In hockey, the start of play does not always occur with a player having possession. After an interruption such as an injury or assist award, there will be another battle for puck control that is called a faceoff between opponents on opposite sides in order to get back into action.
A faceoff in hockey is when one player from each team approaches the area near their opponents’ goal and awaits for an official to drop the puck so they can battle it out. The first person who touches this sacred ball gets control of play, which could be either good or bad depending on how much time remains before the period’s end.
The faceoff is one of the most important parts of a game, as it determines who gets to control and possess the puck. In this article, we will take an expert look at what goes down during a Face-Off while also exploring how strategies are used throughout each contest for advantageous positioning.
When is there a faceoff in hockey?
Whenever the player stops playing due to any of these reasons, they must take a faceoff and then resume play. However, these four scenarios are the cause of the vast majority of face-offs:
- The start of a new period (this includes the 5 minute overtime in the regular season or the overtime period in the playoffs)
- After a goal is scored
- After a whistle due to a penalty or a non-penalty infraction (e.g. offside or icing)
- After the puck is shot out of the rink
These scenarios which happen sporadically will also cause a stoppage in play and a faceoff:
- An injured player — the whistle will be blown when the team with the injured player touches the puck
- When the referee loses sight of the puck
- When something unusual happens outside of the rules
How do they determine where the faceoff will take place?
The official uses one of nine dots to signal who takes the face-off. These are located all around the ice rink and it’s important for them to choose which dot will be used in order to restart play when there is an advantage going back onto our team’s sides after being tied at halftime or during overtime periods if necessary.
Let’s look at the different faceoff dots:
- Center ice dot- The center circle is where we start and end every period. It’s also the perfect place to celebrate a goal.
- 4 Blueline dots- These are the white dots that you find in every field after plays have been called by an offside. The official simply chooses one of them to indicate where their violation took place.
- 4 faceoff dots closest to the goaltender- these dots will be used the most during the game. The two major scenarios are:
- After a goalie freezes the puck, the faceoff dot is chosen that is closest to where the play ended.
- After a penalty is called the faceoff will be held in the zone of the team that received the penalty and is now shorthanded
Where to stand in a hockey faceoff?
- Centers- The two centermen will line up facing each other, with the faceoff dot between them.
- It is illegal to stand within the faceoff circle, which are five locations at center ice and near goalies.
- The winger is not allowed to stand any closer than their side of the hash marks.
The actual strategy:
When all the players have not stationed around a circle, some stand off in different areas. The center of each team tries to win possession for their side so they can either take an immediate shot on goal or set up play near where there’s no opponent before passing back over glass- ceramic tiles make this game very fast-paced.
Centermen will try to get the puck back by drawing it out of play or passing across their own zone. The player is far enough away from the center that they either have time for one quick shot before being caught off guard, which could result in an easy turnover; but if not then there’s always someone else waiting just beyond where you’d expect them. Centermen are often seen fighting for position at the faceoff dot, trying to win that all-important flick or shot. They’ll tie up their opponents with fierce hits in order to take control of it before passing back out into play so another player can have his turn scoring goals.
Who has to put their stick down first?
When you watch hockey you will notice that one player puts his stick down and then the second player does so. The visiting team’s player goes first, followed by the center from home.
This is an advantage for the home team in the following ways:
- When taking a faceoff in ice hockey, the position of your bottom hand can either be set forward or backward. This is an indication as to which side you are trying to win possession for – if it’s toward yourself then it means that the opponent has possession on this particular point; however, there might also come circumstances where having both sticks overhead could simplify things even more.
- The second player to put down his stick has a bit more momentum behind him than the first because he’s been set and static for a long.
Why do players switch in face-offs?
The penalty for a faceoff violation is obvious – you’re going to lose possession of the puck. It’s also worth noting that there may have been some prior agreement between opponents before exiting your zone, which could lead them both offside and result in an additional punishment if caught. If a faceoff violation happens, then the team who incurs this infraction has to replace their player with another member of your squad on ice.
Once the players have been given a faceoff violation, they must immediately switch to their opposing player or linesman and drop the puck if no one is ready. If there are two violations within 2 minutes of each other on the same shift then the team will receive a 1-minute penalty for delay in-game before horns sound again.
What constitutes a faceoff violation?
- A non-center player moves into the faceoff circle prior to the puck being dropped (a player’s stick can be in the faceoff circle just not the body).
- A player crosses the hash marks line, the players skate may touch the hash marks line but cannot go over
- Any physical contact between an opponent before the puck is dropped
- When a center does not position himself correctly
Sometimes the center gets kicked out of position, leaving their team at a disadvantage. Center ice is usually won by whoever has better hands at taking face-offs and these players will be more trusted by coaches because they win higher percentages than others in this area which can make all difference on game day.
When a team is desperate to avoid losing, they’ll put two centers on the ice in case of draws. They don’t want quick possession; it’s important for their defense that there are players who can take time getting back if someone takes too long or makes an error while taking one.
Note: This is an area where the officials do give a lot of rope and are very hesitant to give penalties. The players know this, which means they’ll be on guard after their first violation in order not only to win back possession for yourself but also put pressure onto your opponent by trying as hard as possible at getting that faceoff victorious.
Does the puck have to hit the ice on a faceoff?
No, once the puck is dropped, players are allowed to engage in play. There’s no ice needed for this rule.
Centermen are often in a difficult position. They have to time their own stick-puck collision with the ice, but if it’s not perfect then they might miss and lose possession of that puck. The center of the opponent’s team will try to lift their stick before it hits with a skate and then throw them back.
How is a faceoff win determined?
When a faceoff is won, it’s not just about who touches the puck first. It also matters where you keep your hands and which way they’re pointing when that person touched it- as long as one of them was on top at some point during play.
How important is it to win a faceoff in hockey?
Some people argue that there is not much correlation between winning a game and the team’s faceoff percentage. By simply watching these hockey matches, it’s easy to see how many draws end up in goals-against without even paying attention. Their face-off wins were crucial to winning this game. The team was able to tie it up with less than two minutes left, so we can see that these are important for success.
In addition, teams put so much emphasis on having possession of the puck. They want to have a greater percentage over time than their opponent because this highly correlates with winning. And what is one way you can increase that chance? Winning face-offs!
Here’s the NHL teams faceoff winning percentage for the 2018-2019 season:
Team Faceoff Win Percentages
|Team||Faceoff Win %|
|6 St. Louis||51.40%|
|8 Tampa Bay||51.20%|
|13 Los Angeles||50.50%|
|15 San Jose||50.30%|
Findings: The data shows that of the top 16 faceoff teams in league 12 made it into playoff games. This is an indication to me, given how important possession and puck-control are for winning battles with your opponent on offense or defense – especially when you’re playing against higher-level opponents who will likely be more skilled than what we’ve seen so far this season.
The Flyers had one of the best defenses in hockey this season, but their blender-short goaltending did them in. The top faceoff team (Philadelphia Flyers) did miss the playoffs…but it might’ve also had something to do with poor play by the Goaltender.
Face-offs are the most important part of any hockey game. A win on opening face-off means that you will have more opportunities in this attacking zone for scoring goals or assisting your teammates, which can lead to victory.