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A penalty is a sanction taken against a player during a game to punish inappropiate behaviour. Said sanction is usually enforced by sending the offending player in the penalty box for a set number of minutes, minutes during which the player can not participate in the play on the ice. While various leagues have a different set of rules, most recognize several common degrees of penalty and common infractions. The statistic used to track penalties was traditionally called Penalty Infraction Minutes (PIM), although the alternate term Penalties in Minutes has become common in recent years.


Penalties are mostly called by the referees; linesmen may only call certain obvious technical infractions such as "too many players on the ice". When a penalty is called, the official will raise an arm in the air to signal an infraction has occured. Depending on how the play goes, two things may happen:

  • The referee blows his whistle to stop the play: If the team of the offending player is in control of the puck, then the referee will stop the play and send the offending player to the penalty box.
  • The referee lets the play continue: If the team of the offending player is not in control of the puck, then the referee will not stop the play. This is what we called a delayed penalty call. The play will continue for as long as no player of the penalized team touches the puck. Considering that if a player of the penalized team touches the puck it will cause the play to stop, the opposing team's goaltender will often skate to his bench to be replaced by a sixth skater until the play is stopped.

A delayed penalty is one in which the a penalty is called but play is not yet stopped because the opposing team retains the puck. The goaltender of the non-offending team will often go to the players' bench upon seeing the arm signal to allow an extra attacker on the ice until the play is stopped, which may help them score a goal. In the National Hockey League, a goal scored on a delayed minor penalty call voids the penalty. On major penalty calls and match penalties, this rule does not apply, and if a goal is scored on the delayed call, the penalty will nevertheless be enforced in the usual manner.

When the play stops, the offending player(s) is sent to the penalty box to serve their penalty. They are not allowed to leave the box until the penalty has expired. It is possible for two or more players of a same team to be in the penalty box at the same time, resulting on even few players on the ice left for the offending team to play with; however, no matter how many players are penalized at the same time, the offending team may never have fewer than three players on the ice (additionnal penalties will be delayed and enforced when the earlier one expires); we speak of a "five-on-three" in this situation. Obviously, the opposing team may also be penalized while being on power play (having more players on the ice than the opposition); this may result in the two teams playing at "four-on-four" or "four-on-three" for a while; it could even go down to "three-on-three", but this situation is very uncommon.

Goaltenders may be assessed penalties; however, they can't be sent to the penalty box. These penalties will be served by another player of their team who was on the ice at the time of the infraction.

Short-handed teams may move the puck freely without risking such penalties as icing. Therefore, being short-handed in the last minutes of a game may benefit the penalized team, as they may attempt to score empty net goals without risking an icing call if they miss the net in doing so.

Types of penaties

Five types of penalties are recognized by the National Hockey League: these are minor penalty, major penalty, misconduct, game misconduct and match penalty. The enforcement of these penalties may be complicated; this section presents the basic principles.

Minor penalty

Minor penalties are by far the most common penalties; these are assessed for common infractions. They result in a two or four minutes visit to the penalty box, during which the player's team is short-handed. A goal scored by the opposing team ends the penalty; a goal scored by the offending team does not end it. However, if more than one minor penalty is assessed to one team and a goal is scored against it, only the earliest penalty will be ended by so.

In the NHL and U.S. college hockey, if minor penalties are assessed to one player on each team at the same time ("coincidental") while teams are at full strength, the teams will each play with four skaters in "four-on-four" play. Since neither team is short-handed, a goal in four-on-four play does not end either penalty, instead, it halves the penalty time. In USA Hockey and IIHF, however, coincidental minor penalties result in normal full strength hockey, and the players may not return to the ice until the first stoppage in play after the penalties expire.

Bench minors are minor penalties which are assessed against the team as a whole; any player other than the goaltender may be selected to serve a bench minor. For certain offences, a player may be assessed a double minor, which simply entails serving two consecutive minor penalties. They are typically issued for instances of high-sticking which result in injury. Though not part of official USA Hockey rules as of 2005-2006[update], some "in-house" amateur or non-checking leagues instruct referees to call a double minor for stick penalties such as high-sticking, slashing, tripping with the stick, hooking or cross-checking, regardless of whether an injury was sustained as a result. If a goal is scored during the first penalty of a double minor, the first penalty expires and the second immediately begins. If a goal is scored against the offending team on a delayed penalty that is to be a double minor, the first penalty is negated and the second is enforced as a normal minor.

