will result in a no goal call or a 2 minute penalty for interference.

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Outside of the crease, players are not allowed to ever bodycheck a goalie but would be allowed incidental contact with them if the goalie was trying to stickhandle with the puck.

The referees are quite lenient on what it means for a goalie to be ‘in’ the crease. If the goalie has so much as a toe in the crease, they will be considered in the crease.

As well, the referees are quite strict towards players who enter the crease and make contact with the goalie. Although, a player can make incidental contact most players know exactly what they are doing when they are in the crease (ie. they are trying to hit the goaltender even slightly), and the referees know this as well. Therefore, most contact with the goaltender will be seen as intentional and called as a minor penalty.


Other Rules around the Crease

  • If a defensive player covers puck in crease – falls on the puck, holds the puck, picks up the puck, or gathers the puck into his body – the other team will be awarded a penalty shot
  • If a puck is shot down the ice from the opposition and goes through the crease on its way to end boards this will automatically eliminate an icing call.
  • If a fight or altercation breaks out that is not in the crease, the goaltender must stay in his crease and not join in the altercation. If they do, it will result in a minor penalty for the goalie.


Related Questions/Topics

Before we get to the final questions let me suggest moving onto a few articles that will help you understand the goalie position even more:

How big is the goalie crease?

The goalie crease is painted one foot outside of each goal post with a two-inch thick line that extends straight for four feet six inches. The two lines that are painted out are joined by a semi-circle that is six inches in radius, and two-inches thick. The top of the semi-circle will come to 6 feet out from the goal line.

International ice hockey crease rule

If a player stands in the crease deliberately the referee will blow the whistle to stop the play with a resulting faceoff in the neutral zone

Brett Hull’s No Goal

The most famous crease violation that was not called was the Brett Hull goal in game six of the 1999 Stanley Cup finals. At that time the rule stated that no part of the player was to be in the crease, and if so the goal would be disallowed.

Now the game was in 2OT in the Stanley Cup Finals with the Dallas Stars leading 3 games to 2 and Brett Hull scores and starts celebrating in winning the Stanley Cup. The league and everyone went along with the call and did not review the play. However, if you look at the replay it shoes that Brett Hull’s toe is in the crease, and according to the rules it should have been called a no goal. Buffalo fans still claim that there should have been a game 7 for the cup – it’s hard to argue.

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