Before I started liking hockey, I was always so confused by all of the lines on the ice.
I knew there were a lot of lines (and some random circles), but I never understood them, so I always ignored them.
It turns out the lines on the ice are actually really important, and without understanding them, you’re going to have a hard time understanding what the heck is going on in the game.
So I’m here to explain what they mean. These are just the fundamentals though; there might be some extenuating circumstances that aren’t covered in my explanations. But if you want to start understanding the game, these are the fundamentals you’ll need to know. If you want all of the rules, you can find it on the NHL website.
- Center Ice Line – This is the line that, as you would expect, designates the center of the ice. It’s also important in “icing.” (See 8: Goal Line)
Center Face-Off Dot and Circle – Typically just used at the beginning of each period and after each goal. The dot is where the puck is dropped. No one but the two players taking the face off and the referee dropping the puck are allowed to be within the blue circle.
Neutral-Zone Face-Off Dots – The neutral zone is the space between the two blue lines. There are four face-off dots in the neutral zone. There are several instances when these face-off dots are used:
- When the offensive team causes a stoppage in play in the defensive zone (between the blue line and the edge of the ice behind the goalie), the face off will be at the nearest face-off dot in the neutral zone;
- When the play is in the neutral zone and the stoppage in play cannot be attributed to either team, the face off will be at the nearest face-off dot in the neutral zone; and
- When a goal is illegally scored (batted in, high sticked in, etc), the face off will be at the nearest face-off dot in the neutral zone.
Referee Crease – The referee crease is located in front of the scorekeepers bench. This is where the referee stands to deliver explanations of calls, like penalties. Players are not allowed to stand inside the referee crease while a referee is delivering this explanation. Typically they will be asked to leave the referee crease, but they may be given a misconduct penalty. Traditionally, though, captains and alternate captains are allowed to approach the referee crease.
Blue Line – These two lines are, in my opinion, two of the most important lines to learn when starting to understand the rules of hockey. These lines mark the beginning of the defensive zone (also known as simply “the zone”). The team on defense is the team whose goalie is located in that zone.
When you are on offense in the zone (or, in your “attacking zone”), you must keep the puck inside the blue line. If it completely crosses over the blue line, everyone on your team must cross back into the neutral zone before you can play the puck in the attacking zone again.
Similarly, no one on your team can be in your attacking zone before someone else on your team can bring the puck into the attacking zone. If this happens, it’s called off sides. The play stops, and the face off happens in the neutral zone.
The blue line is part of whatever zone the puck is in. So, when the puck is in the neutral zone, it must completely cross over the blue line to be considered in the defensive / attacking zone. And if the puck is in the defensive / attacking zone, it must completely cross over the blue line to be considered in the neutral zone. So if your team is in the attacking zone and the puck is on the blue line, you can continue to play it without having to cross back into the neutral zone.
- End-Zone Face-Off Dots and Circles – Theses face-off circles are similar to the other face off dots. The dot and circle are the same as the center face-off dot and circle; the dot is where the puck is dropped, and no one but the two players and referee are allowed to be within the red circle. But there are a few more hash marks that mean different things.
Inside the circle, there are four right-angles around the dot that seem to make up a plus-sign. The lines that are parallel to the blue lines are a bit farther apart from each other than the lines perpendicular to the blue lines. The space between these parallel lines is where the referee stands when dropping the puck. It ensures that the two players taking the face off are far enough away from each other. The other lines are where the players in the face off place their feet.
The two hash marks on either side of the circle represent the required distance between the players on opposing teams.
When deciding where to stand, the attacking, or offensive, team position themselves first. The defensive team then decides where to position themselves based on the attacking team.
- Goal Crease – The goal crease is commonly called simply “the crease,” because it is discussed much more than the referee crease. It is the area where the goalie is able to play without interference. If a goal is scored but an attacking player has interfered with the goalie within the crease, preventing him from stopping the puck, the goal is disallowed.
Goal Line – The goal line is located not only between the goal posts, but continues all the way to either edge of the ice. The puck must cross the entire goal line between the posts in order to be considered a goal.
Now for the other big rule: icing. If you understand icing, you’re doing pretty well.
This happens when a player hits the puck from his own side (the same side as his goalie) of the center ice line (see number 1), and the referees determine that it will cross the far goal line without being touched by any other player. However, there is a way for this player or one of his teammates to negate an icing call. If he or someone on his team is the first one to touch the puck, icing is not called.
However, to prevent injury of two players racing toward the boards (one player trying to get an icing call, the other trying to prevent an icing call), the NHL changed the rules a little bit.
Once it is determined that the puck can cross the goal line, the referee waits for one or more players to cross the imaginary line that connects the two end-zone face-off dots. Once this happens, he determines which player would touch the puck first. If that player is on the team of the player who hit the puck last, no icing is called. If he is on the opposing team, icing is called. In the event of a tie, icing is called.
In the event of a power play (when one team has at least one fewer player than the other due to a penalty), the penalized team is allowed to ice the puck without penalty.
The point of icing is to prevent defensive players from chucking the puck down the ice to avoid any goal chances..
When icing is called, the puck is dropped in the end zone on the side the puck was hit from.
- The Goal – This is where the puck needs to go. The puck must completely cross the goal line between the two posts and below the cross bar in order to be allowed.
The Trapezoid – Arguably one of the stupidest zones on the hockey rink. This is the only area behind the goal line that the goalie can play the puck. This makes it harder for the goalie to clear the puck, so the trapezoid rule encourages longer game flow. If the goaltender plays the puck behind the goal line and outside of the trapezoid, he is given a minor penalty for a delay of game.
The trapezoid is currently only used in the NHL, AHL, and ECHL.
Whew. That’s a lot of rules just for the lines on the ice. Which one surprised you the most?