Common infractions which incur a minor penalty include: cross-checking, high-sticking, holding, holding the stick, hooking, interference, roughing, slashing, delaying the game and tripping.

Major penalty

A major penalty is a stronger degree of penalty for a more severe infraction of the rules than a minor. Most penalties which incur a major are more severe instances of minor penalty infractions; the exception is fighting which always draws a major. A player who receives a major penalty will remain off the ice for five minutes of play during which his team will be short-handed. A major penalty will not end if a goal is scored against the short-handed team.

If major penalties are assessed to one player on each team at the same time, they may be substituted for and teams will not be reduced by one player on the ice. They will remain in the penalty box until the first stoppage of play following the expiry of the penalties. This commonly occurs with majors for fighting.

Earning three major penalties in a game results in an automatic game misconduct penalty; though a number of infractions that result in a major penalty automatically impose a game misconduct as well.

Infractions that often call for a major penalty include - spearing, fighting, butt-ending, charging, and boarding.

Misconduct penalty

A player who receives a misconduct penalty will remain off the ice for ten minutes. The player may be substituted for on the ice and may return to the ice at the first stoppage in play following the expiry of the penalty (unless other penalties were assessed).

In a game on 12 October 2008 between the Anaheim Ducks and Phoenix Coyotes, a penalty for "inciting" was assessed to the Anaheim Ducks after a fight. This penalty was for 10 minutes and so can be seen as a misconduct, though at the time only 3 tenths of a second remained in the game. No mention of this being a major penalty/misconduct was made.

Game misconduct penalty

A player (whether a skater or goaltender) who receives a game misconduct penalty is ejected, and is sent to the team's dressing room. The player may be immediately substituted for on the ice; however, in practice, game misconduct penalties are normally assessed along with five minute major penalties and another player will serve this penalty first. Regardless of the time of the penalty, the player is charged with ten penalty minutes for statistical purposes. This rule also applies to match penalties (see below).

Any player who is dismissed three times in an NHL season incurs a one-match ban, and further discipline is possible for subsequent ejections. Salary lost as a result of a ban is usually donated to a league-supported charity or program to assist retired players.

Match penalty

A player who receives a match penalty is ejected. A match penalty is imposed for deliberately injuring or attempting to injure another player. Any player other than the goaltender must be chosen to go to the penalty box to serve a five minute major penalty during which he may not be substituted for on the ice. If the goaltender receives a match penalty, another player serves the time so that the team may immediately insert a backup. In practice, an NHL match penalty and game misconduct are virtually identical in application. Further, offending players are suspended from the next game their team plays, and often face hearings with the possibility of a lengthier ban.

In NCAA hockey, a similar penalty called a game disqualification results in automatic suspension for the number of games equal to the number of game disqualification penalties the player has been assessed in that season.

Penalty shot

Main article: Penalty shot

A penalty shot is a special case of penalty for cases in which a scoring opportunity was lost as a result of an infraction (like being tripped or hooked while on a breakaway; or a player covers the puck with their hand inside the crease). The player who was deprived of the opportunity, or one chosen by the team, is allowed an unchallenged opportunity to score on the opposing goaltender as compensation. Apart from their use as a penalty, penalty shots also form the shootout that is used to resolve ties in many leagues and tournaments.

Gross misconduct penalty

Similar to a game misconduct, gross misconduct penalties were eliminated from the NHL rulebook on June 20, 2007. It was imposed for an action of extreme unsportsmanlike conduct, such as abuse of officials or spectators, and could be assessed to any team official in addition to a player. Infractions which garnered a gross misconduct now earn a game misconduct. The penalty had last been assessed in 2000.

Stacked penalties

When two players on one team are in the penalty box at the same time, it becomes a 5 on 3 situation. When a third player of the same team gets a penalty before either of the other two have expired, it remains 5 on 3 and it becomes a stacked penalties situation. This means the third penalty will start when one of the others expire, whether the time expires or the opposing team scores on the powerplay. This is because there can be no fewer than three skaters for each team on the ice at one time.

