If you’ve ever watched a hockey game, then you know how easily icing in hockey can change the momentum of the game. It can determine whether or not the puck will be dropped in front of the infracting team’s goalie. That can be a game-changer. But for those who are unsure, let’s define what it means.
Icing in Hockey Definition
Simply put, icing occurs when a team shoots the puck from their side of the ice across the center red line, and it crosses the goal line of the opposing team (as seen in the image below). It is the bold, red line that divides the rink in half.
Seems simple enough, right? Not so much. The rules of icing have changed over time. It isn’t always as clear-cut as the puck being shot across the centerline to the other side of the rink. Let’s dig a little deeper to better understand the ins and outs of icing in hockey.
Hockey Icing Diagram
- Icing was introduced as a way to deter the defensive team from dumping the puck to avoid pressure. This caused endless frustration to the fans and the opposing team.
- Icing occurs when the defensive team tries to clear the puck out of their zone. The puck must pass the goalie line (touch icing) or passes the faceoff dots (hybrid icing) in the offensive zone.
- The icing call can be waived off if the goalie touches the puck first. It may also be called if there is a power play or at the referee’s discretion.
When was Icing Introduced?
Touch icing was introduced by the National Hockey League (NHL) in 1937. It is called touch icing, as the players have to touch the puck for the icing to be called. The reason for the rule introduction was to deter a team who was leading in score from dumping the puck down the ice. This delayed the game and helped protect their lead.
Before this rule was introduced, there were instances of games where the puck was iced over 50 times. This led to frustration from the fans, and them throwing debris on the ice. It was obvious that something needed to be done.
How Icing is Called
The rules of icing have changed over the years, but we’ll talk about that later. For now, let’s focus on touch icing and what this means; I’ll use teams to help better visualize. Imagine the Montreal Canadiens are in the lead, and their defensive players want to clear the puck by shooting it to the other side of the rink – the opposite side of the centerline – away from the offensive Toronto Maple Leafs.
With the original rule in place, this would automatically compel an icing call by the referees against the Habs, who dumped the puck down the ice. An icing call requires the puck to be brought back to the team who iced the puck (the Habs), and a faceoff will now take place outside of their goaltender.
Still confused? Watch the following video for a simplistic explanation and, once again, a better visual.
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Types of Icing
There are three variations of icing called at different levels of play:
1.) Touch Icing: Where the opposing player must touch the puck for the official to call icing.
2.) No touch icing: Commonly used in amateur leagues, icing is automatically called when the puck crosses the line.
3.) Hybrid: Instead of being forced to touch the actual puck, the race is who reaches the face-off dot first. This prevents collisions while still giving the team that shot the puck an opportunity to prevent the icing call.
Hockey Icing Defined Video
When Icing in Hockey is Waived Off
It should be noted that icing calls can be waived. The first is if there is a power play, where one of the teams has an advantage in numbers because of penalties caused by the opposing team. In this case, a player or players are in the penalty box. The undermanned team can dump the puck down the ice freely as they are shorthanded during the penalty kill.
Another time when icing is not called is when the goaltender can reach the puck before any other player can. Here, the play resumes; this rule was introduced in 1951. In some situations, you may even see the goaltender raise his arm to let his team know he is not going to play the puck; therefore, icing will likely be called.
And lastly, the linesman has some discretion; where if he believes the offensive player could have reached the puck in time before it crosses the red goal line, he may choose to waive the call. Why might the offensive player not skate hard to the puck that is about to go past the goalie line, you ask? It is because he wants a faceoff in the defensive zone at the other end of the ice.
The Icing Rule Design
Remember, the icing infraction is designed to prevent a team from dumping the puck into their opponent’s zone to run the clock or avoid offensive pressure. If a team hasn’t had its needed line changes and, as a result, has many tired players out on the ice, there’s a temptation to ice the puck to give the players a brief rest.
By having the puck returned to the offending team’s defensive zone, the opposing team is rewarded. The offending team is forced to go on defense immediately because of the face-off in their defensive zone.
The Prevention of An Icing Call
Now, because an icing call gives the opposing team a better chance to reclaim the puck and shoot on the net, the defending team will try to prevent this. This results in a race to touch the puck before it crosses the opposing team’s goal line, with each player trying to beat the other. If a team A player clears the puck from his defensive zone, an opposing player is sometimes required to touch the puck before a teammate of team A does. Although, as noted, an official can call it off.
The outcome was a lot of fast skating that often ended in both players being crunched up against the boards and, therefore, a lot of injuries. Here is an example of one such injury where Edmonton Oilers’ Taylor Fedun fractured his right femur in a race against Minnesota Wild’s Eric Nystrom.
Icing and an Injury Video
The Introduction of Hybrid Icing and Other Changes
Because of these numerous icing injuries, the NHL knew the original hockey rule had to be changed. So, we still have the icing call, only now it is known as hybrid icing or no-touch icing. This means that the puck no longer has to cross the goal line. The new marker is the face-off dots in front of the goalie’s net. This rule was introduced in the 2013-2014 season.
With this rule, it gives the racing players a chance to alter their trajectory and no longer crash into the boards, thus, preventing a lot of injuries. But the main rule remains, if the offensive player reaches the puck before the team that iced the puck does, an icing call will occur.
Another rule modification that was added related to lineup changes. Originally, when a team iced the puck, they could change their lineup to have their best defensive line to defend their zone. But, in the 2004-2005 season, the NHL amended the rule to no longer allow for lineup changes; the defensive players are tired and this new rule would hopefully deter them from icing the puck.
If you want to see the update to icing, here is a clip showing a hybrid icing call in action, saving player Kyle Quincey from crashing into the end boards. As you can see, the referee blows the whistle at the face-off dots.
Hybrid Icing Video
So, there you have it; a better understanding of why icing was introduced, from touch icing to hybrid, to how it is called, why it gets waived off, and how it has changed over the years. Wanting to know more? Grab a drink, pull up a couch, and unwind with your favorite team; I’ll join you.
Editor’s Note: This is the first entry in our “Hockey In-depth Dictionary” to provide fans with a better understanding of the game.
By Danielle L’Ami
Danielle spends her time in Canada researching, writing, and watching hockey with her husband and three kids. She secretly hopes that her children will all be Habs fans like her. So far, the score is zero for three; but like any hockey fan, she has yet to give up hope.
You’re on our “What’s Icing in Hockey” page.
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