Introduction to Hockey Penalties

What are Hockey Penalties?

  • A penalty in ice hockey is a punishment for an infringement of the rules.

  • Most penalties are enforced by sending the offending player to a penalty box for a set number of minutes.

Types of Hockey Penalties

Minor Penalty

  • A minor penalty is the least severe type of penalty, lasting two minutes.

  • The offending player is sent to the penalty box, and their team will play shorthanded.

  • If a team scores a goal during a minor penalty, the penalty will end and the offending player may return to the ice.

  • Examples of minor penalties include cross-checking, elbowing, high-sticking, holding, and unsportsmanlike conduct.

Major Penalty

  • A major penalty is a stronger degree of penalty, lasting five minutes.

  • The offending player is sent to the penalty box, and their team will play shorthanded.

  • Major penalties cannot end early, even if a goal is scored against the short-handed team.

  • Examples of major penalties include fighting, butt-ending, spearing, and boarding.

Top 15 Most Frequent Referee Calls

1.Hooking: Using the stick blade to impede an opponent’s progress or allow them to gain positional advantage.

2. Tripping: Using the stick, arm, or leg to cause an opponent to trip or fall to the ice.

3. Too Many Players on the Ice: Having more than the permitted number of skaters (six) on the ice for the offending team.

4. Icing: Shooting the puck across the red line from behind the center red line, causing a stoppage of play.

5. Interference: Impeding the progress of an opponent who does not have possession of the puck.

6. Holding: Grabbing an opponent with the hands, stick, or arms to impede their movement.

7. High-Sticking: Carrying the stick above the normal height of the shoulders so that it could make contact with an opposing player’s head.

8. Slashing: Swinging the stick at an opponent in a chopping, slicing, or batting motion.

9. Delay of Game: Intentionally causing a stoppage of play, such as shooting or batting the puck out of the playing area.

10. Cross-checking: Using the shaft of the stick between the hands to forcefully check an opponent.

11. Boarding: Checking an opponent violently into the boards from behind.

12. Charging: Taking more than three strides to check an opponent or jumping into an opponent to deliver a check.

13. Roughing: Using excessive force or punching/shoving an opponent after the whistle.

14. Fighting: Two players engaging in fisticuffs or attempting to throw punches at each other.

15. Game Misconduct: An infraction so severe that the offending player is ejected from the game and must leave immediately.

Misconduct Penalties

  • A misconduct penalty lasts for ten minutes, but unlike minor and major penalties, teams are allowed to replace the offending player for the duration of the penalty.

  • Offending players can also receive other penalties in addition to misconduct penalties.

  • Common examples of misconduct penalties include fighting and verbally abusing officials.

Game Misconduct Penalty

  • If offenses are more serious than those that warrant a 10-minute misconduct penalty, a game misconduct penalty is assigned.

  • A player cannot return to the game if they receive a game misconduct penalty.

  • Offenses that can result in game misconduct penalties include fighting, abusing officials, and leaving the penalty box early.

Match Penalty

  • A match penalty is similar to a game misconduct penalty in that the offending player is ejected for the remainder of the game.

  • However, the offending player’s team is also left short-handed due to match penalties lasting for five minutes while another player sits out for the duration of the penalty.

  • Officials assign match penalties when a player intentionally causes harm to another player or attempts to do so.

Penalty Shot

  • An official may call a penalty shot when a player commits an offense that prevents a player on a breakaway from scoring.

  • The fouled player now gets the opportunity to score a goal starting at the center circle with no opposition other than the goalie.

  • When the foul would normally be considered a minor penalty, the offending player does not have to serve the duration of it when a penalty shot is used instead.

Penalty Trends and Team Strategy

Penalty trends can also influence a team’s strategy and approach to the game. For example, if a team is consistently taking more penalties in the defensive zone, coaches may emphasize better positioning and discipline in their own end to reduce these infractions.

Conversely, if a team is drawing more power play opportunities, coaches may focus on improving their power play units and capitalizing on these scoring chances more effectively.

The Role of Officials

Referees play a crucial role in enforcing the rules and maintaining a fair and safe environment on the ice. Their ability to consistently and accurately call penalties can significantly impact the flow and outcome of a game.

While officials strive for objectivity, there is always a degree of subjectivity in their calls, particularly when it comes to subjective infractions such as hooking, holding, or interference. This subjectivity can lead to debates and controversies surrounding penalty calls, with coaches, players, and fans often questioning the consistency and fairness of the officiating.

Penalty Controversies and Debates

Despite the best efforts of officials, penalty calls are often a source of controversy and debate in the hockey world. Fans, coaches, and players may question the validity of certain calls or argue that officials missed infractions that should have resulted in penalties.

These debates can become heated, particularly in high-stakes games or during the playoffs, where a single penalty can significantly impact the outcome of a series or championship.

Video Review and Supplementary Discipline

To address some of these controversies and ensure fair and consistent enforcement of the rules, many hockey leagues have implemented video review systems and supplementary discipline measures.

Video review allows officials to review certain plays and infractions to ensure that the correct calls are made. This process can help overturn or confirm penalty calls, providing greater accuracy and transparency in the officiating process.

Supplementary discipline, on the other hand, allows leagues to review incidents that may have been missed or improperly penalized during a game. If warranted, supplementary discipline can result in additional fines, suspensions, or other disciplinary measures for players or teams, even after the game has concluded.

These measures aim to uphold the integrity of the game and ensure that players and teams are held accountable for their actions, even when infractions may have been missed or improperly penalized during the heat of the moment.


Hockey penalties are an integral part of the game, serving as a means of enforcing the rules, promoting player safety, and maintaining a level playing field. From minor infractions to major misconduct penalties, each call has the potential to significantly impact the course of a game and influence strategy and momentum.

As the sport continues to evolve, the rules and enforcement of penalties will likely be subject to ongoing review and debate, as leagues strive to strike a balance between maintaining the physicality and intensity of the game while ensuring the safety and well-being of its players.

Ultimately, understanding the nuances of hockey penalties and their impact on the game is crucial for players, coaches, officials, and fans alike, as it shapes the very fabric of this beloved sport.