Icing in Hockey – What Is the Icing Rule in Hockey?

Posted on May 17, 2024 by Dan Kent
icing rule

Ever wondered what the icing rule means in ice hockey? It's time to clear it up, set the record straight and explain the rule in the simplest way possible.

What is the icing call in hockey?

Icing is when a player shoots the puck to the opposite end of the ice before crossing the red line. For icing to be called, the puck must have crossed the goal line. 

So in the most straightforward explanation possible, icing occurs when a player shoots the puck from behind the center line and over and across to the opposing team's goal line.

Looking at the image below, player A did not ice the puck, as he is past the red line at center ice. Player B however, has shot the puck down the ice on the opposite side of the center red line, resulting in an icing.

What is icing

Why is icing illegal in hockey?

The National Hockey League adopted the icing rule in 1937 to prevent players from being able to shoot the puck down the ice in an attempt to escape a pressure situation, defend a lead, and deter teams from making low-percentage stretch passes.

If you could shoot the puck down the ice whenever under pressure, or if there were no consequences for attempting long stretch passes that you will miss most of the time, it would kill the flow and excitement of the game.

This is particularly relevant when it comes to defending a lead in hockey. The flow of the game would completely die if teams in the lead could shoot the puck down the ice with no consequence as a delaying tactic.

Icing is designed to improve the quality of the game and make the sport more fun to watch.

Where did the term icing come from in hockey?

Because icing is defined as shooting the puck from one end of the ice to the other before crossing the redline, the term "icing" simply comes from the fact you've sent the puck all the way down the ice.

What is the punishment for icing?

If you or one of your teammates ices the puck, the linesman blows the whistle. The faceoff is brought back into the defensive zone of the team who ice the puck, typically on the side they iced it from. It is important to note that the linesman, not the referees, is responsible for calling an icing infraction.

This is a minor penalty in the grand scheme of things. Still, its risky as the puck is now back in the team's defensive zone, and the opposing team can score a goal – if they win the faceoff against the offending team.

Getting an icing call is not the worst thing to happen to a team – it's pretty trivial as infractions go. But with each call, you risk your opponents winning a faceoff and scoring a goal.

The NHL made some rule changes over the last decade to amplify the consequences of icing. Let's go over them.

What are the new NHL icing rules?

In the 2005-2006 NHL season, the NHL adopted a rule where the defending team cannot make a line change after icing the puck. By eliminating the ability for substitutions to take their place, tired players couldn't just shoot the puck down the ice to get a stoppage in play to change personnel.

Practically all professional leagues have now adopted this rule. However, it is not guaranteed that a minor hockey league or recreational adult league has implemented it.

The second and more recent change is the decision to go from a touch icing league to a hybrid icing league. Let's discuss what these mean.

Touch icing rule

Touch icing is a form falling out of favor and is generally not used anymore. With this type of icing, the opposing team would have to touch the puck once it passed their goal line for the play to be blown down.

The NHL's decision to move to hybrid icing was because of the number of injuries, often severe, that would occur from players racing down the ice at top speeds.

Hybrid icing rule

Hybrid icing is similar to touch icing in the fact the players are racing for the puck. However, the play is blown dead if the defending player reaches the face-off dots before the team that iced the puck.

In a touch icing system, players would have little room to slow down (around 11 feet) after crossing the goal line. This resulted in significant injuries from players crashing into the boards. By making the faceoff dots the "finishing line" for icing, players have 30+ feet to slow down, eliminating almost all icing-related injuries.

No-touch icing rule

No-touch icing is the simplest and safest form of icing. Rather than a race to the goal line or faceoff dots, no-touch icing results in the play being blown dead immediately after the puck crosses the goal line if it was shot down the ice before the player crossed the redline. 

This eliminates all possible collisions, and most amateur, recreational, and youth hockey leagues, along with the Olympics, use no-touch icing.

Is it icing if it hits the post?

If a player shoots the puck down the ice before crossing the red line and it hits the post, this would not be icing. For icing to be called, the puck must completely cross the goal line. It would be difficult for this to happen if it contacted the post.

Why can icing be waived off?

A potential icing call can be waived off for a multitude of reasons. A shorthanded team can ice the puck. In addition, if an opposing player touches the puck or the offending player's teammate tips or touches the puck across the center red line on its way down the ice, icing is waived off. 

There can also be a situation where the linesman determines the opposing player is not making their best effort to touch the puck before it crossing the goal line. In this instance, icing can be waived off.

Icing can also be waived off if the puck makes contact with the goaltender or if the goaltender makes a motion to play the puck. This is why you will see a goalie raise their glove hand (although it's less common now) signalling to the linesman they have no intentions of playing the puck.

There is also the scarce situation where a player may ice the puck due to a faceoff. In this instance, icing will be waived off.

In summary, icing is waived in the following situations:

  • The puck enters the goal or hits the goalie on the way down the ice
  • The puck is iced from a player during a faceoff
  • The goaltender leaves his crease and moves toward the puck (international rule outside USA hockey).
  • The linesman believes the opposing team could have played the puck before it crossed the line.
  • The team making the play is shorthanded.

Icing when shorthanded

Shorthanded is when one team has fewer players on the ice (because a player is in the penalty box). The shorthanded team or the team said to be on the penalty kill, can fire the puck as far as they like without getting an icing call.

However, the opposing team with more players on the ice, the team on a power play, is still bound by the icing rule.

In a shorthanded situation, icing the puck is a favorable play because it allows you to clear your zone when you have one less player on the ice than your opponent and kill time off the clock to run the penalty out.

Icing in your league

The icing rule for non-pro hockey varies by league. Most leagues enforce a "no-touch" icing, which, as we went over, is when play is stopped as soon as the puck crosses the goal line, regardless of whether or not an opponent touches it.

However, some recreational adult leagues may utilize the blue line instead of the red line when it comes to icing because of limited ice time. This will result in fewer infractions and, thus, fewer whistles to delay play.


Dan Kent

About the author

Growing up in a hockey hotbed (Calgary, Alberta. And yes, I'm an Oiler fan), I decided to put my love and knowledge of the game to work. I started at five and am still playing today into my early 30s. By acquiring Brave Stick Hockey and rebranding it to Big Shot Hockey in 2023, I plan to teach people about this great game and educate them on the best equipment and history of the game. On a career level, I am in finance, running one of the largest financial websites in Canada, Stocktrades.ca.

Looking for more hockey content? Have a look at these articles