Hockey Penalties Guide

Hockey Penalties Guide

While hockey can look like chaotic anarchy to the untrained eye, there is indeed a method to the madness. When asking, “What is icing in hockey?” and “What does offside mean in hockey?” … the answers are pretty standard. However, some penalties and rule infractions can differ from professional leagues to junior or college leagues to local leagues. This hockey penalties guide serves as an introduction to understanding the basics of the sport.

Minor vs. Major Penalties

Most infractions in a game will be minor penalties, which result in a consequential two minutes in the penalty box for the involved player(s). The infringing player’s team is therefore obligated to play shorthanded for the time served. What are the penalties in hockey? The following are examples of minor penalties (some of which can become double-minor penalties at the referee’s discretion, such as an action resulting in injury):

  • Holding: Commonly called interference, this is when a player grabs onto or holds another player (or his equipment) to impede movement — with no intention of playing the puck.
  • Tripping: When a player takes an opponent’s feet out from under him using a stick or body part, a tripping minor is called.
  • Hooking: Another type of interference, hooking is called when a player uses his stick to grab or hook another player.
  • High-sticking: This is called when a player’s stick makes contact with an opposing player above the shoulders. High-sticking can become a double-minor if the contact draws blood.
  • Cross-checking: While checks are part of the game, a hit occurring when a player holds his stick in both hands to drill an opponent results in a penalty.
  • Too many men: This occurs when there are too many players on the ice at a time in which the extra players are actively or passively affecting play, not just changing lines.
  • Delay of game: When the puck goes over the glass off a defending player’s stick — other than a deflected shot — while in their zone, a delay of game minor is issued. 

Major penalties are infractions that result in a heavier consequence — usually five minutes in the penalty box due to a more severe/more dangerous action. Another notable difference between minor and major penalties is that, should the shorthanded team allow a goal during a minor penalty, what remains of the two minutes is eradicated and even-strength hockey resumes. If the penalized team is scored on during a major penalty, it continues to play shorthanded.

Checks from behind or to the head will almost always be issued as major penalties, along with penalties such as:

  • Boarding: Depending on severity, this can be called as a minor or major penalty. This penalty is whistled when a player hits a defenseless opponent into the boards.
  • Charging: Taking multiple strides or leaving one’s feet to maximize impact when hitting an opponent is illegal and will result in a major.
  • Spearing: A player who weaponizes his stick by using a stabbing motion to strike an opponent serves a major penalty.
  • Fighting: Any player who drops the gloves to throw punches at an opponent will serve five minutes for fighting, and possibly include a 10-minute misconduct penalty.

Icing, Offside and Other Violations or Stoppages

There are several rule violations that result in stoppage of play but do not require that an infringing player be sent to the penalty box. Icing and offside in hockey are the most common violations that come up in a game, and possibly two of the most misunderstood. Offside is called when an offensive player enters the opposing team’s zone before the puck does. As for icing, this occurs when a player passes or shoots a puck that crosses the center line and goal line untouched.

While icing technically isn’t a penalty, the offending team has to take the resuming face-off in its zone. Other rule violations or stoppages in play that require a reset include:

  • Playing the puck with a high stick
  • Hand pass is made
  • Puck hits the protective netting
  • Puck leaves playing area (and is not a delay of game)
  • Goalie covers the puck or referees lose sight of the puck in the crease

Even if you’re still learning the intricacies of the game and/or just getting started, American Athletic Shoe Co. has hockey skates for players of any experience level. Browse our inventory of men’s and women’s hockey skates or rentals to find a pair for you.

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