What is Spearing in Hockey: Exploring the Rules and Regulations

a hockey player hurt on the ground after being speared by the Boston Bruin
Photo Courtesy: The Boston Globe

In the high-speed, high-pressure world of ice hockey, on-ice safety is of paramount importance. One dangerous and illegal maneuver that has long been a point of contention is spearing. Understanding the rules, consequences, and how to prevent spearing is crucial for maintaining the integrity of the game while ensuring the well-being of its players. In this article, we’ll delve into the intricacies of “what is spearing in hockey.”

At its core, spearing is usually a malicious and intentional act, unlike other penalties such as hooking, tripping, or high sticking, which are normally accidental. We’ll begin our journey into what is spearing in hockey by exploring its definition, penalties, and notable incidents, as well as discussing methods to prevent it and foster a safer playing environment.

What is Spearing in Hockey – NHL Rule 62

Spearing in hockey refers to the act of a player intentionally jabbing or poking an opponent with the point of their stick blade. The consequences for spearing vary according to the severity of the action and can range from a double-minor penalty, which results in the player being confined to the sin bin (penalty box) for four minutes, to major penalties, game misconduct penalties, and even match penalties.

The NHL Rulebook – Spearing Rule 62

“Spearing shall mean stabbing an opponent with the point of the stick blade, whether contact is made or not.”

Spearing is not always an outward thrusting or stabbing motion with the stick, like how most people use a spear. The most common form of spearing is putting the stick between an opposing player’s legs and lifting up, hitting them in the mid-section from underneath. (The area on the body that is the worst place to hit a man, right below the belt.) This cowardly act does happen from time to time.

an ice hockey player spearing another player in between the legs

The Act of Spearing

Spearing is considered a deliberate act of aggression, as the player intentionally attempts to spear the opposing player with their stick. It does not matter if contact is actually made or not; the mere attempt to spear an opponent is cause enough for a penalty. Spearing is one of the dirtiest and most dangerous plays in hockey and has the potential to cause serious harm to the opposing player.

Reasons for Spearing

You might be asking yourself, what would cause a hockey player to take such drastic action such as spearing? The answer is usually retaliation for a previous act from the opposition, such as a dirty hit or something that happened earlier in the game or in a previous game.

Another reason might be the escalation of an altercation. Two players might start slashing each other with their sticks or punching each other, and then one decides to take it to another level and tries to spear the other player. It is rare for a player to just spear an opposing player out of nowhere; there is usually a reason they are resorting to such extreme actions.

Standing up for a teammate or trying to provoke a fight is another cause for a hockey player to take a spearing penalty. But normally, frustration, aggression, or retaliation may drive players to resort to spearing.

How Long is a Spearing Penalty

Depending on the severity and intent of the action, spearing penalties in hockey can vary from a double minor penalty to a match penalty, along with fines and suspensions. The harsh consequences of each penalty are designed to discourage players from engaging in spearing, with more severe penalties reflecting the gravity of the offense. By understanding the various penalties and their repercussions, players may be more likely to avoid committing spearing infractions.

The NHL firmly opposes players attempting to spear an opposing player. Even if a player doesn’t make contact, the perpetrator still receives a penalty requiring them to go to the penalty box. And the penalties get more severe based on the result of the spearing action.

In cases where spearing occurs, a penalty will be assessed, and the severity may vary in other hockey leagues around the world, depending on the league rules and the seriousness of the infraction.

Double Minor Penalty

A double minor penalty for spearing is the result of an attempt to spear an opposing player; this is when there is no contact made with the stick blade. If there is contact with the stick blade, then the penalty is more severe. This is the minimum penalty for spearing; there is no automatic minor penalty like there is for an interference penalty or other common infractions.

The result of a double-minor penalty is the offending player spending four minutes in the penalty box. This penalty is less severe than a five-minute major penalty or a match penalty, but it still has consequences for both the offending player and their team. Occasionally, a rare bench minor penalty might be called, adding another layer of complexity to the game.

The player must serve their penalty in the penalty box for four minutes, leaving their team short-handed during that time. The opposing team gains a power play opportunity, which they can use to their advantage to score goals.

Major Penalty

A major penalty for spearing involves a five-minute penalty and potentially a game misconduct penalty which results in the player’s removal from the game. This penalty is less severe than a match penalty but still has significant consequences for both the offending player and their team.

The offending player must go to the penalty box, and their team must play short-handed for five minutes, giving the opposing team a power play opportunity to capitalize on the situation. The non-offending team can score as many goals as possible in the five minutes, unlike a minor or double minor penalty where the offending player comes out of the penalty box or gets the time reduced if a goal is scored against them.

Match Penalty and Game Misconduct Penalty

When a player receives an automatic match penalty for spearing, this is accompanied by an automatic game misconduct penalty. They are immediately ejected from the game, and someone from their team must serve the five-minute major penalty in the penalty box.

The same rules apply as a major penalty; a five-minute power play for the opposing team, and this severe penalty not only removes the offending player from the game but also puts their team at a significant disadvantage, as they must play short-handed for an extended period.

Along with the match penalty and game misconduct comes an automatic one-game suspension which can turn into more games after the NHL reviews the spearing penalty. The harsh punishment imposed by the match penalty serves as a strong deterrent to players contemplating spearing.

