What is Icing in Hockey?


Icing is one of the most common stoppages in a hockey game. When a player shoots the puck from behind the center red line to beyond the goal line of the opposing team, icing is called. This rule was created to help prevent injuries from players racing for the puck at full speed and encourage skillful passing plays instead of just blasting the puck down ice.

This guide will explain everything you need to know about what icing is, what causes it, the rules around icing, and how it impacts hockey strategy.

What Exactly is Icing in Hockey?

Icing is defined in the NHL Rulebook (Rule 81) as:

“Icing the puck occurs when a player shoots or bats a puck from behind the center red line, across the opposing team’s goal line, and the puck remains untouched.”

Essentially, icing happens any time a player sends the puck from the defensive side of the center red line down past the goal line of the opposing team.

  • The puck has to cross the goal line for icing to be called
  • Icing is wave off if an opposing player touches the puck first
  • The result is a stoppage of play and faceoff outside the defensive zone of the team that iced the puck

More Details on Exactly What Constitutes Icing

While the definition above seems straightforward, there are a number of nuances around what exactly constitutes icing:

  • The puck must be shot or batted with a stick, not directed by any other means like a glove or skate
  • Icing is determined based on the position of the puck when it crosses the goal line, not the player who shot it
  • There are exceptions if a player from either team has a realistic chance to play the puck before it crosses the goal line

So while the basic concept is simple – puck shot from behind center red line to opposing goal line – the linesmen must make judgment calls on icings based on specific situations.

What Causes Icing to Be Called ice hockey?

There are two main scenarios that can lead to icing being called:

  1. A player shoots the puck from behind the center red line to beyond the opposing goal line
    • Includes clearing attempts, missed passes, or shots on goal
  2. A skater passes the puck from behind the red line to a teammate that is already past the goal line
    • Trying to stretch a pass to a breaking teammate

Additionally, there are two versions of the icing rule:

  • Touch icing – Play stops immediately when the puck crosses the goal line
  • No-touch icing – Play continues if defender can get to puck before attacking player; safer option

The NHL switched to no-touch icing prior to the 2013-14 season to help protect players from dangerous collisions.

More Icing Examples

While the two main scenarios above cover most icing situations, here are a few additional examples:

  • Player A shoots the puck from neutral zone down ice near the boards and it crosses the goal line without anyone able to play it
  • Player B tries to clear the defensive zone by lifting the puck high in the air from deep in his own zone and it lands untouched past the goal line
  • Player C rings the puck around the boards from behind his own net and it skips untouched past the goal line

So any uncontrolled puck sent from a defensive position behind center ice that crosses the goal line can be subject to an icing call.

What Happens When Icing is Called in ice Hockey?

Once the linesman determines that icing should be called against a team, here is the ensuing sequence of events:

  1. The play is immediately whistled dead once the puck crosses the goal line
  2. A faceoff is held in the defensive zone of the team that committed the icing
  3. The offending team is prohibited from making any player substitutions prior to the faceoff
  4. In some cases, icing calls can be waived off by the linesman:
    • If the puck is touched first by a player on the opposing team
    • If, in the opinion of the linesman, a player could have played the puck before it crossed the goal line
    • If the puck enters the net (either goal)

Being unable to change your players after an icing call can be extremely tiresome if your team is trapped on the ice for an extended shift.

More on the Consequences of Icing

Getting stuck on the ice after an exhausting shift because of an icing call can swing momentum. A few additional consequences:

  • Fatigued players are more prone to mental mistakes and penalties
  • Changes matchups and can create favorable situational advantages
  • Faceoff in defensive zone increases pressure and likelihood of getting scored on

So while icing might simply look like a stoppage of play, it can create a short-handed situation for the offending team.

Why Was the Icing Rule Instituted in Hockey?

The icing rule has been part of hockey for over 80 years for a couple key reasons:

  1. Prevent teams from just shooting the puck length of ice whenever they gain possession
    • Forces teams to make skillful passes up the ice instead
  2. Slow the game down by eliminating the chase for the puck on rapid changes of possession
  3. Player safety – Eliminates risk of injuries from players racing at top speed to reach puck before it crosses goal line

More History Behind the Icing Rule

Icing has been a part of hockey since the 1930s. While the origins are a bit uncertain, the rule is largely credited to Frank Patrick, an early pioneer of hockey.

The rule has seen a few modifications over the years:

  • 1937 – Forward pass rule introduced, helping bring about two-line offside passes
  • 1943-44 – NHA introduces icing as an experiment
  • 1946-47 – NHL makes icing regulation after successful test by NHA
  • 2004 – NHL implements “touch-up” icing giving defender chance to touch puck
  • 2013 – NHL moves to “hybrid” no-touch icing used currently

So while icing has been tweaked, modified, and adapted over 80+ years, the spirit of the rule remains.

When is Icing Used Strategically in Hockey?

While icing is often unintentional, teams will sometimes use it strategically:

  • Clearing the puck out of the defensive zone when under heavy pressure
  • Preventing opposing odd-man rushes and breakaways
  • Trying to complete a safe line change after being trapped on ice

Icing Used as a Defensive Tactic

When under relentless pressure in your defensive zone, shooting the puck the length of the ice can provide momentary relief:

  • Allows defensive group to briefly reset coverage and positioning
  • Enables desperate line change after spending shift pinned in zone
  • Temporarily disrupts opponent’s momentum and offensive rhythm

While it yields a faceoff deep in your own zone, icing the puck under duress can enable a team to catch its breath and relieve pressure when fatigued.


Essentially, icing is called in hockey whenever a player shoots the puck from behind the red center line to the opposing goal line without anyone else touching it. This rule encourages skillful puck movement up ice instead of just shooting it the length of the rink. It also eliminates dangerous collisions between players racing for the puck at full speed near the boards.

While often unintentional, icing can also be used strategically by teams when trapped in their zone or in need of a line change. But it results in a stoppage of play and often leaves a tired group of players trapped on the ice.

After over 80 years as part of hockey, icing remains an important rule that influences pace of play, fatigue, line matching, and safety. So now you know the detailed ins and outs of icing – the reasons for its creation, consequences, and strategic usage over time.


What is icing in hockey?

Icing is when a player shoots the puck from behind the center red line to past the opposing goal line. When this happens, play is stopped and there is a faceoff in the defensive zone of the team that committed the icing.

Why does the icing rule exist?

The main reasons are:

  • To prevent teams from just shooting the puck down the ice every time they get possession
  • To encourage skillful puck movement and passing
  • To slow the pace of play
  • To protect players from dangerous collisions chasing pucks at high speeds

What happens when icing is called?

  • The play is immediately whistled dead once the puck crosses the goal line
  • A faceoff occurs in the defensive zone of the team that iced the puck
  • The offending team is not allowed to make line changes before the faceoff

What is the difference between touch icing and no-touch icing?

In touch icing, play continues if the defender can reach the puck before an attacking player. This allowed dangerous collisions as players raced to touch up the puck. In no-touch icing, play is stopped as soon as the puck crosses the goal line.

Can icing be strategic in hockey?

Yes. Teams will sometimes intentionally ice the puck to relieve pressure in their defensive end or when they need a line change but are trapped in their zone. But it does result in a faceoff in your defensive end.

Can icing be waived off?

Yes, if the puck is touched by an opponent first, a player could have reached it before it crossed the line, or the puck enters the goal. Linesmen can wave off icing based on their judgment of the play.

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