What Is the Red Line in Hockey? Multiple Red Lines Explained

Posted on February 26, 2024 by Dan Kent
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Unlike a soccer or football field, an ice hockey rink contains multiple lines, all different colours, shapes, and even lengths.

As a beginner fan, this can be overwhelming. What do all the lines mean? Why are the linesman or referees blowing the whistle after a player crosses a particular line?

In this article, I will go over one of the most important lines in hockey, the red line. I'll explain the red line at the center of the ice and go over all of the other red lines on the ice, which are the same colour but serve a different purpose in the game.

Let's get started.

What is the red line for in hockey?

The red line, or as many call it, center ice, is located directly in the center of an ice hockey rink and serves multiple purposes.

For one, it divides the ice in half. As a result, the red line is used to enforce an icing infraction, which is when the play is blown dead because a player has shot the puck more than half the length of the ice.

Because of this icing rule, the red line can also be used as a strategic point of reference for many players. They can position themselves to pressure a particular player to get them to cough up the puck or force an icing. If the player is past the red line, that could change their defensive structure as they can now freely dump the puck down the ice and forecheck.

Before the 2005-2006 NHL season, the red line was also used to enforce the two-line pass violation. If an attacking team passed the puck from inside their defensive zone to a player beyond the red line, the play was blown dead for a 2 line pass.

The name comes from the fact the puck went over both the blue line and the red line, two lines. The most common situation was defensemen or goaltenders passing the puck up to a teammate from their own zone.

The NHL got rid of this rule in 2005-2006. Let's go over why.

Why did NHL get rid of the red line?

When people state the NHL "got rid of the red line," they simply mean they took two-line pass violations out of the game. The red line is still there and will always be; it just isn't a factor anymore regarding players passing the puck up the ice.

That said, the NHL removed the red line to encourage more offence. Two-line passes discouraged a fast-paced game, as players had to accept shorter passes in an attempt to break the puck out of their defensive zone.

They had to stay on the side of the center-line because if they went past it and received a pass from a player in their defensive zone, the play would be blown dead. This killed a lot of offensive chances.

The fact the two-line pass was a rule for as long as it was is surprising to me. It took away so much speed from the game, caused many more stoppages in play, and killed goal scoring to the point where it contributed to a large amount of the "Dead Puck Era," a period in the NHL where scoring drastically declined.

But you'd be surprised to know that the two-line pass was introduced at some point to encourage offense. Let's go over that.

What year did the NHL implement the red line?

The red line has been around for about as long as an ice hockey rink has. However, what most people mean when they ask this is when the red line was introduced in terms of the two-line pass. In this situation, it was during the 1943-1944 season.

Prior to this season, forward passing was not allowed in the attacking zone. The league changed part of the rule to allow forward passes from all zones but implemented the two-line pass to discourage long stretch passes from inside a team's defensive zone to beyond the red line.

Interestingly enough, the introduction of the two-line pass in 1943-1944 significantly boosted the league scoring because of its old style of play. However, when it was removed in 2005-2006, it was considered one of the main rules plaguing the NHL regarding overall offence.

The two-line pass was in play for a long time, spanning 1943-2005.

What is the difference between the red line and the blue line in hockey?

The red line in hockey is used to divide the ice in half. The blue line, on the other hand, is used to divide the ice in thirds. Regarding the whistle, the red line is used to blow down plays like icing, whereas the blue line is used to blow down plays like offside.

Offsides in hockey

The blue line divides a team's offensive zone, neutral zone, and defensive zone, whereas the red line simply divides the ice in half.

What about the other red lines on the ice?

There are quite a few other red lines on the ice on a hockey rink, and there are even some lines you will see painted on a recreational rink that you won't see on a National Hockey League rink. Let's have a look at what they are.

The goal line

The goal line runs the width of the ice and is located at the ends of the rink. In a National Hockey League rink, it will be positioned 11 feet off the back of the boards. The goaltender's net is placed on this goal line, and any puck that crosses it is called a goal.

The goal line is also used to determine icing calls. If a player shoots the puck down the ice from their end of the center red line and it crosses the goal line, icing will be called.

The trapezoid

Trapezoid

The trapezoid is a trapezoid-shaped area behind the net where the goaltender can touch and play the puck. The goaltender can play the puck in this trapezoid and any area above the goal line. The play is legal as long as they do not play the puck behind the goal line in the non-trapezoid area.

From corner to corner, the trapezoid is 28 feet at its widest point, with the trapezoid shape narrowing towards the goaltender's crease. They did enlarge it a few years back, as the initial size was quite restrictive. 

Any goaltender playing the puck outside of this trapezoid and below the goal line will be given a two-minute minor penalty for delay of game.

I have written a complete guide on the trapezoid, which you can read here.

The faceoff circles and faceoff dots

There are five faceoff circles and nine faceoff dots on an ice hockey rink. The faceoff dots outside of the blue line will be primarily where the puck is dropped after an icing call. The center line faceoff circle will be where the puck is dropped after a goal, the start of a period, or a possible incorrect call by a referee or linesman.

The faceoff circles inside the offensive zones of both teams will be used to drop the puck in various situations.

The ringette line

Unique to recreational hockey rinks that have ringette teams playing in them, the ringette line is a line that is drawn straight across both faceoff circles in the offensive zones. In ringette, only three players from each team and the defending goalie are allowed below this line.

You will not see this line drawn on many professional rinks unless they have ringette teams playing in them. However, most all recreational rinks will have them drawn.

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.

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