Hockey 101: The Faceoff

In baseball, there is the bland first pitch of the game.  The NBA features the oft-forgotten tip.  The NFL flips a coin to determine who kicks the ball away to the other team.  But in hockey, you battle for possession as soon as the pounding intro music stops.  The faceoff occurs more often than the kickoff and opening tip, the second of which only happens twice.  It is also imperative to owning the flow of the game.

the faceoff
Owning the faceoff dot is important (Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)

Rules of the Faceoff

Any skater can take part in the faceoff, sorry goalies, but it is most often the job of the center.  A referee or linesman will signal that no more changes can be made to the players on the ice and the whistle will blow.  Centers then have around five seconds (by rule) to be at the dot and squared and ready for the puck to be dropped.  A linesman has the right to drop the puck if one of the participants isn’t in the faceoff circle after a few seconds.

The visiting team’s center is required to put his stick down on the ice first.  This is a home-ice advantage.  The home team then puts their stick to the ice and the linesman will soon drop the puck.  Because he controls the exact moment when the puck can be dropped, the home team center has an advantage at getting control of the puck.

Getting Kicked Out of a Faceoff

the faceoff
(Tom Turk/THW)

Often, you’ll see the guy in stripes raise his arm and the big guy on the side of his raised arm stand up straight and argue.  What just happened was the linesman just kicked out that player.  Not from the game, but from the faceoff.  Any number of things can kick a player from the faceoff dot.  Centers try to avoid this, because they tend to be the best player for faceoffs and wingers who replace them are hard-pressed to win.  This includes, but is not limited to:

  • One of the centers (player taking the faceoff) is not positioned properly for the drop
  • One of the centers takes too long in putting his stick on the ice
  • One of the centers tries to hinder the opponent before the puck has been dropped
  • Any player lines up offsides (on the wrong half of the faceoff circle)
  • Any player encroaches into the faceoff circle
  • Any player who makes physical contact with an opponent

These rules are not enforced at the moment of infraction.  Some referees allow a little encroachment and a little contact.  Others don’t allow any movement at all.

Techniques to Winning the Draw

Many centers have multiple moves they use to win faceoffs.  There can be clean wins to forehand and backhand.  There can be shots directly on net for faceoffs taking place near a goalie.  A faceoff can be won without even touching the puck!  The following video gives a nice rundown of these techniques.