What is Interference in Hockey?

An ice hockey body check where the blue team is hitting a member of the white team

One of the best aspects of ice hockey is its physical play, and nothing gets the crowd fired up more than a bone-crunching hit. Who doesn’t love bodies flying everywhere and explosive checks? As great as that style of hockey is, there are some limitations to when you can hit an opponent. You can’t just go around body-checking everyone in a different color jersey, or you’ll end up with a fighter coming after you. Today, we’ll dive into interference in hockey.

Amidst the intensity, there is a crucial rule known as interference that governs fair play and sportsmanship on the ice. In this article, we’ll dive into hockey’s interference penalty, why it exists, and how it impacts the game.

We’ll explain when you can lay a big hit on someone, when you can’t, what happens if you get a penalty, and the different kinds of interference penalties. Then we’ll go over goalie interference and the coach’s challenge rule.

The NHL Interference Penalty Explained – NHL Rule 56

The NHL rulebook states, “An interference penalty shall be imposed if a player interferes with or impedes the progress of a member of the opposing team who does not have the puck.” Meaning that you cannot make contact or get in the way of an opposing player unless they’re the puck carrier. 

This rule has some nuances and exceptions, which we’ll get into shortly, but this is the basic definition of interference.

Why Does Hockey Have the Interference Penalty

Despite what some casual ice hockey fans think, you can’t go around running opposing players through the boards whenever you want. There has to be some order and guidelines to ensure player safety. This penalty is a deterrent to wreckless and dirty play. You can’t just go around hitting defenseless players who don’t expect to be hit, or you’ll get an enforcer coming after you.

This rule also encourages skillful play and more offense. After the dreadful NHL lockout in 2005, some rule changes were implemented to open up the game by getting rid of clutching and grabbing away from the puck. One of the points of emphasis was to crack down on obstruction penalties such as interference and hooking, thus promoting offense.

Examples of Interference in hockey

Interference comes in different forms, but the underlying concept remains the same; you can’t impede an opposing player’s progress if they do not have the puck.  Here are some different examples of interference.

The Pick Play

Think in basketball terms of a screen or pick; this is illegal in ice hockey and a clearcut example of the interference penalty. Sometimes this can go unnoticed and be very subtle, like a small shoulder bump; a player doesn’t have to fall down to make it a penalty.

A defending player can be trying to cover a member of the attacking team, and if another attacking player gets in the defender’s way, the referee calls a delayed penalty for interference.

Too Long After the Release of the Puck

If a player passes or shoots the puck, there is a very short amount of time where that player is fair game to be hit. It’s a judgment call by the refs, but only a second or so is allowed to pass before hitting the player who just got rid of the puck is illegal.

Pinning Against the Boards

It is illegal to pin a player against the boards when the puck isn’t there. This is a common tactic used when forechecking, one player will pin the opponent against the boards, and another will come in and get the puck. As long as the puck is there, this is ok to do, but if the puck is gone, you must let the player go. If not, you’ll get an interference penalty, this can also be considered holding.

Hindering Progress

Another instance of interference involves hindering the progress of an opponent by using physical contact or body positioning to impede their ability to skate, pursue the puck, or join the play. This action disrupts the game’s natural flow and can lead to unfair advantages.

If a player is skating and does not have the puck, they are entitled to their established skating lane, meaning that you can’t get in the way of an opposing player; this is considered a minor penalty. If a player uses their stick to hinder the opponent, that is a hooking penalty.

Players must avoid contact with an opposing player when they don’t have the puck whenever they can. Obviously, it’s impossible to get rid of all physical contact away from the puck, and if two players are going for the puck, it’s ok if they’re battling and making contact with each other, as long as it’s not excessive.

NHL Goaltender Interference Penalty – Rule 69

An ice hockey play, an example of interference in hockey, this in a red player running into the goalie.

The goalie interference rule specifically pertains to when an attacking player makes unnecessary physical contact with the goaltender inside or outside the goal crease. Players must exercise caution around the crease and avoid impeding the goalkeeper’s ability to make a save or establish a defensive position. Goalies must be allowed to move freely inside the crease.  Any deliberate or reckless contact with the goaltender can result in an interference penalty. 

Hockey players must be in control of their bodies at all times; even if contact with the goalie is unintentional, it can still be considered interference. For example, if an attacking player was trying to avoid the goalie but was going too fast and was out of control when they made contact with the goalie, they’re going to the penalty box.

