What Is Icing In Hockey?

what is icing in hockey

Have you ever wondered, what is icing in hockey? Maybe you’ve even read about it, but you’re not completely sure what it is. This hockey rule about icing was introduced in 1937, and it’s one of the three rules that are part of the National Hockey League (NHL) that describe the way a puck moves.

Icing is a term that explains a type of infraction, a penalty for a player that shoots the puck over the central line, and the puck reaches the goal line of the opposing team. This might sound very simple, but there’s actually much more to this rule.

For you to better understand icing, I wanted to make this guide as detailed as possible, including a brief history about icing, changes through the years, its biggest exceptions, and how players use it to their advantage. 

Icing In Hockey, Explained

Icing In Hockey, Explained

Let’s start by going over the basics. Hockey is played on an ice rink that is divided into two halves. At the center of this rink, you see a red dividing line, often therefore referred to as the Red Line. Each team has 11 players, 10 of whom are field players and one is a goalie.

Now that I got that out of the way, we can talk more about this icing rule

In ice hockey, the term icing explains an infraction that happens when a player on the offensive team fires the puck from their side of the rink, the puck passes the Red Line, and it reaches the goal line of the opposing team without the team on offense scoring a goal. 

The hockey icing rule was introduced in order to prevent players of the team currently in the lead from stalling the game by constantly flipping the puck to the opposite side of the rink. When they would flip it, they would go after it just to use up time. To avoid this type of situation, the NHL introduced icing as a type of penalty.

If the offensive player is located in the other half of the rink, past the Red Line, that is not considered as icing. Neither is it icing when the player is in their half of the rink and shoots the puck, but the puck doesn’t reach the goal line in the opposite half.

Another time when icing can be a topic of discussion is when players on defense don’t do anything to stop the puck. It’s their job to get to it when they can, and linesmen are the ones who have the final word in this situation.

What Happens After Icing

When this infraction happens, the referee blows the whistle, raises their hand, and stops the game. There is a faceoff happening in the half of the rink that belongs to the team responsible for icing.

Starting from season 2019–20 NHL introduced a rule that says the opposing team can pick which side of the rink they want to drop the puck.

The main reason why players decide to ice the puck is to either make line changes without having to risk an offense from the opposing team or to build back their defense line. Also, they ice it to try to achieve an offensive forecheck. Offensive forechecking is a strategy a hockey team uses to pressure the opposite team in the offensive zone, so they can gain control of the puck and score. 

When Was Icing First Introduced?

When Was Icing First Introduced?

This hockey icing rule first appeared back in 1937, and since then has been modified several times. The reason why it was introduced was because hockey players started shooting the puck to the other side of the ice just to delay the game when they were winning. Teams of NHL were the ones who inspired it, and it’s gone through so many changes as a part of this league.  

At that time, the whole point of the rule was to penalize the teams who were stalling the game, and not much has changed in those terms. However, there is one major difference in the way hockey is played now vs in 1937, and that change is determined by the type of icing.

For decades, touch icing was the rule, meaning that a referee would stop the game for icing only if a player of the opposing team touched the puck before it reached their goal line. Today, professional leagues use the hybrid icing rule. Referees stop the game for icing only when a player of the opposing team reaches a defensive red dot.

The touch icing rule led to situations where hockey players had to rush to get to the puck using high speeds. Oftentimes, these players crashed into each other or into the end boards, ending up seriously injured. To keep the players healthy, professional leagues decided to introduce hybrid icing.

I will talk more about different types of icing below, but first let’s go over some of the most important rule upgrades that happened over the years.

Back in 1951, officials introduced a change that allows icing to be waved off when the goalie decides to play the puck. Four decades later, during the 1990–91 season, there was a new update to the rule: When the puck goes through the crease area (shaded area located right in front of a hockey goal), there is no icing.

The next change happened during the season of 2004–05. With this decision, the offending team had to keep all of the same players on the rink, while previously teams could substitute players (do line changes) after icing the puck. 

It was season 2013–14 when NHL officials introduced a new term called hybrid icing. This is the time when touch icing became part of history. 

Types Of Icing

There are three different variations (types) of the hockey rule about icing:


Hybrid is the icing that is currently present in the NHL league. When a referee notices icing, they call it an infraction if a player of the opposing team skates by their defensive red dot.

