Images used on this page are under creative commons license. We may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page.
If you’re a newcomer to the exciting and fast-paced game of ice hockey, you may feel slightly overwhelmed while you’re trying to learn all of the rules of play. For fans and players alike, trying to keep up with all of the different plays and rules can be complicated and confusing at times.
Offsides are a relatively common occurrence and it’s an important rule to pick up quickly so you don’t feel lost. Offside is an infraction that can be called by the linesmen — as it has to do with the two blue lines you see in the middle of the ice rink. When both of a player’s skates pass over the blue line before the puck, offside is called and the play is stopped.
What Are the Blue Lines On the Ice?
- the defending zone
- the neutral zone
- the attacking zone
The defensive zone will have the team’s goal and it’s where they “defend” their goal from being scored on by the opposing team. The attacking zone (or offensive zone) is the one where the team with the puck is trying to score on their opposition’s goaltender.
These zones are divided by two blue lines — with the neutral zone being in the center. The main purpose that these lines serve is to prevent players from entering into the offensive zone before the puck has had a chance to cross the line. The puck must precede the player.
This keeps the offense from gaining an unfair advantage over the defense during play. This wasn’t always the rule, but it has evolved as the game has changed over the years.
What is an Offside Call?
An offside in hockey is when both skates cross the blue line of the attacking zone before the puck crosses the same line. If a player keeps one of their skates behind the blue line, the play may continue without the official calling for a stop.
In short, the puck must precede the player who has possession of it across the opponent’s blue line. It is the job of the two linesmen to watch for offsides and they’re the ones who will usually call them as they see them occur.
If a player crosses the blue line ahead of the puck, he is considered to be offside and the play is stopped. The key factor here is if both skates crossed the blue line — as a player’s body, stick, and a single skate can cross it without it being considered an offside.
What is the Purpose of an Offside Rule?
If you’re unsure why offsides are a thing and what purpose they serve, you’re not alone. To better understand this rule, it’s important to understand what was happening before this call was put into place.
Back before the offside rule, players could wait down by the opposing team’s goaltender and wait for their team to shoot them a puck so they could take a shot without being properly defended against.
This would naturally be a detriment to the overall quality of the game and would ruin the flow for both players and fans. It wouldn’t so much be about skill at that point as it would be about “cherry-picking” the best moment to take a completely uncontested shot on the goaltender.
What Happens When a Player Goes Offside?
If a play is offside, the linesmen will blow their whistles and then the puck will be dropped again on one of the designated face-off spots closest to the blue line where the penalty occurred in the neutral (middle) zone.
When the whistle has been blown, the referee will signal with a chopping motion to where the offsides took place. Assuming that the offside was not an intentional one, the face-off will occur and the game will resume.
If the offside was considered intentional, the face-off will instead take place on the opposite side of where it took place — which offers a slight disadvantage to the attacking team due to the puck being closer to their defensive zone now.
Types of Offsides That Can Occur in Hockey
It may come as a surprise that there are actually several different offsides that can happen during a hockey game. If you’re unfamiliar with them, you can read the descriptions below to brush up on your hockey knowledge.
This type of offside is called when a player from the attacking team has crossed the blue line before the puck but hasn’t touched the puck itself. The attacking team can then “tag up” which means that the players can exit the zone and the offside won’t be called.
The players must skate back across the blue line into the center ice portion of the rink and can then reenter the offensive zone. This neutralizes the original offside and is a way for the team to avoid the call and it allows the game to carry on without a stoppage of play.
This is a rarer situation in which the linesman determines that the team attacking intentionally got the offside called on them — which is sometimes done in an attempt to get a line change.
If the players on the ice during the shift are tired but haven’t had the chance to get back to the bench, the team may end up resorting to an intentional offside. Of course, it’s not the ideal situation but it happens from time to time.
Even rarer still are the offsides deflections. If the team on defense attempted to clear the puck to the other end of the rink but it ended up hitting an official in the neutral zone, then goes back into the defensive zone — the play can be called offsides.
Hockey Offsides Summed Up
Now that you have a thorough understanding of offsides and how and when they occur — you can keep up with the next NHL game you tune into. Offsides are common and you’ll be able to watch out for them yourself now.
Hockey isn’t the only sport with an offsides rule as football and soccer have them as well. They keep the pace of the game flowing and force players to focus on skill and creative play rather than providing an unfair advantage that would ruin the overall quality of the NHL and ice hockey in general.