A Linesman’s Guide to Calling Off-Sides
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To properly call off-sides requires good positioning, as well as having a proper understanding or feel for the rules surrounding off-sides.
Linesmen need to be sure to always arrive at the blue line before the play and set up on the inner edge of the blue line, because the puck needs to completely cross the leading edge of the blue line. Once play is established in the end zone, the forward linesman set up on the outside of the blue line. This is so that he can monitor whether the puck leaves the zone by crossing the outside edge of the line, while also ensuring that he will not be in the way if a puck is shot outside the zone.
Linesmen need to work as a team. This is especially true in the neutral zone and covering each other for off-side situations. For example, while one linesman will be holding his blue line (about 1-2 foot off the line), the other linesman should be at the level of the other linesman, or slightly behind.
The purpose of this is to ensure that if the linesman holding the line gets bumped, his partner can cover for him without delay. If this bump does happen, the linesman must communicate to know who is now holding the line. At higher levels linesman are strongly encouraged to step in and help their partner make the correct call, so don’t be afraid to call an off-side if your partner misses it.
In some leagues, linesmen are in charge of certain ends, for example this is done in the CHL and NHL. So if a linesman gets bumped, they are supposed to take it back at the earliest chance. However, in minor hockey this is usually not the case. Communicate with your linesman partner to know how you will work.
As the back linesman, because of how close you need to be to the blue line in order to support your partner, you need to be able to move your feet quickly in case the play shifts quickly to the other end. As we’ve mentioned, you need to arrive at your blue line before the play, not behind. That requires that you always need to be in an athletic stance and are ready to shift directions if the play moves from zone to zone.
At the professional levels, it is also expected that the trailing linesman is prepared to make the call at the blue line should something happens to his partner. So once the play leaves your blue line, you need to hustle to prepare to cover for your partner.
It is also worth mentioning that missed off-sides are often easy to spot, namely because head coaches for teams will stand on the bench on or near the blue line and will often know when you miss one.
Finally, as a linesman, it is important to keep your head on a swivel at all times, especially when it comes to players that are “cherry picking” or players that are coming out of the penalty box. Awareness is critical. If you don’t notice a player coming out of the penalty box and he gets a quick stretch pass at the blue line when you are 20 feet behind the play, it will be almost impossible to judge whether the player is off-side. Keep your head up and be aware of players that are high so that you can give yourself extra space to see those plays developing.