If a goal is scored and the referee determines that the goaltender was interfered with, that goal is waived off and does not count. The faceoff goes outside the attacking zone; if a penalty is handed out, the faceoff is in the offending team’s defensive zone.

Exceptions to Goalie Interference

Making contact with a goaltender does not always result in a penalty; there are a few exceptions. The most common one is if an attacking player is pushed into the goalie by a defending player. In this case, there is no penalty or stoppage of play; if a goal was scored, it counts.


Stickhandling Deke Trainer

A hockey stickhandling and deke trainer

Slide Board Pro Training

A hockey player training on a slide board, a great piece of hockey training equipment

Hockey Topics is reader-supported; when you purchase something through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no additional cost to you. To learn more, click here.

Incidental Contact With the Goalie

Another exception to the goalie interference call is if an attacking player has established their position outside the blue goal crease and the goalie comes out of the crease and initiates contact with the attacker, there is no penalty or stoppage of play. This is known as incidental contact.

NHL Interference Rule 69.1 states:

“Incidental contact with a goalkeeper will be permitted, and resulting goals allowed, when such contact is initiated outside of the goal crease, provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such contact. The rule will be enforced exclusively in accordance with the on-ice judgment of the Referee(s) but may be subject to a Coach’s Challenge.”

Are Attacking Players Allowed in the Goal Crease?

An overhead picture of an ice hockey game, there is a player standing in the goal crease

Attacking players can skate through the goal crease, and if there is a loose puck in the crease, they’re allowed to go after it, but they cannot get in the goalie’s way from making a play. An attacking player can stay in the crease if they don’t restrict the goalie’s movement.

The goalie must be able to move freely in the crease, and there isn’t much room for both a goalie and a player in the crease, so the player must be very careful to stay out of the goalie’s way. If the attacking player makes contact with the goalie, they’ll get a minor penalty and have to go to the penalty box.

Coach’s Challenge and Video Review

If a goal is scored and the coach of the defending team thinks their goalie was interfered with and the goal shouldn’t count, they can use a coach’s challenge. If this happens, the league headquarters in Toronto will take a look at the play.

They automatically review every NHL goal but only look to see if the puck crossed the goal line. The coach must initiate a review for goaltender interference. This can be confusing when watching a game because sometimes you’ll see them review the goal to see if it went in, then call it a goal, then the coach will use a challenge, and they’ll review the play again to see if there was goalie interference, and then say no goal.

If the coach that challenged the play loses that challenge, and the refs say that it was a good goal, then that team is assessed a two-minute minor penalty for delay of game.

What is the Referee Signal for Interference?

When the referee makes an interference call, they make fists and cross their arms in front of the upper part of their chest like this:

A referee signaling for a hockey interference penalty with his arms crossed

How Long Is an Interference Penalty?

The length of the penalty is determined by the severity of the contact and the intent. Most of the time, interference is a pick, a late hit, or a player using their free hand to impede the opponent’s progress. In this case, a two-minute minor penalty is issued. Goalie interference is also a minor penalty most of the time.

Major Penalty

If the ref determines that excessive force was used or there was an attempt to injure a player or goalie, then a five-minute major penalty can be assessed. An example is a blindside hit on a defenseless player, and the puck is not near where the hit occurred.

A five-minute major can also be called if the contact is to the head of the player. And if the player gets injured due to the hit, the offending player will get a game misconduct penalty. This might be a good thing for the offending player as if they stayed in the game, the best fighters on the other team would be coming after them.

Final Thoughts on Interference in Hockey

Now that we’ve answered the question, “What is interference in hockey,” we hope you better understand the rule and can see why it’s necessary to preserve the game’s integrity and promote fair play, not to mention the player safety aspect. 

This rule aims to create a game where skill, strategy, and teamwork prevail by penalizing actions that obstruct or impede opponents. It also makes ice hockey more exciting by opening up the game and enabling more offense. As fans and players alike, understanding these rules deepens our appreciation for the sport.

Related Articles

The 15 Best Hockey Arenas

Is there anything that can top the experience of a live ice hockey game? The moment the puck hits…

The 15 Best Swedish Hockey Players of All Time

We’ll go through our list of the best Swedish hockey players of all time. Best known for their…

When Did the NHL Require Helmets? We Explain The Hockey Helmet Rule

Safety is a critical element of any sport, especially in hockey and the National Hockey League. With…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *