What Is An Icing In Hockey?

If you are watching a hockey game and asking yourself “what is an icing in hockey!” then we have the answer you need.

If you are trying to explain icing to someone else, send them this page.

If you have ever watched hockey with someone who is not familiar with the rules of ice hockey, getting this question is unavoidable. So if you came here to find the answer to that then you are in the right place.

Icing Definition

An icing is when a player shoots the puck from his own side of the red line all the way to the opponent’s side of the ice and across the opponent’s goal line before someone from his own team touches it. 

diagram of an icing in hockey

Negating the Icing

An icing is not automatic in all leagues as soon as it crosses the goal line. The most common way this rule is implemented today is

This is one rule that differs depending on the level of hockey that you are competing in or watching. At most youth and recreational levels, the icing is called as soon as the puck crosses the goal line, but in many leagues and tournaments at higher levels, a team can negate the icing.

NHL Icing Rule Change In 2017

Icing in hockey, specifically the NHL has changed recently.

In 2017 the National Hockey League (“NHL”) changed their rules on negating an icing to the rules described above. Prior to that, in order for an icing to be called, the team that did not ice the puck had to touch it before the team that iced the puck. This was called “touching up.” This resulted in two players racing to touch the puck first, oftentimes crashing hard into the end boards at top speed or the first player to the puck being body checked aggressively into the boards.

While exciting to watch, this led to a lot of injuries and concussions. Since it’s certainly better to have the best players on the ice and healthy as much as possible, the NHL changed the rule to what it is today. Most leagues around the world have also eliminated the “touch up” from icing calls.

Exceptions to Icing

There is one major exception to the icing rule. That is when a team is shorthanded as a result of a penalty. If they are shorthanded, they will not be called for icing. That team can shoot the puck all the way down the ice as many times during the shorthanded situation as they want and play will continue and the opposing team will have to go get the puck and bring it back up the ice.

What Is The Reason For Icing

Why is there icing in hockey?

The icing rule exists generally to increase offense and keep the game moving. If a team was able to shoot the puck all the way down the ice from their own zone every time they got it, then the game would get quite boring very fast. The icing rule requires a team to skate or pass the puck out of their own zone at least to the red center line before shooting it into the offensive zone.

Having to skate or pass the puck out rather than shooting it down the ice creates more opportunities for turnovers and offense. It also adds to the tension of the game for the team that is in their own defensive zone. It requires some degree of skill and teamwork to get the puck out of your own defensive zone. These are all things that make for a more exciting game, which is exactly what the NHL wants.

Changing Players After An Icing

To prevent a team from icing the puck just to get a chance to switch out tired players, most leagues have a rule that the players on the ice at the time of an icing have to stay on the ice for the face-off in their defensive zone. Of course if they win the face-off and can move the puck up the ice, then they can change on the fly.

This was a relatively recent rule change, at least in the NHL. It was implemented starting in the 2005-06 season. The purpose was to dissuade teams from icing the puck on purpose and keep the game moving. This made the games more exciting and fun to watch and also increased the chances of a goal being scored. A tired group of players stuck in their own defensive zone can result in defensive mistakes and deensive mistakes frequently end with a puck in the back of the net.

When Icing The Puck Is A Good Strategy

There may be times when icing the puck (even if you are not shorthanded) can be helpful. Despite the fact that the ensuing face-off ends up right back in your own zone and you can’t change players, it is still an opportunity to regroup and potentially win a face-off. There is no penalty for an icing. So if your team is caught disorganized and trapped in the defensive zone and you get your stick on the puck, if you can’t pass or skate it up the ice cleanly, shooting it down the ice for an icing may be the next best thing.

The players on the ice may be tired, but at least they get to rest for the time it takes the officials to get the puck and set up for a face-off. It also gives the defending players the opportunity to reset their positioning. Sometimes, players get caught in parts of the ice that they aren’t used to playing on defense because they had to move to stay on a puck carrier or shift to fill a space vacated by another player. So a face-off, even in your own zone, can help you reset the positioning and get everyone where they are comfortable playing.

What is a two line pass?

If you watch an older hockey game or talk to a player or fan that has known the game for a while, you might hear the term “two line pass.” This has mostly been removed from the game at this point though. The NHL eliminated it in 2005.

The main reason the NHL eliminated this rule in 2005 was because a lot of teams developed a strategy called “the trap.” Knowing that a team could not pass across their own blue line and the red line directly and would have to advance one zone at a time, teams with less speed and skill players would stack players in the neutral zone and clog up the shorter passing lanes. Because the team in the defensive zone would have to move incrementally up the ice, the other team was able to trap them in their own defensive zone if they played a strict system with discipline. The only problem is that if a team played the trap extremely well, the game became extremely boring to watch for all but the most die hard fans of defensive battles. After the team eliminated the two line pass in 2005, the trap teams were less effective and the emphasis was again on skill and speed.

Want to learn more about the basics of ice hockey? Check out Hockey 101

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