Why do hockey players get kicked out of faceoffs?

When watching hockey on tv most things are explained to you be the commentators like why a player gets a penalty or the reason for a stoppage in play. However, the one thing that they never explain is why a player gets kicked out of the faceoff circle and another replaces him.

The truth is that on that particular instance of the player being kicked out even the commentators do not know the exact reason for the occurrence. All we can really know that it was because of one of a few different reasons.

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What are the reasons players get kicked out of faceoffs? The center will be kicked out if he or one of his teammates is doing something illegal during the setup. The faceoff violation will usually be for misalignment of the faceoff man or from one of his teammates moving into the faceoff circle.

1. Not lining up properly as centers

When a linesman is looking to drop the puck before a faceoff he will be looking for three things from the centers:

  1. Square up
  2. Feet in stirrups (the L’s in front of the dot)
  3. Stick placement

Let’s look at what can be a violation on each of them.

Square up: the players skates need to be straightforward. It is an advantage to the player if their skates are turned to the side because they have an advantage of turning their body into the opponent and gaining position

Feet in stirrups: the centers skates must be in the red L shapes that are before the dot. Again, if the skates are outside of these dots it is easier for the center to get position on his opponent.

Stick placement: players are to stick their sticks on the edge of the dot – the defensive player first then the offensive player. If the stick is not placed where it is supposed to be, is in the air and not on the ice, or moving the stick before the puck is dropped then the center will be thrown out.

A player moving early before the puck was dropped would fall into one of these three categories above.

2. Other players are doing illegal stuff (like encroachment)

Perhaps the most common reason that a player gets kicked out of a faceoff circle is not because of what they have done wrong, but what the players on his own team have done wrong. 

From the NHL rule book a linesmen is allowed to have a center replaced if:

  •  Any player has encroached into the face-off circle,
  •  Any player makes physical contact with an opponent, or
  •  Any player who lines up for the face-off in an off-side position

The most common of these for causing a center to be replaced is a player encroaching into the face-off circle. Players are all anticipating and waiting for the linesman to drop the puck. As they anticpate it is quite common that they jump early (or, as hockey players they are simply trying to jump early and get away with it!). 

The player who causes the center to be waived cannot be the player who goes into take the faceoff. It must be one of the other players on the ice.

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As coaches will tell players it is not only the center’s responsibility to win a faceoff, but it takes the whole line (although, a center is judged on their face of win percentage – FOW) (although, a center is judged on their face of win percentage – FOW) . That is why it is imperative that a winger gets towards the faceoff dots as fast as possible to get to loose pucks that are there when the centers tie each other up. However, this will often result into encroachment before the puck is dropped. 

Why players try to cheat on faceoffs

Players try to ‘cheat’ on faceoffs because faceoffs are so important in the game. The number one thing that a team is trying to create in the modern NHL is posession. 

Posession is really the amount of time that your team has the puck versus your opponent. And there are a lot of different fancy stats that measure this in slighly different ways. But, the one thing they all point too is that if your team consistently has the puck more than your opponent your team will win more games than others.

And where does possession start in the NHL? With winning the faceoff. 

So NHL teams place so much importance on the faceoff as the beginning of controlling the posession battle between the teams. 

The best time to cheat on faceoffs

Let’s be honest, players are trying to do anything they can to get an advantage in the NHL. The best time to cheat on faceoffs in hockey is always. I would guess that practically every faceoff has something that is not officially be by the rulebook. A center will move early or a player (multiple players) will encroach on every faceoff. But there are times when they are more aggressive in their cheating than other times.

They will be more aggressive in pushing the face-off rules if there are two players on the ice that are great at taking faceoffs.

There are so many players that have grown up playing center and once they get to the NHL they are converted to wingers. It is easier for a center to shift to playing wing then it is for a winger to shift to playing center. So, there are a lot of wingers who used to be centers.

This gives a lot of lines two players on the ice who are good at taking faceoffs. If this is the case, the first player taking the faceoff will be more aggressive in pushing the rules of winning the faceoff because if they get kicked out they know there is a competent backup.

On the Calgary Flames they have two natural centers playing on the first line – Sean Monohan and Elias Lindholm. In this case Lindholm is the one who plays wing.

Both are good at faceoffs, but Monohan (who is left handed) will take all of the faceoffs on the left side of the ice and Lindholm (who is right handed) on the right side, because their winning percentage is higher on those sides. And if one of them gets kicked out, they know they have a good backup to take the second faceoff.

In the final minutes of the game, it is common for teams to stick out two centers for a faceoff in their defensive zone in case someone gets kicked out. They want to do anything to try and get possession of the faceoff, so they make sure that there will always be two good faceoff players on the ice. 

Can a player get a penalty for a faceoff violation?

Does a player ever get penalties from face-off violations? Yes, it is possible for a team/player to get a penalty for a faceoff violation. 

If a team/player commits two faceoff violations on the same faceoff then they will get a 2 minute minor penalty. This rarely happens – I think I can count on one hand the number of times I have seen this. 

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I don’t think the NHL wants to give out penalties for faceoff violations. What they want to do is get the game going as quickly as possible. However, if players are constantly trying to cheat the faceoff to get an advantage and delaying the restart of play then there needs to be some consequence other than just being thrown out of the faceoff.

In a sense, the 2 minute penalty for faceoff violations on the same faceoff is really an empty threat type of penalty. It will be called a few times a year, but mostly it is designed to help keep some type of order.

Do players every intentional create a faceoff violation?

Yes, players do create faceoff violations intentionally. Why would they do this?

Let’s us look at an example at why they would do this. If a team has iced the puck, they are not allowed to change players on the ice while the opposing team can put out a fresh set of players. In addition, the faceoff after icing will be in the defensive zone of the team that iced the puck.

So now you have a faceoff 10 feet from your goalie with a bunch of tired players versus a bunch of fresh players off the bench. What would you do? 

Create a faceoff violation is one answer because although it doesn’t waste much time it can give the tired guys an extra 10 seconds or so of recovery time. For professional athletes this can be a significant amount of time just to get a little more recovery to make a push and prevent a goal from the subsequent play off the faceoff. 

So when you are watching hockey and a puck gets iced watch for how many times a faceoff violations happen. You will definitely see a few that occur so some tired players will get a few extra seconds break.  

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