Touch Icing

Touch icing is the previous type that was active before hybrid but is not present anywhere at the moment. NHL officials decided to introduce hybrid icing starting from season 2013–14, and that’s the moment touch icing stopped being used. The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) followed their example after the end of the 2014 World Championship.

During the time touch icing was a rule, the referee would note an infraction and whistle the play dead when a member of the opposing team would touch the puck first. 

In cases when the offensive team touched the puck first, the play kept on rolling. The same thing happened when the opposing goalie wanted to play the puck. If the goalie would touch the puck, the game would also go on.

No-Touch Icing

This is also known as automatic icing and mostly happens in leagues that are not professional, outside of the NHL. In these leagues, icing is treated differently. Here, there are no exclusions; each time the puck reaches the other side, the referee will blow the whistle and call the play dead.

The only situation that is not considered icing in amateur leagues is when a goalie shows intent to play the puck.

How Players Avoid This Rule

Some players still do a version of icing, without actually icing the puck. This is a very smart move that lets them skirt around the hockey rules and achieve what they want. Their goal is to get enough time to make team changes and build back their defensive zone.

If you ever watch a hockey game carefully, you’ll notice that some players hit the puck up in the air. This gives the puck speed and power, letting it reach the opposing goal line. 

Exceptions To The Icing Rule

You may be surprised to hear that there are exceptions to this rule. First of all, if any team is short-handed as a result of a penalty, they are allowed to play the puck to the opposing side. This is a situation when the game would continue without the referee calling icing.

If the goalie is the one who plays the puck, there is no icing. When the puck gets in touch with the goalie at any moment, the ref won’t rule it as icing. Also, if the opposing goalie shows signs that they will possibly touch the puck, that is not icing.

Even if the referee thinks that one of the offensive players could have touched the puck, they also don’t call icing.

When a player ices the puck, but after it crosses the Red Line it gets into the net of the opposing team, this is considered a goal. It’s a case when icing is excluded and the team scores. This happens often when no goalie is defending the goal of the opposing team, so the offense uses their chance to score.

As I mentioned before, the defensive players can’t just leave the puck to reach behind their goal. If they can play it, they should.

When the judge notices that a defensive player could’ve played the puck but didn’t, they won’t say it’s icing. Linesmen are the ones who help determine this situation.

Last but not least, if one of the offensive players from the team reaches for the puck before the defense does, then the referee will decide to make an exception to the rule.


What Happens When A Player Of The Other Team Touches The Puck?

If any player of the opposing team touches the puck before it reaches the other side of the ice rink, the game continues. In this case, there is no icing. That’s why hockey players train hard to recognize situations and use them to their advantage.

How Do Recreational And Amateur Leagues Do Icing?

The professional icing term in amateur and recreational leagues is called automatic icing, or no-touch icing. They don’t have a strict rule code to follow, instead keeping it very simple.

These recreational leagues call icing whenever the puck reaches the opposite side. The only exception is when the goalie shows intent to play the puck.

Why Is Icing Bad?

Icing is bad because it disturbs the flow of the game. The winning team can easily use it to their advantage and spend time chasing the puck on the rink.

What Does Gaining The Line Mean?

This is a common term that is related to icing. In other words, the player tries to reach the Red Line before they shoot the puck to the opposing side. Once the player gets to the Red Line, it means they’ve gained the line.

Hockey players do this in order to avoid icing penalties. The moment they reach the line, they can’t be sanctioned and can feel free to shoot the puck to the opposing side.


Icing is a big thing in hockey and a term that is often mentioned. That’s why I decided to give it an entire article, better explaining every single aspect and the ways it’s used during a game. I hope this guide was helpful and that you’re now ready to watch a whole game knowing what you’re seeing.

The rules of icing are not as basic as they sound—there is a lot to think about and a lot to remember. Also, if you’re new to hockey, all the exceptions can sound confusing. You probably know how many periods there are in hockey, but can you tell when a player is trying to avoid the icing rule while also icing?

What does icing mean in hockey? It’s a very simple question, with a pretty simple answer. But the more you get into it, the more you understand that, just like any other sports rule, this one also has a history, reasons why it was implemented, and exceptions.

Leave a Comment