What Is the Crease in Hockey?
The shaded area directly in front of a hockey goal is called the crease. This is where a hockey goalie gets busy stopping goals, and where opposing players are prohibited from interfering with the goalie. The crease is the hockey goalie's domain, their house, where they do all they can to shut down the opposing team's scoring efforts.
The name "crease" probably originates from the time when the boundaries of the area were carved or gouged as lines or creases into the ice's surface; nowadays, the area typically is designated with a red boundary line and the ice within the crease is shaded blue.
Hockey Crease Rules
The crease is intended to be a safe zone for the goalie—hockey rules prohibit attacking players within the crease from making unnecessary contact with the goalie. Regulations also state that the puck has to enter the crease first before an attacking player can enter; no part of the attacking player's body, or a stick or skate, can enter the crease first, otherwise they're whistled for an infraction.
In the National Hockey League, however, attacking players may stand within the crease, but they cannot interfere with the goalie's ability to defend the goal. In the NHL's Official Rules 2017-2018, Rule 78.5 states, "Apparent goals shall be disallowed by the Referee . . . when an attacking player has interfered with a goalkeeper in his goal crease." Referees use their discretion in these cases on what might be ruled interference. (Please see sidebar here on the 1999 play that changed the NHL crease rules.) Conversely, defensive players in the crease area are prohibited from covering or grabbing the puck, concealing it or taking it out of play, or the official can award a penalty shot for the attacking team.
Goalie Crease Dimensions
In the National Hockey League, the crease is a total of eight feet wide (extending one foot past each goal post on the goal, which measures six feet wide) and extending out in two crease lines of four feet and then ending in a semicircle of six feet at its center apex. It also runs four feet high, to the goal's crossbar. As mentioned earlier, the crease area is usually painted light blue with a red two-inch border outlining it.
There's another crease in ice hockey, this one called the referee's crease. It's on the ice immediately in front of the Penalty Timekeeper's seat. This crease is a 10-foot semicircle where officials stand when play is stopped. Players are not allowed in this crease unless given permission by an official to enter. Really, it's a safe zone for officials to discuss rules and calls.
End of the NHL's "No-Crease" Rule
In 1999, the Dallas Stars' great winger Brett Hull had possession of the puck in front of the goal and he scored while his hockey skate was in the crease. It was the game-winning goal in overtime—of the Stanley Cup. The officials allowed the goal to stand, after video review, and Dallas won the Stanley Cup on the goal, beating the Buffalo Sabres. Afterward, the NHL abolished the "no crease" rule prohibiting players from entering the crease before the puck, which was generally considered a confusing rule to enforce. Under the NHL rule that stands to this day, attacking players may enter the crease but can't interfere with the goalie, per the referee's judgment.