Hockey Penalties List – All the NHL Penalties Explained

An ice hockey refereee signaling a penalty
Photo Credit: The Athletic

Hockey, a sport known for its thrilling pace and physical intensity, has complex rules that ensure fair play and player safety. At the forefront of hockey rules are the penalties; there is an extensive number of penalties that every hockey coach and player must be aware of. We went through The Official NHL Rulebook and compiled the Hockey Penalties List.

A penalty can change the course of an entire game, so as a fan, it’s essential to know the different NHL penalties to keep up with the game. From the common penalties like high-sticking and hooking to the obscure ones, we cover them all. I’m sure even a seasoned hockey fan will find some new penalties they didn’t know about. So get ready, and try to stay out of the sin bin (hockey slang for penalty box.)

Hockey Penalties List

This is a list of the different kinds of penalties that the NHL and hockey leagues around the world use. For more information about the different lengths and types of penalties, like minor and major penalties, check out our article on PIMS in hockey. We also have many great articles on individual penalties that take a deep dive into each of them; click the links below the descriptions.

How Many Penalties Are There in Hockey?

In the NHL Rulebook, there are 31 different kinds of penalties for which a player will be sent to the penalty box. 

Restraining Infractions

Restraining infractions in hockey are violations where a player illegally restricts the movement of an opponent to gain an advantage. Obstructing and/or impeding the progress of an opponent are examples of restraining actions.

Holding

When a player uses their arms to grab or clutch an opposing player to impede their movement. This can involve grabbing any part of the opponent’s body, clothing, or equipment. 

Hooking

When a player uses their stick in a hook-like motion on an opposing player to slow down or obstruct the opponent’s movement. Also, if the stick hits the opponent’s hands/gloves, this is a hooking penalty.

A hockey player wearing a white jersey hooking another player wearing a red jersey

What is Hooking in Hockey? We Explain the NHL Rule

Interference

Hindering the progress of, or getting in the way of, an opposing player who does not have the puck. Players without the puck must be allowed to skate freely.

A hockey player wearing a white jersey hooking another player wearing a red jersey

Interference in Hockey – What is it, and how do you spot it?

Tripping

A tripping penalty is called when a player uses their stick, leg, arm, or body to cause an opponent to fall or lose balance. This can occur intentionally or accidentally but is penalized regardless, as it can lead to dangerous falls and injuries, besides disrupting the flow of the game.

Physical Infractions

Physical infractions are penalties that involve illegal or excessive physical contact.

Boarding

Checking or pushing a defenseless opponent violently into the boards. These penalties usually occur from behind, resulting in the non-offending player going head-first into the boards. The penalty’s length is determined by the severity of the hit and can result in a two-minute minor to a five-minute major and a game misconduct penalty

Charging

When a player builds up speed and covers a lot of distance to check the opponent violently. Charging can also include the offending player leaving their feet while checking the opposing player in an upward motion, usually toward the head area, i.e., launching themselves at the opponent.

Checking From Behind

Checking a defenseless opponent from behind when they are unaware of the upcoming hit is a penalty. 

Clipping

Diving or throwing the body at the knees or legs of an opponent from any direction is a clipping penalty.

Elbowing

When a player extends their elbow to hit an opponent, usually in the head or neck area.

Fighting

When two players engage in punching and/or wrestling with each other, and they will not let the linesman or referee separate them. In the NHL, players automatically get a five-minute major penalty for fighting.

two hockey players fighting and punching each other
Photo Credit: NY Times

Instigator

A two-minute minor penalty is awarded for instigating a fight in addition to the five-minute fighting major penalty. This is when one player clearly starts the altercation either by traveling a long distance to get to the other player when they are not directly involved in the play, and/or jumping a player from behind. 

Head-Butting

Making intentional contact with an opponent where the primary force of the contact comes from the helmet or head. The minimum penalty length for head-butting is a four-minute double minor penalty.

Illegal Check to the Head

When a player bodychecks an opponent, and the primary point of contact is the head. 

Kicking

The act of intentionally using a skate to kick an opponent.

Kneeing

When a player makes contact with the opponent by sticking their knee or leg out in an intentional motion. 

