Icing is a rule that is in place to penalize teams who like to just shoot the puck down the ice when they are in trouble by having the next face-off take place in their end zone.  Icing also forces teams to move the puck up the ice over the centre red line before they are allowed to dump the puck into the opposing team’s end zone.  It is a way to have players use each other and play as a team instead of having players just dumping the puck down the ice and chasing after it.

The Centre Red Line

The centre red line is critical in determining whether or not an Icing is going to take place.  By the letter of the law, a player must release the puck over the centre red line (on the half of the ice that contains the opposing team’s net) in order to nullify the Icing call.

However, anyone who watches hockey knows that linesman will tend to give a bit of leeway when calling icings.

Why don’t linesmen simply call it “by the book”? 

The main reason is to keep the flow of the game going.  If a player is about to be, or is being checked, by an opposing player, and he releases the puck close to the red line but not quite over it, then the Linesman may wave the Icing off and allow play to continue.  However if a player is all alone and all he has to do is take one more stride to nullify the Icing,then a Linesman may call this an Icing infraction because the player was just being lazy and the Linesman may want to send a message to the teams, “If you’re going to be lazy, you will be penalized.” 

The main thing for a Linesman is to be consistent.  If the players, coaches, and fans see a Linesman allowing the one-foot leeway then he had better call it this way for the remainder of the game and for both teams.  If the Linesmen are consistent then they will most likely have very little complaining from the players and coaches about their icing judgment.

Icing On The Power Play & Last Few Minutes Of A Game

Having just mentioned that a Linesman must be consistent throughout a game, this consistency may change from time to time depending on how the game is developing.  The Linesman may be consistent when both teams are playing at even strength (5 on 5, 4 on 4, or 3 on 3), but he may call it tighter when a team is on a power play or in the last few minutes of a game.  This has to do with Game Management and is something that an official develops with experience.

When a team is on a power play you may see the Linesman decide to call an Icing on the exact same situation that has been allowed to occur throughout the game. For instance, he may have been allowing leeway of about six inches to the red line all game and then decide to call a particular play an icing. Have you ever wondered why? The main reason is likely that the team is already on a power play, meaning that they already have an advantage, so why would the Linesmen give another advantage to this team.  Coaches know this and so do the players who are thinking about what they are doing. The unwritten rule when it comes to icing is that when a team is on a power play, they had better get the puck over the red line or at least on the red line before they dump the puck into the opposing team’s end zone.  There is no reason why a team on a power play cannot pass the puck or carry the puck over the centre red line before dumping the puck into the end zone. There will always be one man open 

The same thing occurs as the game progresses, especially in the last few minutes of a game.  You may notice that the Linesmen call the Icings tighter in the last few minutes, but this usually depends on the score of the game as well.  Again, the rule of thumb that all coaches and players realize is that the closer the score, the tighter the Icings might be called.  If a team is down by three goals and they release the puck a foot away from the red line, the Linesmen may wave it off because there is very little chance that a team down by three or four goals is going to come back to win or at least tie the game with only a few minutes left to play. 

If the game is tied, however, you are more likely to see the Linesmen make the players at least release the puck on the red line if not over the red line or risk an icing call. The reason for this is that if you allow a team to have a one foot or so leeway in the last few minutes, this usually tends to “nip you in the butt” as a Linesman.  It seems to never fail that as soon as a Lineman waves this off, that team always tends to score a goal and then the team who was just scored on will put up a valid argument. 

The Linesmen will try to maintain their consistency throughout a game, however this consistency may change from situation to situation, but in those situations the Linesmen will be as fair and consistent as possible.  For example, the linesman will try to enforce the icing situations on all power plays the same way throughout the game. During even strength situations, he will be consistent in his leeway. During power plays he will be consistent in his lack of leeway. The players must adjust.

The Goal Line

The centre red line is the determining factor as to if an Icing might be called or signaled.  The other line used in the equation is the Goal Line (the two inch red line that runs parallel to the end boards on which the posts of the net rest).  If the puck is shot from behind the centre red line (the half of the ice of the team shooting the puck) and goes down the ice without touching any player, then the Linesman will signal an Icing the moment that the puck completely crosses over the Goal line. 

Linesmen’s Signals On Icing Calls

The Linesman who determines whether or not the player has released the puck over the red line will either raise one of his arms straight up in the air and yell something like “Ice” or “Icing” to let his partner know that a potential Icing may take place, or he will ‘Wave’ off the Icing by extending his arms perpendicular to his body (making a “T” shape with his body).  The Linesman making this original signal is known as the back Linesman.

