Why Are There So Many Lines? // Hockey But Dumber №2

What all those markings on the ice really mean.

Looking at a hockey rink can be overwhelming at first. There are so many strange markings — colored lines, trapezoids, circles with dots in the middle — and, of course, they all serve different purposes.

But let’s start with the fact that those markings are a lot more self-explanatory than they seem. Take, for example, those circles on the ice. They’re called faceoff circles. And the dots? Faceoff dots. The line that goes right through the middle of the ice is red, and it’s called the red line. (It’s important for delay of game penalties and such, but that’s a discussion for a later article.) Look a bit to the right or left of the red line, and the blue lines — which are, quite literally, blue — will come into view.

The blue lines are important because they divide the ice into three “zones”:

The Offensive Zone and Defensive Zone

The offensive and defensive zone are counterparts — one stretches from one blue line to one end of the rink; the other stretches from the other blue line to the other end of the rink. But since goalies switch ends after every period (the three 20 minute sections that make up a hockey game), the placement of the offensive and defensive zones also switches.

The offensive and defensive zones are on opposite ends of the ice. They switch every period.

The offensive zone is where all good things happen. That’s because it’s where the opposing team’s goal and goalie are. It’s the end of the ice where a team has a legitimate chance to score. As long as the team keeps the puck in the offensive zone, they can put pressure on the opponent’s defense. And the longer they can do that, the more likely it becomes that they will score a goal.

Conversely, the defensive zone is where all bad things happen. It’s where a team’s own goal and goalie are, so in the defensive zone, it’s the opponent who gets chances to score. The longer it takes for a team to get the puck out of the defensive zone, the more tired they become, making it easier for the opposing offense to score.

The Neutral Zone

The neutral zone is the most straightforward of all the zones. It’s the area between the two blue lines, and unlike the offensive and defensive zones, its placement never changes. In this zone, neither team is on offense yet — hence “neutral”. It’s very rare that any goal is scored from beyond the blue line, so when teams are in this zone, there are few threats to either goalie.

The neutral zone, shaded in gray.

Think of the neutral zone as a minefield. For a team to enter the offensive zone, they must first carry the puck through the ranks of the opposing team. One wrong move, and the play could blow up. If a pass is picked off, or a player loses control of the puck, the opponent will advance the other way with a chance to score. It’s a precarious situation, with neither team having complete control.

The Goal Line

Crossing the front of each net (in line with the goalposts) is another important red line — the goal line. Yet again, it’s very self-explanatory. In order for a goal to be scored, the puck must completely cross the goal line. That’s it.

The goal lines, highlighted in black.

Side note: I lied. That’s not quite it. The goal line is also important for calling icing, which will be discussed somewhere around article 11. But until then, the goal line simply determines whether or not a goal has been scored. Carry on.

Faceoff Dots

With the exception of the lines, markings on the ice tend to be circular in nature. You’ll notice five circles (four small red dots, one small blue dot inside a circle) in the neutral zone. There are also four similar dots in the offensive and defensive zones, each surrounded by a larger red circle.

Faceoff circles, highlighted in black.

All the circles are for faceoffs — the mechanism for restarting the game after any sort of pause in play (due to penalties, goals, or anything else). If you’ve ever seen a jump ball in basketball, imagine that…on ice…with a puck…and sticks being used instead of hands. Oh, and no jumping involved. Basically, one player from each team lines up on either side of the small dot— predictably called a faceoff dot — with the rest of their team either behind them or off to the side. The referee drops the puck on the faceoff dot, and each player attempts to knock the puck backward, in the direction of their teammates. “Winning” the faceoff — that is, successfully getting the puck to one’s team — provides an advantage in both the offensive and defensive zones.

Now that you know the names of the markings on the ice, you at least have some random terminology to toss out — even if you can’t quite remember what it all actually means. Next time, we’ll dive into the actual players and positions, starting with the guys who score goals.

Questions? Most of them will be answered later in the series, but feel free to leave them in the comments for now.

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Elisa Chen

Elisa Chen

Diehard Flyers fan and creator of Hockey But Dumber — a series designed to get new hockey fans acquainted with the game.