What does offside mean in hockey? If truth be told, this one is my nemesis. What is offside in hockey sometimes comes down to a video review and the judgment call of those in the situation room. Maybe I’m not a fan because I seem to only disagree with the call when it’s against my team. To understand what I mean, let’s explore this topic more.
Offside in Hockey Definition
The definition of offside in hockey occurs when the attacking player proceeds the puck into the attacking zone, past the blue line. If the player does not have skate contact with a part of the neutral zone or the blue line when the puck crosses the blue line, it’s considered offside. There are three variations, offside, delayed offside, and intentional offside. Let’s focus on the first one for now by checking out this cute youth hockey tutorial of simple offside plays.
Play is stopped immediately when the referee makes the call by blowing his whistle. The official will shout out, “Offsides!” so that everyone knows that play is stopped. The official will point to where the violation occurred with a chopping motion of his hand. After the stoppage of play, the official will take the puck for a faceoff in the neutral zone.
Offside in hockey was introduced as a way to create quicker counter-attacks and control the number of goals scored.
There are three types of offside in hockey: regular, delayed, and intentional.
Regular and delayed offsides result in a face-off at the blue dots by the blue line in the offensive zone.
Intentional offside results in a face-off in the defensive zone.
A review of the play can be asked by the coach if he believes a goal is unwarranted due to the play being offside.
The linesman in hockey is the official who determines whether there is an offside call or not.
It’s the position of the player’s skate, not the player’s stick, that determines offside. If both skates are past the blue line before the puck, the player is ruled offside by a linesman.
Three Zones of a Hockey Rink
There are three zones in an ice hockey rink:
1.) The Defensive Zone: This is where your team’s own goal is defended.
2.) The Neutral Zone: This is the middle portion of a hockey rink between the two blue lines.
3.) Offensive Zone (or Attacking Zone): This is the rink area where the team with the puck is trying to score a goal. The attacking zone and the defensive zone each feature two faceoff circles.
See Hockey Game Lengths.
Youth Hockey Offside Tutorial Video
Delayed Offsides Call Defined
Let’s use my favorite team rivalry to explain this one. A delayed offside occurs when the Habs’ offensive players are in the attacking zone. But through a defensive play from the Leafs, the puck is sent outside across the blue line. All the attacking Habs are left in the offensive zone with no puck.
With delayed offside, offside players are allowed to exit the offensive zone before they can once again go for possession of the puck. Please note that officials will let play continue as usual if the defending team clears the puck into the neutral zone.
But what if a defensive Hab wants to shoot the puck back into the attacking zone? If the remaining Habs can’t get back past the blue line in time, the refs will call delayed offside infractions. Like the original offside call, a face-off at one of the faceoff dots outside the blue line results.
Here’s an important question: when is the puck considered out of the attacking zone? The short answer is when the entire hockey puck has wholly crossed the entire blue line. Linesmen look to see some ice between the edge of the puck and the leading edge of the blue line.
Players will frequently drag their back skate when offensive teams attempt to carry the puck into the attacking zone. The position of the hockey stick has no bearing on the call.
Check out the video below to get a better visual of delayed offsides.
Offsides – Hockey 101 Video
Once again, let’s go back to the Habs versus the Leafs. Intentional offside is precisely as it sounds. In this case, a Leaf player intentionally passed the puck across the blue line to any of his teammates. The referee calls this play intentionally offside.
In the video below, you can see Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks play a pluck even though he was offside. The ruling was intentionally offside, and therefore, the face-off is a more tough call in Chicago’s zone. The Minnesota Wild will have a better chance to reclaim the puck and score a goal.
Intentional Offsides Video
Who Makes the Offside Call?
A hockey official is the one who makes the call. However, if a coach believed a call was missed, he could ask for it to be under review for the longest time. However, an amendment was made more recently because each review halted the game’s flow.
As it now stands, a coach can request a review of a missed offside but with the risk of a penalty. This is only done if a goal results from a believed missed offside. If the review is ruled offside, a ref will come out and declare ‘no goal.’ If, however, it is not offside, the team receives a minor penalty for two minutes.
By the Narrow Edge of a Skate
Remember how I said that offsides are my nemesis; this is the part I mean. Sometimes it happens; your team scores, and you jump out of your seat with joy. Then, you see the camera go over to the opposing team’s bench. The coach is asking for a play review; they believe one of your players was offside.
Usually, at this point, the viewer, ahem, starts yelling at the tv. After that, the announcers start analyzing the play before the goal. This is done at multiple camera angles. You will also see the referee skate over to the side and put on a pair of headphones.
He’s waiting for a ruling from the situation room located in Toronto, Canada. It is here that the final ruling takes place. They see what we see, but depending on whether you want the goal to be counted or not, you may call it differently than them.
Although most are straightforward, there are times when the referees must also consider the placement of the puck and the player’s skates. This is when it can indeed come down to the narrow edge of a skate on the blue line.
To understand better what I’m talking about, check out the video below. It shows a nice variety of goals that are deemed no goal because of being offside. It also shows how hard it can be to make the call. Looking at the fans in the audience, seeing disbelief in their faces, ask yourself, would you have made the same calls?
When Was the Offside Penalty Introduced?
In 1927, forward passing within the neutral and defensive zones was allowed. However, scoring was low, and the NHL introduced forward passing in the attacking zone. The change was instant, players could wait in the attacking zone, but goals were too high.
So, on December 16, 1929, the hockey league announced that offsides would now take place for players proceeding the puck into the offensive zone. But, interesting to note, the center red line was not introduced until the 1943-1944 season. They added it as a way to lower the number of offside infractions and to create quicker counter-attacks.
Before the rule, offensive players would stand directly in front of goaltenders looking for full-ice passes from their teammates. The player of the attacking team would take shots directly at goalies, sometimes with no defender nearby. Goaltenders must have been happy with the new offside rule.
Offsides Goals Video
Final Thoughts on the Offside Rule
Offsides have been an effective way to create more intense plays in the attacking zone. They keep the attackers on their toes and allow for a better balance of goal-scoring. Plus, the game’s flow has been better restored now that there is a penalty for unwarranted review of play requests.
If you still want to get a better understanding, the next time you watch a game, pay attention to that blue line outside of each team’s end and see if you make the same calls as the referees. With any luck, now that you are an expert, you, too, will be yelling at the referee because he made the wrong call.
By Danielle L’Ami
Danielle is a Habs fan who lives and writes in Canada. A Saturday night of hockey in her house consists of two TVs, lots of food and drinks, plenty of cheering, and maybe some yelling at the TV.
You’re on our What is Offside in Hockey? page.
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