| Hockey Penalties |
National Hockey League
A penalty in ice hockey is a punishment for inappropriate
behaviour, or the inappropriate behaviour
itself (whether called or not). A referee makes all penalty calls. A linesman
may call only obvious technical infractions such as too many men on the ice.
In the NHL, the Linesman may call major intent-to-injure penalties that the
referee may have missed. The statistic used to track penalties is called
penalties in minutes (PIM).
During a penalty, the player who committed the infraction is sent to the
penalty box. In most cases, the penalized team cannot replace that player and is
thus shorthanded for the duration of the penalty. Normally, hockey teams have
five skaters (excluding the goaltender), so if one penalty is called, play
This is called a power play for the attackers and a penalty kill for the
defenders. A team is far more likely to score on a power play than during normal
play. During a power play, the defenders are allowed to ice the puck without a
stoppage in play. If the penalized team is scored on during a minor penalty, the
penalty immediately ends. If the penalty is a major, the advantage continues no
matter how many goals are scored.
When a penalty is called, play is not stopped until the penalized team gains
control of the puck. Thus, deliberately taking a penalty will not stop an
offensive onslaught by the opposing team. During delayed penalties, the other
team's goaltender will often leave the ice to add an extra attacker, as it is
almost impossible for the opposition to score. The opposition cannot propel the
puck into the net in any way, although it is possible for the team in control of
the puck to score on its own net.
When a goaltender draws a penalty (except for a game misconduct or match
penalty), he does not go to the penalty box. His penalty is served by a player
that was on the ice at the time of the infraction. A bench minor– a
penalty assessed to the team as a whole or a team official– is also served by a
player on the ice at the time of the infraction. The coach may choose which
player he wishes to serve the penalty in either of these situations.
- Lasts for up to two minutes. If the opposing team scores on the power
play, the minor penalty expires and the penalized player may return to the
- Double minor
- Lasts for up to four minutes. Served as two consecutive minor penalties:
If a power play goal is scored during the first two minutes, only the first
minor expires—the player must serve the remaining minor penalty. A double
minor is assessed to a player when their foul causes the victim to bleed.
- Lasts for five minutes. The penalized player must serve the entire
penalty regardless of whether or not the opposing team scores on the power
play. If a major penalty involves injury to the head or face, a fine may be
assesed. Three major penalties results in an automatic Game Misconduct
Penalty. In the case of simultaneous major penalties to each team (i.e.
fighting), the penalties do NOT cause either team to play shorthanded.
- Lasts for ten minutes. This is a penalty to the player only; his team is
not shorthanded during a misconduct (unless additional penalties are
assessed). After the penalty expires, the penalized player must remain in
the penalty box until the next stoppage of play. The player also is assesed
- Game misconduct
- The player is ejected from the game. This is a penalty to the player
only; his team is not shorthanded (unless additional penalties are
assessed). It also carries a fine. In some leagues, three Major penalties is
also grounds for this penalty.
- Gross misconduct
- Similar to a game misconduct, except it implies an action of extreme
unsportsmanlike conduct (such as abuse of officials or spectators) and can
be assessed to any team official in addition to a player. It is defined as a
travesty to the game (other examples include playing under the influence of
- The player is ejected from the game and is ordered to the dressing room
immediately, and automatically suspended from the league until a hearing is
conducted. There are two types of match penalties: a ten minute penalty for
deliberate injury to an opponent and a five minute penalty for
intent to injure. In each case, 10 minutes is assessed in the player's
penalty records. Another player on the offending team serves the penalty for
its duration and does not return to the ice until the entire penalty time
- Game disqualification (NCAA only)
- Similar to a match penalty, except a player serves an automatic
suspension equaling one game for each game disqualification penalty called
against that player in a season (i.e. a two-game suspension for the second
game disqualification of a season).
- Penalty shot
- A player is given an attempt to score a goal without opposition from any
defending players except the goaltender.
This penalty is called for fouling an opponent from behind (not from a side
swipe) when the player has no one but the goaltender to beat, or for any
defending player including the goaltender who throws his stick in the defending
zone. A penalty shot may also be called if a defending player other than the
goaltender gathers the puck into his body or grabs the puck in the defending
zone (handling the puck with the hands).
A penalty shot is also awarded in the Southern Professional Hockey League in
lieu of a power play during the final two minutes of an overtime for a minor
By far, minor penalties are the most common. Double minors tend to be a foul
that would normally draw a minor penalty but also draws blood from the afflicted
player, although others exist. Major penalties are assessed for infractions that
could result in serious injury such as boarding and fighting. Misconducts and
game misconducts are given when injury results and for persisting in the verbal
abuse of a player, coach, or official. Match penalties are given for deliberate
injury and attempted injury and serious disrespect of game officials, such as a
coach refusing to let his team play a game.
For especially egregious infractions, a player will be suspended for a fixed
number of games. In professional leagues, the player does not collect his salary
during the suspension. Suspensions are not assessed during a game (except in the
case of a match penalty), but decided in a hearing of league officials.
For infractions that are too minor to deserve a penalty such as icing, hand
passes, and offsides, the team is penalized by a faceoff closer to their end,
but this is not a penalty under the rules of hockey.
penalties and penalty expiration
When a team is shorthanded due to a penalty, upon its expiration the
penalized player returns to the ice immediately and can join the play in
progress. For penalties where a player must go to the penalty box but the team
does not play shorthanded, the player must remain there after the penalty until
there is a stoppage in play for some reason.
When both teams incur a penalty of the same type (for example, two minor
penalties) during the same stoppage of play, they are said to be coincident.
