What is the red line in hockey? (with pictures)

There are two different colours of lines on the hockey rink – blue and red. The blue line helps to determine offside, but what does the center red line do? Let’s take a look at the center red line and the two red lines that are at the ends of the rink.

On an ice hockey rink there are three red lines. The center red lines main function is to help with the rule of icing, whereas the two thinner goal lines at the ends of the rink help to determine icing and whether a goal is scored.  

Center-LineGoal lineTrapezoidRelated

Let’s go over all the red lines on the ice hockey rink and the purpose of each!

Center Red Line on an Ice Hockey Rink 

The most notable red line on a hockey rink is the one that cuts through the center of the ice dividing the rink into two halves. This is most aptly referred to as the center red line.

The center red line, however, is not just for show. It’s main purpose is to help impose a rule that prevents teams from simply shooting the puck down the ice with no consequence. 

When hockey first started (back in the early 1900s) teams would often simply shoot the puck all the way down the ice if the other team was close to scoring or to help keep a lead at the end of the game. This strategy definitely slowed the game down and prevented offence, as well it created a less exciting game. 

To combat this the NHL introduced the center red line. A team would now have to cross the center red line to shoot the puck into the other zone or they would be called for what is termed ‘icing’. 

diagram of icing in hockey to show the use of the red line

Related: See my complete guide to icing

Of the four examples in the diagram above only the fourth one is not icing as the player has crossed the red line. The first three players all shot the puck down the ice before they crossed the red line, and, therefore, it is icing.

When a team is called for icing the referee will automatically blow the whistle and a faceoff will take place in the defensive zone of the team that shot the puck down the ice. This creates a distinct advantage for the other team, as the play will start only a few feet away from their goalie. 

Goal Red Lines

The other two red lines on the ice are called the goal lines. The goal lines help in two functions. 

Firstly, they help determine if a play is icing. Remember when I said that if a team shoots the puck from their side of the ice to the other they would be called for icing? Well, that is only part of the rule.

The other part is that the puck that was shot must go over the goal line to count as icing. If the puck that was shot does not go all the way over the goal red line at the end of the ice the officials will simply let the play continue. 

Secondly, the goal line will help determine whether the puck has gone into the net or not. As you may have noticed the game is setup so that the hockey net is placed on the goal line and runs between the two posts. 

A goal is counted if the puck goes into the net. But, the puck has to completely cross the goal line to count. If you watch hockey you will inevitably sit for a period of time as the analysts show numerous replays to determine whether the puck has gone all the way over the red goal line. 

What they are looking for is to see if there is any white of the non-painted ice between the red goal line and the puck. If there is then it is a good goal. 

Trapezoid: The Red Lines Behind the Goal

A few lines that have been added to the red goal line behind the net help determine what is called the trapezoid. The goalie is only allowed to play the puck in this area behind the goal line. 

Diagram of the trapezoid in hockey
The trapezoid is the green highlighted area behind the net. The green highlighted area in the diagram represents all the areas where a goalie is allowed to play the puck.

The area that is to the left and right of the trapezoid is called the designated area, which the goalies are not allowed to play the puck from. If they do they will be called for a 2 minute penalty.

The reason behind this is that goalies had become so good at coming out and playing the puck in the corners of the rink they had become like a third defensemen. When a puck was shot into the zone they would simply go and retrieve the puck from the corner and pass it to a teammate causing a quick fast break. This made if very difficult for the other team to generate offensive chances, and it decreased scoring in the NHL.

So the NHL developed the trapezoid as the only part of the ice that the goalie can play the puck when they are behind the red goal line. The goalie can still play the puck in front of the red goal line. 

Goalies cannot carry puck across the red line. A goalie is not allowed to carry or play the puck once it has crossed the center red line into the opponent’s half of the ice. Although this rule seems odd, because I cannot actually imagine this happening, the rule probably originated in the early days of hockey.

In the early days when equipment was smaller and the game was quite different it would have been easy and common for the player playing goal to carry the puck up the ice. Obviously, this does not happen anymore but the rule has stayed in the rule book 

2 Line Pass This rule is no longer around and has been taken out of the rule book since the 2005-2006 season. But a 2 line pass, is when a player passes the puck from in their zone to a player that is on the other side of the center red line in his opponents half.

This rule was deemed to take away too much offence by making it difficult for players to transition from defence to offence and the NHL wanted to open up the game so they abolished this rule. 

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I am a lifelong fan who grew up in a major market (Calgary), and I have played, coached, and watched a lot of hockey!

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