What’s the Difference Between a Major Penalty and a Match Penalty?

The main difference between a major penalty and a match penalty is a match penalty results from a clear intent to injure the opposing player. This is where the referee’s judgment comes into play. If a match penalty is called, the player is automatically ejected and suspended for at least one game. The NHL can extend the suspension as it sees fit after a disciplinary hearing.

an ice hockey player spearing another player with his stick

The Referee’s Role In Identifying Spearing

Referees play a vital role in spotting and penalizing spearing incidents during hockey games. Referees are responsible for identifying spearing and penalizing players accordingly, they observe the players’ actions and evaluate whether spearing has occurred. To do this, referees use specific signals and criteria, such as the player’s intent, the force of the action, and the location of where they make contact with the opponent’s body.

Linesmen who don’t usually call penalties can also make the call for a spearing penalty because of the severity of the action. Sometimes spearing happens away from the puck and the action, so referees might miss it, this is where the linesmen can help out.

Referee Signal for Spearing

The referee signal for spearing involves a jabbing motion with both hands parallel in front of the body, moving outwards as if they are holding a spear. This signal is used to indicate that a spearing penalty has been committed and that the offending player needs to be dealt with accordingly.

A clear and distinct signal for spearing allows referees to effectively convey their decisions to players, coaches, and spectators. This is the universal signal for spearing in the NHL.

a hockey referee signaling the penalty for spearing in hockey

How Referees Identify Spearing

Referees identify spearing by observing the following:

  • The player’s intent
  • The force of the action
  • The location of the contact on the opponent’s body
  • Any contact made with the stick in a thrusting motion

Referees can accurately ascertain if spearing has occurred and apply the suitable penalty by using these criteria.

Notable Examples of Spearing in Hockey

Several notable examples of spearing incidents throughout hockey history highlight the severity of the spearing infraction and its repercussions. These instances serve as reminders of the dangers associated with spearing and the importance of enforcing the rules to ensure a safe and fair playing environment.

Historical Incidents

Historical incidents of spearing in hockey provide valuable insights into how the act has been penalized and dealt with over time. For example, during a game between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings, Patrick Sharp of Chicago speared Nicklas Lidstrom, the Red Wings’ captain, in the groin.

In another instance, Boston Bruins’ Brad Marchand was sanctioned for two games for spearing Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Jake Dotchin. These cases demonstrate the potential for serious injury resulting from spearing and the necessity for strict rule enforcement.

Recent Cases

Recent cases of spearing in hockey emphasize the ongoing need for strict enforcement of the rules and penalties. Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Tony DeAngelo received a two-game suspension for spearing Tampa Bay Lightning forward Corey Perry. In another case, Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin was fined $5,000 for spearing Boston Bruins forward Trent Frederic. These incidents serve as a reminder that spearing continues to be a problem in the sport and that efforts to prevent it must remain a priority.

In addition to league-imposed penalties, players who engage in spearing also risk damaging their reputations and potentially harming their careers. As a result, the consequences of spearing extend beyond the immediate penalties handed down by officials and can have lasting effects on a player’s standing within the sport.


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Preventing Spearing in Hockey

Preventing spearing in hockey requires:

  • Educating players about the action’s dangers and consequences
  • Consistently enforcing the rules
  • Instilling a sense of sportsmanship and respect for opponents

By following these steps, players can learn to avoid engaging in dangerous and illegal maneuvers like spearing and other stick infractions. Furthermore, strict rule enforcement by referees and league officials can serve as a deterrent for players who may consider engaging in spearing, helping to ensure a safer playing environment for all.

Player Education

Educating players on spearing is vital to diminish its occurrence in hockey. Players must be made aware of the rules and regulations that forbid spearing, as well as the potential consequences of engaging in such actions. By understanding the dangers of spearing and the penalties associated with it, players may be more likely to avoid committing spearing infractions and instead focus on playing the great game of hockey in a safe and sportsmanlike manner.

Promoting sportsmanship and respect for opponents is another critical aspect of player education in preventing spearing. Encouraging fair play and fostering a sense of camaraderie between players can help to create an environment where dangerous actions like spearing are less likely to occur. By emphasizing the importance of mutual respect and adherence to the rules, player education can be an effective tool in reducing the prevalence of spearing in hockey.

Rule Enforcement

Referees and league officials must enforce rules strictly to deter players from engaging in spearing, thereby ensuring a safer playing environment. By consistently enforcing the rules and imposing appropriate penalties, officials can help discourage players from using their sticks to jab or stab opponents. This, in turn, can lead to a reduction in spearing incidents and a safer, more enjoyable game for all involved.

Referees and officials also need to stay alert in spotting spearing incidents and taking suitable action. By maintaining a keen eye for spearing and enforcing the rules consistently, officials can play a crucial role in preventing spearing incidents and promoting a safer playing environment in hockey.


In conclusion, spearing in hockey is a dangerous and illegal action with potentially severe consequences. By understanding the intricacies of spearing, its penalties, and notable incidents, we can better appreciate the importance of preventing this ugly act in the sport. Through player education, the promotion of sportsmanship, and strict rule enforcement by referees and league officials, we can work together to create a safer and more enjoyable playing environment for all participants in the game of hockey.

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