In most leagues, coincident penalties do not cause a team to be shorthanded; the
penalized players must sit in the penalty box, but the teams remain at the same
In the NHL and U.S. college hockey, when the teams are at full strength and
coincident minors occur, both teams must play one man down: play is
four-on-four. If coincident minors occur when either team is already
shorthanded, the teams remain at the same numerical strength. When coincident
majors, such as those for fighting, occur, the teams stay at full strength.
Coincident penalties are determined by time alone, not by the individual
penalties. For example, if during a stoppage of play, one player is assessed a
double minor penalty and two players from the other team are assessed minor
penalties, those penalties are considered coincident and play remains at
Teams must have at least three skaters on the ice. If a team that already is
down to three men is penalized, that penalty does not start until one of the
previous penalties expires. In this situation, the newly penalized player must
sit in the box right away. When the original penalty expires, that player may
not return to the ice until a stoppage of play, so that his team still has the
correct number of players on the ice.
Minor penalties only expire when a team is shorthanded. If play is
five-on-five, four-on-four, or three-on-three and a goal is scored, no penalties
In leagues which play with a four-on-four overtime, the first minor penalty
means the offended team plays down one man; a second penalty while the first
penalty is occurring means the team with the two-man advantage will actually add
a player, making the penalty five-on-three until the next stoppage of play after
the penalty expires.
In the Southern Professional Hockey League, with a three-on-three overtime,
each minor penalty means the team with the power play will play with an
additional skater during the first three minutes of the overtime. In the final
two minutes, no power play is awarded; instead, officials award a penalty shot
to the team which would have received the power play, mainly to give the team a
better chance at winning the game, since a power play would not be fully
In the NHL, infractions that result in penalties include:
- Attempt to injure
- Deliberately trying to seriously harm an opponent.
- Pushing an opponent violently into the boards.
- Butt-ending (or Stabbing)
- Jabbing an opponent with the end of the shaft of the stick. It carries
an automatic major penalty.
- Taking more than three strides and/or jumping before hitting an
- Checking from behind
- Hitting an opponent from behind is a penalty. See checking.
- Delivering a check below the knees of an opponent.
- Hitting an opponent with the stick when it is held with two hands and no
part of the stick is on the ice.
- Delay of game
- Deliberately stalling the game (for example, deliberately shooting the
puck out of play, holding the puck in the hand, refusing to send players out
for a faceoff, or even repeated deliberate offsides).
- When a player dives to draw a penalty.
- Hitting an opponent with the elbow.
- Serious roughing in which punches are repeatedly thrown.
- Goaltender Interference
- Impeding or checking the goalie.
- Hitting an opponent with the head. A match penalty is called for doing
- High sticking
- Touching an opponent or puck with a stick above shoulder level.
- Grabbing an opponent or their stick with the hands or stick.
- Using a stick as a hook to slow an opponent.
- Illegal Equipment
- Using equipment that does not meet regulations, either by size (length,
width) or number (two sticks) or using a stick with a blade that exceeds 3/4
inch in curve.
- Impeding an opponent who does not have the puck.
- Kicking an opponent with the skate or skate blade. It carries an
automatic match penalty.
- Hitting an opponent with the knee.
- Pushing and shoving or throwing punches.
- Swinging a stick at an opponent, no contact is required.
- Slue Footing
- Rarely called, as it is easily concealed. Tripping an opponent by using
- Stabbing an opponent with the stick blade. It carries an automatic major
- Starting the wrong lineup
- This very rare minor penalty is called when the offending team fails to
put the starting lineup on the ice at the beginning of each period, the
exception being injuries. For this penalty to be called, the captain of the
non-offending team must bring this breach of the rules to the referee's
attention immediately at the first stoppage of play.
- Too many men on the ice
- Having more than six players (including the goalie) on the ice involved
in the play at any given time.
- Using a stick or one's body to trip an opponent.
- Unsportsmanlike conduct
- Arguing with a referee; using slurs against an opponent or teammate;
playing with illegal equipment
Other leagues typically assess penalties for additional infractions. For
example, most adult social leagues and women's hockey leagues ban all body
checking, and in most amateur leagues, any head contact whatsoever results in a
Coaches or players may occasionally opt to inflict a penalty on purpose,
especially when they are trailing. In some cases, it is hoped that the
infraction can be concealed from the officials, thereby not being called. Gordie
Howe was one player renowned for his ability to inflict penalties without being
Many infractions (ie. butt-ending) are called more harshly in part
because they are easily concealed from officials.
Hockey players that opt to inflict a penalty despite the punishment, do so in
order to degrade the opposing team's morale or momentum, or boost their own.
This is most obvious in a hockey fight, but can arise from virtually any minor
penalty. It is hoped that the temporary set-back of a penalty kill will be
offset by the effect on the two teams' overall play.
Another common reason to inflict a penalty on purpose is to rob an opposing
player of an excellent scoring opportunity. In these cases a player may hold,
hook, or impede another player who otherwise would likely have scored -
preferring to kill a minor penalty than give up a likely goal. The over-use of
such penalties is mitigated by the possibility of a penalty shot being called.
When a penalty is taken for one of these reasons, it is commonly (yet
informally) known as a good penalty.
The record for the most penalty minutes in one season is held by Dave Schultz
of the Philadelphia Flyers with 472 in the 1974-75 NHL season. The record for
most penalty minutes in a career is held by Tiger Williams who had 3966 over 14
years. The active penalty minute leader is Chris Chelios, who has accumulated
2,803 PIM over 23 years.
The most penalties in a single game occurred in a fight-filled match between
the Ottawa Senators and Philadelphia Flyers on March 5, 2004 when 419 penalty
minutes were handed out. Statistically, a game misconduct counts as 10 penalty
minutes, in addition to other penalties handed out. In rare cases (due to
multiple infractions), multiple game misconducts may be handed to a player -
that is merely statistical, not (automatically) a multi-game suspension,
although the league will often suspend the player in a subsequent decision.