The Front Linesman’s signals are the exact same as the back Linesman’s signals.  His arm will go straight up in the air after he blows the whistle (note his arm does not go up until after he blows the whistle) to signal an Icing, or he will ‘Wave-off’ the Icing if the puck contacted a player; if he feels that a player of the defending team could have touched or played the puck as it passed by them; or if he feels the defending player did not make enough of an effort to reach the puck before it crossed the goal line.

Numerical Strength – Short Handed Situations

Icing is not called on a team killing a penalty.

For example, let’s say that the Blue team is assessed a minor penalty for tripping and will be required to play one man short for the next two minutes, assuming that the other team does not score during these next two minutes.  This means that the Blue team will have 4 skaters on the ice plus a goalie and the Red team will be on the power play because they have 5 skaters plus a goalie on the ice.  Therefore, the Blue team is killing a penalty and is now allowed to “Ice” the puck for the time that they are killing the penalty.

This means that the Blue team can take the puck from anywhere on the ice and shoot it the length of the ice without being penalized in the form of a face-off in their end zone as would happen if the teams were at even strength.

The reason for this is that when a team is killing a penalty, they are at a disadvantage because the other team has more players on the ice.  On most power plays the majority of the play takes place in the end zone of the team killing the penalty.  By allowing them to shoot, bat, or kick the puck down the entire length of the ice this in a way alleviates a bit of the disadvantage and for the most part allows them to change their players or get a moment to catch their breath before the pressure is put back on them.

What Happens When The Penalty Is Up!

When a team is killing a penalty the players on that team are allowed to “Ice the puck” without having a face-off take place in their end zone for such an action.  Nevertheless, the team is allowed to do so only up to the moment that the penalty time on the clock runs down to zero. 

In most arenas, once the penalty time has expired the time will disappear from the clock completely.  As soon as the penalty time disappears from the penalty clock the team killing the penalty will no longer be allowed to “Ice the puck” without having the next face-off take place in their own end zone.

The main thing to understand is that as soon as that time is off of the clock, the team can no longer ice the puck.  If a player of the team killing a penalty releases the puck from his stick while there is still time on the clock then no icing will be called.  If he releases the puck after the penalty time on the clock has disappeared then Icing will be signaled.

All too often officials hear the argument that the puck crossed the goal line after the penalty time on the clock had disappeared, so why was it not Icing? Very simply, the Linesmen are to look at when the puck was released from the stick, not when the puck crossed the goal line.  As long as there is still penalty time up on the clock, the team killing the penalty will be allowed to release the puck and send it the length of the ice without having a face-off take place in their end zone. It is quite possible that the penalized player may step onto the ice prior to the puck crossing the goal line, but if the puck was released before the time expired, it will not be called icing.

This is a very important point to remember. All too often a coach who is unaware of the rule will start arguing with the linesman. Then when the referee asks the coach to settle down, another battle ensues. As this is happening the fans get into it and the players become more aggressive. All of this because the coach does not know the rule. The rest of the game may turn ugly as a result and turn what could have been a good experience into a bad one. Knowledge is a wonderful thing and in this case, it is so easy to acquire.

He Scores!

The final factor to consider in determining whether to call an Icing  is if the puck actually crosses over the Goal line without going into the net.  If the puck goes into the net on a potential icing then a goal will be awarded. This most often happens near the end of a game when one team pulls their goalie to get an extra skater on the ice in an attempt to put more pressure on the team that is winning the game.

The team with, for instance, five skaters and their goalie will try to shoot the puck at the empty net (team with six skaters and no goalie) in the hopes that the puck will enter the net and put them up by another goal.  This is perfectly legal and is the extra risk that a team takes when pulling their goalie for an extra skater. If it misses the net then an icing will be called and the face-off will be held in the defending team’s zone.

Some people who are new to the game have trouble understanding why an icing will be called when a team has five skaters to the other team’s six. They argue that the other team has an extra skater on the ice so Icing should not be called.  In essence, they are right, but wrong at the same time.  The other team may have six skaters to  five skaters but don’t forget about the goalie.  When you add your goalie, you have six players on the ice to the other club’s six players.  For the purpose of the numerical strength issue, you must always include the goalie when determining how many players are on the ice, not just the skaters (forwards and defence).

A team has the right to pull its goalie at any time during the game. There are some coaches who have been known to pull their goalie in the first period when they get a two-man advantage. This gives them six skaters to the penalized team’s three skaters – a tremendous offensive advantage.

It Hit The Post!

Another situation that arises from time to time is that the puck will pass through the crease, hit the post, and then proceed over the Goal line.  This is still considered “Icing”. 

