What is offside in hockey? How does the offside rule work in the NHL?
Ice Hockey is so fast paced that it is often difficult to follow the puck, and when offside is called, you can wonder what actually happened.
When players or fans first get involved with ice hockey, the first rule to understand is the offside rule. Without it, the game makes little sense, often simply looking like boxing on ice.
In its origin, hockey borrowed its offside concept from both soccer and rugby, with the early game allowing only backward passes and players having to be behind the puck when it was passed. After a disastrously low-scoring season in 1928-29, the rule was adapted to allow forward passes in all zones of the ice, with immediate and dramatic results. Goals more than doubled and the fast-paced excitement of modern hockey was born.
Zones of play
There are three zones of play in ice hockey divided by blue lines: the defensive zone, which is the zone containing your goal, the offensive zone, which is the zone containing your opponent’s goal, and the neutral zone, which is the area between the other two.
In a nutshell, when on the offense, players may not enter the offensive zone until after the puck does so. So if a skater has the puck on his stick and enters the offensive zone, other players may follow. If he is in another zone and passes the puck, the offensive players must not enter the offensive zone before the puck.
A player’s position is defined by the location of his skates, and if he is found to be in violation of the offside rule, a linesman will stop play and there will be a faceoff at the nearest ice spot.
It is important to note that in both directions, the important element is that all of the puck must clear all of the line, just as both skates must clear the line to determine if a player or pass is on- or off-side. This is why you will often see a player skating with one leg precariously raised: he is maintaining his onside position by not letting his skate touch the ice beyond the blue line until the puck has crossed it. If you look carefully, you will see that his trailing skate is behind the blue line, making him on side.
Once you grasp the workings of this straightforward, though admittedly complicated rule, you will begin to see hockey less as a melée and more for the speedy strategy that it is. And it won’t be long before another convert to the sport is born.