What is Hooking in Hockey? We Explain the NHL Rule

A hockey player wearing a white jersey hooking another player wearing a red jersey
Photo Courtesy: IIHF.com

Hockey, a game steeped in skill, speed, and strategy, has its own language. From hat tricks to offsides, there are terms, rules, and phrases familiar to those who know the game well, while others might be left scratching their heads in bewilderment. Among the jargon, one term that can lead to puzzled looks is hooking.  At its core, it’s a common minor penalty in ice hockey, but what is hooking in hockey?

So, let’s dive headfirst into the exhilarating world of ice hockey to unravel the meaning, implications, and nuances of the hooking penalty. From its official definition to the penalties it incurs, from how it’s signaled on the ice to how it distinguishes itself from other penalties like high sticking, slashing, and interference – let’s explore hooking in all its intricacy and understand its unique role in this high-octane sport.

What is Hooking in Hockey? – NHL RULE 55

According to the official NHL Rulebook 55.1, “Hooking is the act of using the stick in a manner that enables a player to restrain an opponent.”

Simply put, hooking is when a player uses their stick to impede the opponent’s progress. It’s not a passive act where a player gets “tangled up” with the opponent’s stick, but a deliberate one with clear intent to slow the opposing player down with the stick using a pulling or tugging motion around the opponent’s arms, body, or legs.

Exceptions to the Hooking Penalty

Part of the NHL hooking rule states, “When a player is checking another in such a way that there is only stick-to-stick contact, such action is not to be penalized as hooking.” This is known as stick-checking, which is 100% legal and a commonly used and effective defensive tactic. If a player uses their stick to hook the opponent’s stick, that is not a hooking penalty so long as they do not touch the hands or any other part of the opponent’s body.

Why is Hooking a Penalty?

an example of hooking in hockey, a hockey player is using his stick to impede the progress of his opponent.
Photo Courtesy: mismiddentist.com

The hooking penalty is used to ensure fair play and uphold the integrity of the game. Players must rely on their skill and ability to stop an opponent rather than using their stick, which is considered cheap and dirty play. There’s also the player safety aspect; while the act of hooking itself most likely won’t result in an injury, hooking a player can throw them off balance and could cause a severe injury if they’re skating hard near the boards while being hooked. 

Before the 2004 lockout, hockey was significantly more physical and rough; players were allowed to get away with much more than they can today. Hooking and interference were two points of emphasis that the NHL and referees started cracking down on. Hooking has always been a penalty, but hockey players could get away with it most of the time unless it was egregious or blatant.

Outlawing hooking, especially away from the puck carrier, opens up the game and encourages more offense and higher-skilled plays. Ice hockey is an insanely fast-paced game, and players must be allowed to skate freely around the ice without being hindered.

How Long is a Hooking Penalty?

“Two minutes for hooking” is a familiar phrase referees say in ice hockey. 99% of hooking penalties result in a minor penalty. As mentioned above, hooking an opponent rarely results in injury; however, if an injury happens directly from the hooking infraction, the referee can hand out a more severe penalty.

If a player gets past the defense, is on a breakaway, and gets hooked from behind, then a penalty shot is awarded. When a penalty shot happens, there is no minor penalty against the offending player.

Major Penalty and Game Misconduct Penalty for Hooking

Although rare, there are some instances where a major penalty is handed out for hooking. Suppose a player sustains an injury directly from the pulling or tugging action. In that case, the referee can hand out a five-minute major penalty to the offending player if the ref determines that the offending player is guilty of reckless endangerment.

Per the NHL rulebook, if a player receives a major penalty due to causing an injury to the opponent, then a game misconduct penalty is also automatically handed out.

The Referee Signal for Hooking

To signal a penalty for hooking, the referee holds their hands as if they are holding a hockey stick, then they make a tugging motion with both arms, as though they are pulling something towards their body with a hooked stick, like this.

A hockey referee signaling a hooking penalty in hockey, using their hands as if they're holding a hockey stick

The Difference Between Hooking and High Sticking

High sticking is when a player makes contact with an opponent above the shoulders with their stick while hooking is the tugging or pulling motion with the stick. These are obviously different; however, a hook can turn into a high stick if the pulling or tugging with the stick happens above the opponent’s shoulders.

To learn everything there is to know about High Sticking in Hockey, read our article on it here.


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The Difference Between Hooking and Slashing

An ice hockey player hooking another player with his stick.
Photo Courtesy: The Atlantic

Slashing is when a hockey player hits an opponent with their stick. There is a common situation where these two penalties can be mistaken for each other: when a player hits an opponent in the hands with the stick. Sometimes this is called a hooking penalty, and sometimes a slashing penalty; the difference is how much force is used in contact with the stick.

The Difference Between Hooking and Interference

These two penalties are similar but with one key difference. Both are called for impeding the progress of an opponent. But hooking is using a stick to impede the opponent’s progress, while interference is using a player’s body to impede the opponent’s progress.

To learn more about the Interference Penalty, click here.

Final Thoughts on the NHL Hooking Penalty 

Now that you know everything about the hooking penalty in hockey, you can see why it’s a critical rule to uphold the integrity of the game. Hooking ensures fair play while allowing for more skill and offense to prevail over cheap stick play. As fans, understanding nuances like hooking helps us appreciate the skill, discipline, and strategy involved in hockey. As for the players, well, they’re probably just trying to avoid that two-minute timeout in the penalty box!

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