In the past, many old timers will recall, if the puck passed through the crease the Icing would be waved off.  This rule is no longer in effect.  If the puck passes through or touches any part of the crease the potential for an Icing call will still be in effect. Many of the more experienced coaches and fans still think the old rule is in effect and you will often hear shouts of disagreement when a linesman calls an icing after a puck passes through a corner of the crease.

Also, a potential Icing is not an Icing until the puck completely passes over the Goal line.  So, even if the puck hits the edge of the goal post and crosses over the goal line, it is “Icing”.  It does not matter if the puck strikes the goal post before crossing over the goal line.  As long as the puck does not hit the goalie in the crease, the Icing will still be called if it proceeds over the goal line after hitting the post and stays outside the net.

Judgment: “He Could Have Played It!”

Icing seems pretty straightforward but it is very much a judgment call by the Linesmen.  Icing is not just, “did the player release the puck before the Centre Red Line?” or “Did the puck completely cross over the Goal Line?”  There are about 90 feet between these lines that play a big part in whether or not an Icing infraction will be called.

The first judgment comes when the player releases the puck.  Was the player over the centre red line or at least close enough for it to be waved off or was the player too far away from the red line for the Icing to be ignored?

The second judgement comes after the Back Linesman has raised his arm to signal a potential Icing infraction.  It is now up to the front Linesman will make a judgement as to whether or not a player of the team whose end the puck was just shot towards could possibly play the puck.  This is purely a judgment call, unless the puck touches a player of either team once it has crossed the centre red line, in which case the potential Icing would be waved-off immediately and play would be allowed to continue even if the puck continues past the goal line.

In the eyes of the Linesman, he must determine if a player of the defending team could have played the puck.  If the puck was not shot too hard and it is traveling along the ice within an easy reach of a defending player, the icing may be waved off, especially if this defending player does not even make an attempt to touch or stop the puck.  Some players like to watch the puck go past them in the hopes that a linesman will still call the icing even though he could have touched the puck.  Why? Because this player may want a whistle or he may be tired and wants to get off the ice and the Icing call will give him the opportunity to change. There are plenty of good reasons to let the puck go sailing on down the ice.

A Linesmen, for the most part, will still call the Icing as long as he feels that the puck was out of reach of any defending player, or the puck was shot too hard for a defending player to get to before it crossed over the goal line.  If, in the opinion of the linesman, a defending player made a reasonable attempt to try and stop or touch the puck that was shot down the ice, the Icing may still be called.

For instance, if the puck is shot hard and along the ice, the defending player must still try to stop or touch the puck if it is within reach of him.  If he makes no attempt at all to touch the puck, the Linesman will probably wave-off the icing.  This penalizes the defending player and his team due either to his laziness or desire to achieve a whistle.  Linesmen have a pretty good idea if a defending player made a reasonable attempt to at least touch the puck before it crosses over the goal line.  If in the opinion of the Linesmen, the members of the defending team made no attempt to touch the puck before it crossed over the goal line, the potential Icing may be waved-off and play will continue. This really penalizes the defending team since the player who allowed the puck to pass him is usually the last one back and now has to scramble to beat the attacking team to the puck. When the linesman waves off the icing you tend to see a sudden burst of panic-induced energy from the defending players.

Helping A Linesman’s Judgment!

Linesmen are trained to race the puck and defending players down the ice.  If in the opinion of the Linesman that is racing the player down the ice, the defending player could have and should have caught up to the puck before it crosses over the goal line then the icing will be waved off.

The linesman judge how fast the puck is traveling.  If a linesman starts at the same starting point as the defending player closest to the puck and beats this player to the puck (beats the puck to the goal line) then the icing will usually be waved off. 

Don’t forget, Linemen also consider the age and skating ability of the players that the linesman is racing.  If a 16 year old linesman is officiating a Novice game then obviously the lineman will beat the player and this is also taken into consideration. However, the next time you see a linesman  racing down the ice following the puck on a potential icing, take a look at how fast he is skating relative to the defending players. That will tell you if the defending player is making a real effort to play the puck.

Onus is Always on the Shooter In An Icing

When all is said and done, the onus is still on the shooter in determining the icing call. If a defending player makes an honest attempt to play the puck, then the icing will be called. For example, if the puck is shot in the air within several inches of a defending player’s body, it will still be called icing even though the puck was close to the player. If the puck is on the ice, this call may very well be different. Linesmen don’t expect a Bantam player to be able to bat a puck that is traveling at 80km/hour out of the air! However, they do expect a Bantam player to be able to put his stick out in front of a puck sliding along the ice.