Roughing

When a player punches or makes violent and excessive contact with an opponent with their gloved hand, usually towards the opponent’s head, this is also known as a face wash. Removing an opposing player’s helmet is also a roughing penalty.

Slew-Footing

A slew-footing penalty is when a hockey player kicks out the feet of an opposing player from behind, usually in a sweeping motion, causing them to fall. Slew-footing is very dangerous as the non-offending player usually does not know they are about to be tripped from behind, which can result in their head hitting the ice.

Throwing Equipment

When a player throws a piece of their equipment at an opponent, they shall be penalized for throwing their equipment. Typically, this will be throwing a stick at another player to try to stop them from scoring; this is a rare penalty.

Stick Infractions

Stick infractions in hockey are penalties that occur due to improper or dangerous use of the hockey stick. Hockey players must be in control of their stick at all times.

Butt-Ending

Butt-ending happens when a player jabs an opponent with the top end of their stick. This action is considered dangerous and is often penalized severely, sometimes with a major penalty or game misconduct penalty, due to its potential to cause serious injury.

Cross-Checking

When a player has both hands spread apart on their hockey stick, holds it parallel to the ice, and uses force to hit an opponent with the shaft of the stick in a fast pushing motion.

High-Sticking

High-sticking occurs when a player’s stick makes contact with an opponent above the shoulder level. Penalties for high-sticking vary based on whether it was accidental or intentional and if it caused injury, emphasizing the importance of stick control for player safety.

An ice hockey player high sticking another player in the head, this a penalty.

High Sticking in Hockey – When is it a Penalty?

Slashing

A slashing penalty is when a hockey player strikes an opponent with their stick using a swinging or chopping motion. The length of the penalty is determined by the aggressiveness of the action and if there was an injury resulting from the slash.

Spearing

Spearing in hockey refers to the act of a player intentionally jabbing or poking an opponent with the point of their stick blade. Due to its dangerous nature, spearing often results in a double minor penalty or a major penalty and a game misconduct.

an ice hockey player spearing another player with his stick

What is Spearing in Hockey? Exploring the Rules & Regulations

Other Infractions

These are penalties that do not fall into the categories listed above.

Delaying the Game

A delay of game penalty is called for any attempt to stop the natural flow of the hockey game. The most common occurrence of a delay of game penalty is a player shooting the puck over the glass while in their defensive zone. These penalties are usually accidental, but the intent is irrelevant. Also, when a player other than the goalie covers the puck with their hand in the defensive zone, it is considered a delay of the game.

Diving / Embellishment

The embellishment penalty (also known as diving) is called when a player exaggerates or acts like they were hit by an opposing player when they weren’t. Or when they pretend to be hit harder than they actually were. They do this to try and draw a penalty against the opposing team.

a hockey player falling, this is an example of what embellishment in hockey is

What is Embellishment in Hockey? Also Known as Diving

Illegal Substitution

When a player leaves the penalty box before the penalty time has expired.

Goalkeeper Interference

When an attacking player makes unnecessary physical contact with the goaltender inside or outside the goal crease. Goalies must be allowed to move freely inside the blue goal crease.

Leaving the Bench

When a player leaves the bench area and goes onto the ice to start or get involved in an altercation when they’re not going for a regular line change. A game misconduct penalty shall be assessed for this type of behavior. 

Too Many Men on the Ice

When an ice hockey team has seven skaters on the ice at the same time. A penalty for too many men is always a two-minute minor penalty.

Unsportsmanlike Conduct

Any inappropriate action by a player or member of the team’s staff, such as saying something obscene to an official or member of the opposing team. Also, any action that the referees deem improper, such as spitting, hair pulling, biting, or any other similar act, shall be penalized. A match penalty may be assessed if the referee determines it is warranted.

Final Thoughts on Hockey Penalties List

The National Hockey League, renowned for its speed and skill, emphasizes the enforcement of these penalties to ensure fairness, player safety, and the integrity of the game. Not to mention a more entertaining game, the star players must be allowed to skate freely to show off their skill. If penalties like hooking and interference are not called, the game is slower and less enjoyable to watch. 

As a fan of the best sport in the world, it’s important to educate yourself so you know what’s going on during the course of a hockey game. From the common minor penalties like tripping to the rarely-called butt-ending, you can now consider yourself an expert on penalties in hockey.

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