Face offs are one of the most common occurrences in a game of hockey. On the surface, they seem simple enough. And yet, as is the case in this sport, sometimes the simplest things are the most complex.

A face-off shall take place when the Referee or Linesmen drops the puck on the ice between the sticks of the players facing off. Not hard to understand yet.  

Now, here is where everything begins to happen. The players taking the face-off, usually the centerman from each team, is supposed to stand squarely facing his opponent’s end of the rink. They are to stand about one stick length apart with the full blade of their sticks flat on the ice. All of the other players must be no closer than about 4.57 m (15 feet) from the face-off spot and they must be on-side (on the same side of the ‘circle’ as their centerman).

When the face-off takes place at any of the face-off spots in the end zones, the centermen now have to stand squarely facing the other team’s end of the rink and also clear of the face-off restraining lines which have been drawn on the ice. They then must have their players taking part in the face-off take their positions so that they will stand squarely facing their opponents’ end of the rink, and clear of the face-off restraining lines.  The sticks of both players must be placed on the ice with the toe of the blade touching within the designated white area. On top of this, the visiting player must place his stick down first.

While the centermen are getting ready for the puck to be dropped, all other players must remain on-side. If any of them moves off-side, touches an opponent, or moves inside the 15 foot circle, then the linesman is to eject the centerman of the offending team and another player has to take his place.

A face-off is the only way a game can be started, and it is the only way play can be resumed after a stoppage of play for any reason. It is therefore, a very important part of hockey. It is also a very important part of the game for coaches and players. Many goals result from winning face-offs and there are players who practice endlessly to perfect their face-off skills.

Fans hate to see players tossed out of face-offs and they always yell at the Linesmen to “Drop the puck!”  The delay in the game annoys fans because they want to see action, not players getting kicked out of face-offs. However, the reason why players are getting tossed out of face-offs is that one of the players on the offending team is not obeying the rules of the face-off and thus they are in essence cheating. A Linesman’s prime duty at each and every face-off is to provide a fair face-off.

So why do centremen get kicked out of face-offs?  One of the reasons is that the centreman himself is not obeying the proper procedures of a face-off.  The centreman must come in square, using the two “L” lines to position their feet and they are required to place their sticks flat on the ice and only the tips of their blades are allowed to be in contact with the face-off dot.  When centremen come in crooked (feet not within the constraints of the two “L” lines), or when the tips of their sticks are not facing the other end boards, or when their sticks are not on the ice, they may be tossed out of the circle to be replaced by another member of their team.

The most common reason for a centreman getting tossed out of a face-off is that he is moving before the puck is actually out of the Linesman’s hand.  centremen like to get the jump on the Linesman by placing their stick on the ice and then immediately lifting their stick and moving it forward across the face-off dot in an attempt to sweep the puck back between their legs.  This works if the Linesman actually drops the puck as the stick is moving forward, because as the stick is coming back towards his body the puck is already on the ice making it easy for this centreman to win the draw. 

When centremen continue to put their sticks on the ice and then immediately lift them they are likely to be tossed out of the face-off because it is not fair to the other team’s centreman who has remained stationary as he is supposed to.  Another popular reason why centreman will be tossed out of a face-off is because they are moving into the face-off in an attempt to anticipate the Linesman dropping the puck.  If a centreman is moving at a face-off he will likely be tossed because it is not only unfair to the other team but the Linesman has a greater chance of being hit by this player as he skates through the face-off dot.

The centreman must come in square to a face-off with one foot on each side of the “L” lines and he should be stationary (not moving) with the tip of the stick pointing towards the opposite end of the rink and flat on the ice.  If this does not happen then he will likely be tossed out of the face-off circle.  Granted, Linesman like to get the play going as quickly as possible just like the fans, so they tend to give a little leeway with this rule.  Usually as long as the centreman has his stick on the ice and in the white part of the face-off dot with his feet in the “L” lines and moving slightly, he will drop the puck without throwing the centreman out of the circle.

The other reason why centemen get tossed out of the face-off has to deal with his wingers who are usually trying to get a jump on their opponents by anticipating when the Linesman will drop the puck.  First of all, the Linesman dropping the puck is responsible for the two centremen and for the players located in front of him.  If one of these players jumps off-side then it is his duty to toss the centreman.  On almost every face-off, there is usually a winger from each team located behind the Linesman dropping the puck.  It is the duty of the other Linesman that is located on the opposite side of the ice near the blue line to enforce the encroachment rule against these players. This is why you will sometimes hear the whistle being blown by the linesman at the blue line. He will then point to one end of the rink to indicate which centerman should be tossed.  

The players not taking the face-off must keep their bodies and their sticks outside of the hash mark area.  If a player has his stick inside this area (this is very much like a no fly zone, where you must stay out of this area) then he is considered to be off-side and the centreman may be tossed out of the face-off.  It is legal though for the wingers at the face-off to have their sticks inside the face-off circle as long as their sticks to not enter the hash mark area.  For this rule you must imagine the hash marks extending right across the ice surface.  It would look silly if the lines of the hash marks were actually drawn across the ice, so they are not.  


If a player jumps the gun, so to speak, and enters into the end zone face-off circle before the puck is dropped, then the centreman will be tossed out.  If a winger from each team that is lined up across from each other jumps the gun at the same time, the Linesman are instructed to send a message to the teams and kick out only one centreman.  They try to toss the centreman who’s winger jumped slightly first.  If they cannot determine who moved first, it is usually the attaching team’s center who is tossed. The reason for this is simply because of the fact that an end-zone face-off is very important for the defending team to win in order to prevent a goal. This is why you seldom see the defending team’s centerman tossed unless the linesman is certain that is was his player who moved first.  

Sometimes you will see two centreman tossed but for the most part the Linesmen are taught to only throw out one centreman at a time.  It sends a stronger message to the teams to stay on-side.

In fact a penalty can be assessed to a team who has more than one centeman tossed from a face-off during the same stoppage of play.  This is rarely called and it usually never gets to this point because the Linesmen, as stated earlier, like to get the game going just as much as the fans, so they will work extra hard to get the replacement centreman to obey the rules of the face-off.

So, once again, a very natural and repeated part of the game such as face-offs becomes something that coaches, players and fans often take for granted. Linesmen have a lot to deal with in order to make sure that face-offs are conducted fairly and within the rules. The reason it looks so simple and natural is understandable – the officials make sure everything comes together and everyone abides by the rules. Otherwise, there would be chaos and all kinds of problems would arise.


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