How to Run a Face-Off: A Guide for Linesman

Face-off, Hockey, How To, Ice Hockey, Linesman, Officiating, Procedure, Referee, Refereeing -

How to Run a Face-Off: A Guide for Linesman

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This week I wanted to touch on the topic of face-offs.

Face-offs are where linesman make their money, especially in the professional ranks. For someone starting out they seem straightforward enough – however what goes into running a good face-off?

Firstly, for most leagues there are only 9 spots where face-offs can occur, the center ice face-off dot, the four neutral zone face-off dots, and the four end zone face-off dots. Rules for when we use each of these dots differ between leagues and rulebooks, so I won’t touch on that.

What I will discuss is how as a linesman (and as a referee) you can run an effective face-off.

What is the main objective in a face-off? To me it is running it FAIRLY. That means it doesn’t need to be perfect, but it does need to be fair for both teams.

So how do we run a fair face-off? Well firstly you need to understand the basic positioning required for the players on a face-off. Only the two players taking the draw are allowed inside the circle, all others need to be outside of the circle, and on their respective sides, as indicated by the hashmarks. The two players facing-off need to have their feet within the boundaries set-up. That means both skates need to be behind the restraining line and lined up “squarely”.

Image result for faceoff hockey

To begin the face-off, start by taking your position at the dot you will be dropping the puck. You need to wait until the referee conducts his or his line change procedure (or partner in a 2-man system) before blowing your whistle. While this is going on don’t be afraid to talk to the players and let them know how you will be running the face-off. A popular thing to do for many linesmen is to set-up the players behind you and let them know not to encroach.

Once the line change procedure is done, blow your whistle promptly. At this stage you are primarily concerned with making sure the players in front of you are in the proper position. I usually start with the wingers and let them know if they need to move or shift over.

The primary focus is then the centreman. This is your bread and butter.

Your approach will depend on the rules and level of hockey you are doing. If you are working a novice or squirt game, you don’t want to be too overbearing, just make sure the players are setup good enough and get the puck down. As you get to higher levels, centreman become more skilled and will cheat to get an advantage. It is at this stage where you want to be in charge and make sure that your centers are not cheating.

Rules differ for leagues for procedures – for example in Hockey Canada the away team comes down first no matter where the face-off is, while in the NHL it is the defending side team. Know your rules. This is important in communication.

For example, you will talk to the centres and say “okay, white is coming down first, then black”. Be sure your centres have their feet behind the restraining lines and that their sticks come down on their respective markings on the dot.

This sounds easy – but good centreman know how to take advantage of linesman.

The things to look out for are centres timing your draws, and for players not putting their sticks down on the ice. For timing, you need to be aware as a linesman not to do the same exact thing every face-off. If you get repetitive the centres will know when you are dropping the puck, and the face-off becomes unfair. A good way to prevent this is to change your timing. For example, once the players are “set”, you can wait either 1 second, 2 seconds, or 3 seconds (but not longer than that). Those longer waits will also teach the centres not to jump, but to wait for the puck to be dropped. For not putting sticks down, some centres will move it down, but not touch, you need to be aware of that.

So now that we have a good idea of running a face-off I want to provide some wisdom I’ve picked up throughout the years (often through trial and error).

One of the most important is to be strict early on. Don’t be afraid to toss a centre for a violation early. That’s because when you do that, the players will know they need to follow the rules early on. If you don’t enforce the face-offs early, often the players will be bolder and by the end of the game the face-offs will have gotten very sloppy.

Some great advice I had was to enforce this early, because if you wait too long – and end up kicking out a centre towards the end of a game in a critical situation that leads to a goal, you are putting yourself in a tough situation. This can be prevented by enforcing face-offs early.

The important thing to keep in mind is to work with the players throughout the game. Talk with them. Let them know what they need to do. Remember, these players are taking the face-off for a reason, work with them to try and let them take it, provided they are listening and following your directions.

Be sure to practice dropping the puck so it lands flatly.

Once the puck is dropped, don’t rush out of there, look first and make sure the coast is clear and exit the zone.

It takes lots of practice, but running good face-offs is critical to a good hockey game.

Keep working hard out there!