What is Icing in Hockey? Guide for Beginners (with Photos!)

You’re watching the game and you hear the referee’s whistle.

Icing? What does that mean? If this sounds familiar, this article will help you understand just what is Icing in hockey and how the rule works.

Icing is one of the oddest rules in hockey. It is also one of the easiest to understand, yet it is frequently misunderstood. As if hockey wasn’t one of the most difficult games to play, icing was created to make the game even more difficult.

icing in hockey

How Does Icing Work in the NHL?

This rule involves the lines on the rink, which are known as the blue and red lines. Icing occurs when a hockey player at one side of the rink flips the puck to the other side of the rink. The puck then crosses the red goal line.

Icing is used on defense and offense.

As a defensive strategy, the idea is to move the puck away from the offensive players.

And, as an offensive strategy, the idea is to get the puck into your team’s zone. To move the puck into an icing situation, you must shoot it over the center red line. It must also pass over the red line at your opponent’s goal without being touched by anyone on its journey across the ice.

Before 2014, icing was called by a referee once a defensive player touched the puck after it crosses the red line. To make the game safer, no touch (or hybrid) icing was introduced where the play would stop and icing would be called as soon as the puck crossed the line.

Consequences of Icing the Puck

what is icing in hockey

After an icing call, a face-off occurs in the defensive zone of the offending team. The face-off is designed to penalize the offending team, so it is held in that team’s defensive zone.

So, the team now has to worry about protecting the puck in a stressful situation. In addition, the team in which icing was called against has to keep the same players on the ice for the subsequent faceoff where the offensive team can bring out a set of fresh and rested players.

What about when a team is shorthanded?

Of course, icing can only happen when the offending team is at full strength.

When a team is down a player, they can ice the puck all they want. When a team that is down a player, icing the puck can kill off some of their powerplay time and allow for line changes.

Times when icing is not called

There are other occasions when icing isn’t called.

One is when the referee sees icing, but doesn’t call it. In these moments, the referee deems that a defensive player could have gotten to the puck, but chose not to do so. In this situation, the referee chooses to keep the game moving rather than stopping it for the face-off.

There is another time when icing will not be called. This is when the goalie is pulled from the ice. Instead, it’s just a defensive move to help the team avoid easy goals being scored. If the puck enters the goal during an icing attempt, it is a goal.

How Has Icing Changed Over the Years?

Icing used to be the go-to play when teams wanted to make line changes. They would send the puck down the ice and provide adequate time for teams to change tired players for rested players. This no longer is allowed as the NHL decided that teams that ice the puck have to keep their players on the ice – no swaps are allowed.

No touch icing

As mentioned earlier, icing in the NHL was much later in implementing the no touch icing rule than other hockey leagues. Before this rule (which again is now in place) icing could be called without any players touching the puck.

To get the icing call, the defensive player must touch it before an offensive player. And, the players do not even need to touch it, instead they need to get to the face-off dots. The first player to get there determines the call. If the defender wins the race, icing is called. If its the offensive player, the game continues. You may have also heard this described as hybrid icing.

Nowadays in just about any league, icing is automatically called, resulting in fewer potential injuries.


Icing can be used as a strategy for teams, especially since it only results in a face-off or in nothing at all.

No one ends up in the penalty box and icing can be used without limit if a player is in the box. With a perfectly timed icing of the puck, a team can get organized and then have a face off. It can also be used as an offensive play, which could end up in a scoring opportunity.

The hybrid icing race is worth the effort. Even though the race to the face-off dots was designed to keep players from intentionally colliding into the boards, it does get competitive when players race for the puck.

While the players are racing to get an icing call or no icing call, the goalie can simply leave the crease and touch the puck. Then, icing isn’t called and the goalie can pass the puck on to a teammate.

Icing vs. Offsides

offside vs icing

Icing is often confused with the Offside rule.

Icing involves the puck, whereas off-sides involves the player.

In an icing call, the puck crosses the red line all by itself. In an offside call, the player enters the offensive zone prior to the puck. This means that both skates have to cross the blue line before the puck to receive the call. To prevent the call, players will skate on their defensive side of the blue line before the puck is passed to them or their teammate brings it across the ice.

Offside will not be called if the defender moves the puck over the blue line. It is not called if a player is skating backward – which means that both skates cross the blue line before the puck does. This rule prevents players from waiting for the puck in the offensive zone.

Delayed Offsides

Referees can call delayed offsides.

If the puck moves into the offensive zone, but there are players that should not be there, the referee might not call Offside if no one touches the puck. However, if the referee gives the offsides signal, but does not officially call it because the player leaves the zone, the player can enter it and allow the game to move on.

Once offside is called, the two teams must meet in a faceoff. But, if the team creates the offside call to get the faceoff in their offensive zone, the offside becomes deliberate and the faceoff is moved to the other side of the blue line to penalize that team.

Icing History

The NHL began making icing calls in 1937.

The latest update to the rule happened in 2013 with the hybrid race to the face-off dots. The idea of these two rules is to keep players from waiting for the puck at the far end of the ice. Overall, the rules have been successful, especially icing, since it has been around for so long.

Conclusion on the Icing Rule in Hockey

Although the rule should be simple, you can see why some people have a tough time understanding when and why an icing call is made on the ice. Sometimes especially when watching on TV, you might see an obvious icing situation occur but it doesn’t end up getting called. With the fast pace of the game, it can be quite hard to see players touch the puck on its way into the zone and negating the icing call. Thankfully, i’m not a referee!