Understanding the official on-ice calls can be tricky. While the players are zipping around the ice and swarming around the puck like bees, its hard to pay attention to absolutely everything. So when the play is whistled to a stop, most are left scratching their head. “What’s the call?” you wonder to yourself. You hear someone next to you mumbling something about an “off-sides” call. You replay the last few moments in your head trying to make sense of this “off-sides.” Everyone seemed to be all over the place and there was no clear “side.” If you’ve found yourself having this mental dialogue, you’re not alone. Off-sides is an odd concept to understand and that odd concept could change the course of the game if left unchecked. Allow me to elaborate.
To begin understanding off-sides, it helps to get to know the different zones. The offensive and defensive zones are from their prospective blue lines, back to the boards. For example, lets say a goaltender is in the crease to the left of center ice (if you were facing the bench), that teams zone would be from the blue line back to the boards behind the goaltender, and vice versa for the other team. The neutral zone, which is the zone that off-sides deals with, is the area between the two blue lines. Here’s a handy picture to demonstrate what I mean.
Photo provided by http://www.arizonacactuscup.com
Now that you get a mental picture of the ice and its corresponding zones, we can move on to the actual off-sides call. Off-sides occurs when the offensive or attacking team precedes or “beats” the puck across the blue line into the attacking zone without having any contact with the neutral zone. For example, player A (attacking player) is currently in the attack zone (the defensive zone for the opposing team). Player B passes the puck to player A but player A does not have at least one skate in the neutral zone. He/she is entirely in the attacking zone. Player A receives the puck and its immediately whistled down due to player A preceding the puck. Player A, if receiving the puck, must have at least one skate in contact with the neutral zone while receiving said puck. Upon the whistle and stoppage of play due to off-sides, a neutral zone face-off will take place to resume play.
There are a few additional rules that surround the off-sides call. I won’t explain them all, however, I will touch on one. Off-sides will be waived off in the event that player A has full possession of the puck prior to entering the attack zone. Meaning, if player B passes him the puck in their own zone or the neutral zone while player A is still fully inside the zone, player A is permitted to continue skating into the attack zone without risk of the play being stopped.
A good or bad off-sides call could make the difference in a victory or defeat. The linesmen’s responsibility is to monitor the skater’s ability to keep plays on-side and determine when and where to drop the puck. Failure to do so, could result in disputed goals, failure in plays and loss of games. Though a small call from the stands’ perspective, it could make all the difference on the ice.
The next time you’re mentally dialoging about what in the world just happened and wondering if the mumbling fan next to you has just had one too many or if they actually know what they’re talking about, you can now be sure that you at least understand on a basic level, what that call means. Perhaps you’ll even be able to start seeing off-sides before they’re even called! The game of hockey can seem simple from the stands, but its an intricate balance between skill, strategy and precision. Everyone on the ice, refs and linesmen included, play a part in a game being properly executed.