Ice Hockey referee demonstrate boarding penalty

Decoding Ice Hockey Penalties: What You Need to Know

Author: Pratik Ghadge


Ice hockey, a game of speed, skill, and strategy, also comes with its fair share of rules and regulations. Understanding these rules, especially the penalties, is crucial for players, coaches, and fans alike. Penalties in hockey are not just about punishing a player for a wrongdoing; they are about maintaining the integrity, flow, and safety of the game.

When a player violates a rule, the consequences can shift the momentum of the game, potentially changing its outcome. This underscores the significance of being well-versed with the various penalties in hockey. Let us explore more!

Different Hockey Rules for Different Leagues

The National Hockey League (NHL) is often the benchmark when it comes to hockey rules. However, it's essential to realize that the NHL's rules are not universal. Different leagues, age groups, and affiliations have their own set of rules. For instance, while the NHL might allow a certain type of body check, the same move might be penalized in a junior or youth league.

Safety is paramount, especially in youth hockey. Young players are still developing physically and mentally, making them more susceptible to injuries. As a result, organizations like USA Hockey have tailored rules to prioritize the safety of these young athletes. While the essence of the game remains the same, these modifications ensure that players can enjoy the game without unnecessary risks.

Hockey Rule Violations That Arent Penalties

Not every rule violation results in a penalty. Some infractions stop the play, ensuring the game's flow and fairness. One such rule is the offsides rule. In simple terms, a play is ruled offsides when an offensive player crosses the blue line into the opposing team's zone before the puck does. This rule ensures that the attacking team doesn't gain an unfair advantage.

Another common rule is icing. Icing occurs when a player shoots the puck from their side of the rink, and it crosses both the center line and the opposing team's goal line without anyone touching it. Different leagues have variations of this rule. For instance, in the NHL, icing is nullified if a player from the team that committed the icing touches the puck first, especially during hockey power plays. Play can also be stopped without a penalty in situations where the puck gets lodged in a player's equipment, the goal netting, or if it goes out of play.

Minor Penalties in Hockey

Minor penalties are the most common infractions in a hockey game. When a player commits a minor penalty, they are sent to the penalty box for two minutes, leaving their team short-handed. Some of the frequent minor penalties include:

  • High sticking: Contacting an opponent above the shoulder with the stick.
  • Holding: Restraining an opponent from moving freely.
  • Hooking: Using the stick to impede an opponent's movement.
  • Cross-checking: Hitting an opponent with both hands on the stick.
  • Roughing: Engaging in minor altercations or skirmishes.
  • Tripping: Causing an opponent to fall using the stick or body.

Major Hockey Penalties

Major penalties are more severe than minor penalties and usually result from actions that are deemed dangerous or harmful. Players receiving a major penalty are sent to the penalty box for five minutes. Unlike minor penalties, the duration of a major penalty is not cut short if the opposing team scores. Some major penalties include:

  • Boarding: Violently checking an opponent into the boards.
  • Spearing: Jabbing an opponent with the stick blade.
  • Slashing: Hitting an opponent with the stick.
  • Charging: Taking multiple strides before checking an opponent.
  • Check from behind: Hitting an opponent from behind.
  • Check to the head: Making contact with an opponent's head.
  • Fighting: Engaging in a physical altercation with an opponent.

Understanding hockey penalties is crucial for anyone involved in the game. It ensures the game is played fairly, safely, and within the spirit of sportsmanship.

Misconduct Penalties in Hockey

Misconduct penalties in hockey are designed to address unsportsmanlike behavior or actions that don't align with the game's spirit. When a player is handed a misconduct penalty, they are required to spend 10 minutes in the penalty box. However, the penalized team does not play short-handed, as another player can replace the penalized individual on the ice.

Situations that might result in a misconduct penalty include fighting off the ice, continuing an altercation after officials have intervened, and using a hockey slapshot inappropriately. Other actions that can lead to penalties are throwing equipment onto the ice or using profanity or abusive language toward an official.

Game Misconduct Penalties

A step above the misconduct penalty is the game misconduct penalty. Players receiving a game misconduct are not just sent to the penalty box; they are ejected from the entire game and must head to the dressing room. Often, a game misconduct is accompanied by another penalty, such as a major penalty. The decision to upgrade a penalty to a game misconduct is at the official's discretion, especially if the infraction is deemed severe or if it results in an injury.

Examples of situations leading to a game misconduct include: causing an injury due to a major penalty like boarding, striking a spectator, leaving the penalty box during an on-ice altercation, using racial slurs, or attempting to injure non-player personnel, such as a coach.

Hockey Match Penalties

Match penalties are among the most severe penalties in hockey. When a player is handed a match penalty, they are immediately ejected from the game and sent to the dressing room. The penalized team must play short-handed for five minutes, similar to a major penalty. The primary distinction between a major penalty and a match penalty is the intent behind the action. A match penalty is given when a player intentionally attempts to injure or does injure another player.

Infractions that can lead to a match penalty include deliberate stick offenses, checking from behind with intent to injure, boarding with malicious intent, biting an opponent, delivering checks to the head with the intent to harm, or sucker-punching an unsuspecting player.

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Final Thoughts

Ice hockey, while a passionate and fast-paced game, is built on a foundation of respect, sportsmanship, and fair play. Penalties, especially severe ones like misconduct, game misconduct, and match penalties, serve as reminders of the game's core values. They ensure that players adhere to the rules, respect one another, and maintain the game's integrity. Understanding these penalties is crucial for players, coaches, officials, and fans.

It ensures that the game remains not only competitive but also safe for all involved. Every time a player steps onto the ice, they must remember the responsibility they carry, not just to their team but to the very spirit of the sport.


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