What Is Icing In Hockey?

Hockey is a physically demanding and oftentimes downright aggressive type of sport, which would make one think that it’s all brawls and no brains. But that’s not the case. Hockey is also a game of strategy, which can provide immense advantages to teams that implement them – and some are not without consequences.

In this article, we’ll discuss one of three NHL rules that limit the movement of the puck on the ice, and that’s icing. So, what is icing in hockey, are there any rules behind it, and are there any exceptions behind those rules?

What Is Icing In Hockey?

Icing in ice hockey is an infraction when a player shoots the puck over the center red line and the opposing team’s red goal line, in that specific order, while the puck remains untouched. Delaying and stalling the game is the main idea behind this tactic. The team that was stuck for too long in their own defensive end would ice the puck to make a line change and switch out tired players.

And while that is a viable tactic, it affected the pace at which the game was played. So, the icing rule was introduced.

When Was Icing Introduced?

Touch icing was introduced in 1937 as a way to deter the leading team’s players from shooting the puck down the ice in an attempt to protect their lead. Before the rule was introduced by the NHL in 1937, there were instances of hockey games where the puck was iced over 50 times. The 1931 game between New York American and Boston Bruins is one extreme example in which the puck was iced 87 times in a scoreless draw.

Hockey Icing Penalty

But touch icing required the player in the opposing team to touch the puck to effectively cause the stoppage of play. If the puck was touched by the goaltender of the opposing team or a player on the team that iced the puck, the icing is canceled, and the play continues. However, this rule led to some high-speed races for the puck, many of which resulted in injuries.

Why Is It a Problem?

With nothing preventing the players from shooting the puck down the ice, they would use this tactic to run down and shave precious seconds off the clock. This caused great frustration among teams and the spectators because no one wanted to see the puck going back and forth on the ice all the time. It’s a hockey game, not a tennis match.

The fan’s frustration, whose initial response was to throw debris on the ice, affected the course of the play. Shortly after, as the icing problem remained unsolved, the fans stopped coming to games, which significantly impacted the team and league’s earnings.

Why Is Icing a Penalty?

Icing is a penalty because it delays and stalls the game, often providing the leading team with an unfair advantage. Beyond that, icing caused high-speed skate races, which often resulted in players crashing into boards.

One extreme example of this happened in 1990 in Czechoslovak First Ice Hockey League, when Ludek Cajka rushed to get the puck in an icing situation. Cajka crashed into the boards and suffered a severe spinal injury, succumbing to them only a few weeks later.

This caused the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) to adopt the no-touch icing rule – which immediately stops the game as soon as the puck crosses the goal line. As its name suggests, the icing will be called regardless of whether or not the opponent touches the puck.

How Is Icing Called?

For the purpose of explaining how and when the icing is called, let’s assume that a defensive player from the leading team shot the puck to the other side of the rink, away from the offensive opponents.

With the original touch-icing rule, this action would immediately prompt the referees to call the icing against the leading team. When referees call the icing, the puck is brought to the team who iced the puck, and a face-off takes place outside their goalie. To summarize, icing is called when a player shoots the puck out of the defensive half across the center red line, and:

  • The puck lands in the offensive zone, where it crosses the goal line, or
  • It’s touched by an opposing player other than the goalie.

Hybrid Icing or No-Touch Icing

Playing Hockey

As we previously stated, the touch icing rule caused numerous injuries, so the NHL changed the original icing rule. There’s still an icing call, but it’s now known as hybrid or no-touch icing, which implies that the puck no longer has to cross the goal line. Instead, the new marker is the face-off dots in front of the goalie’s net.

This rule allowed the racing players to alter their trajectories while racing for the puck, preventing them from crashing into the boards, preventing many injuries. However, this doesn’t affect the main rule – if an offensive player reaches the puck before the team that iced the puck does, icing is called.

But the NHL added another rule: the team that iced the puck can no longer change their lineup, thus preventing them from calling their best defensemen to defer their zone. The main idea behind this was to further deter the leading teams from hybrid icing the puck.

When Is It Called Off?

All rules have exceptions, and so does icing. The first exception happens where there’s a power play, where one team has a numerical advantage over the other – mostly due to infractions caused by the other team. In this case, the shorthanded team is allowed to dump the puck without an icing penalty being called.

Another reason to waive off the icing is when the goalie reaches the puck before any other player can. Here, the play resumes. However, goalies can choose whether to play the puck and waiver of the icing or deliberately miss it, in which case icing is likely to be called.

Lastly, the linesmen have some discretion when it comes to calling out an icing penalty. If the linesman believes that the offensive players could’ve reached the puck in time, he might choose to waiver the call. Why would offensive players deliberately ice the puck? Because they might be looking for a face-off in the defensive zone.


So, there it is, a short crash course in icing, what is icing in hockey, what does it imply, and when it’s called or waived off.

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