List of infractions

In the NHL, infractions that result in penalties include:

Abuse of officials

Arguing with, insulting, using obscene gestures or language directed at or in reference to, or deliberately making violent contact with any on or off-ice official. This generally is issued in addition to other penalties or as a bench penalty against a coach or off-ice player, and is grounds for ejection under a game misconduct or match penalty in most leagues including the NHL.

Aggressor penalty

Assessed to the player involved in a fight who was the more aggressive during the fight. This is independent of the instigator penalty, but both are usually not assessed to the same player (in that case the player's penalty for fighting is usually escalated to deliberate injury of opponents, which carries a match penalty).

Attempt to injure

Deliberately trying to harm an opponent (and/or succeeding). This type of infraction carries an automatic match penalty.


Pushing an opponent violently into the boards while the player is facing the boards.

Butt-ending (or Stabbing)

Jabbing an opponent with the end of the shaft of the stick. It carries an automatic major penalty and game misconduct.


Taking more than three strides or jumping before hitting an opponent.

Checking from behind

Hitting an opponent from behind is a penalty. It carries an automatic minor penalty and misconduct, or a major penalty and game misconduct if it results in injury. See checking.


Delivering a check below the knees of an opponent. If injury results, a major penalty and a game misconduct will result.


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). As part of the rule changes following the 2004-05 NHL lockout, NHL officials also call an automatic delay of game penalty to goaltenders that go into the corners behind the goal line (outside a trapezoid-shaped area just behind the net) to play the puck. Some delay of game offenses, such as taking too long to send players to take a faceoff, are not punished with a penalty: instead, the official may choose to eject the center of the offending team from the face-off circle and order him replaced with another player already on the ice.


Falling to the ice in an attempt to draw a penalty.


Hitting an opponent with the elbow.

Fighting (Fisticuffs)

Engaging in a physical altercation with an opposing player, usually involving the throwing of punches with gloves removed or worse. Minor altercations such as simple pushing and shoving, and punching with gloves still in place, are generally called as Roughing.

Goaltender Interference

Physically impeding or checking the goalie. Visually impeding the goalie's view of the play with your body, called "screening", is legal.


Hitting an opponent with the head. A match penalty is called for doing so.

High sticking

Touching an opponent with the stick above shoulder level. A minor penalty is assessed to the player. If blood is drawn, a double-minor (4 minutes) is usually called. A common (yet false) belief is that blood drawn automatically warrants a double-minor. This is not the case (it is, however, the precedent that has been in place for years). Referees may use their discretion to assess only a minor penalty even though blood was drawn. They may also assess a double-minor when blood is not drawn, but he believes that the player was sufficiently injured or that the offending player used excessively reckless action with his stick. If a player, while in the action of "following through" on a shot, strikes an opposing player in the head or face area with his stick, high sticking is not called unless the referee can determine that the player taking the shot was deliberately aiming to strike the opposing player. A penalty is also not called when the puck is hit by a high stick, but play will be stopped and the ensuing faceoff will take place at a spot which gives the non-offending team an advantage. Also, a goal that is scored by means of hitting the puck with a high stick will not be counted.


Grabbing an opponent's body, equipment or clothing with the hands or stick. Generally a minor; USA Hockey rules call for a major and a game misconduct for grabbing and holding a facemask or visor.

Holding the stick

Grabbing and holding an opponent's stick, also called when a player deliberately wrenches a stick from the hands of an opposing player or forces the opponent to drop it by any means that is not any other penalty such as Slashing.


Using a stick as a hook to slow an opponent, no contact is required under new standards.

Illegal Equipment

Using equipment that does not meet regulations, either by size (length, width) or number (two sticks) or other guidelines (e.g. a goalie's facemask can no longer be the "Jason"-style form-fit mask, a player may not have a stick with a curve exceeding 3/4", nor may they play with a goalie's stick). If a player broke a stick, it is mandatory to drop the stick immediately and play without it until getting a replacement from the bench. Otherwise this penalty will be assessed to the offending player (some game summaries call this "playing with a broken stick"). In addition, in the NHL a player may not pick a stick up off the ground after it has been dropped (they can only receive a stick from another player or from the bench; goalkeepers may not go to the bench but must have a stick carried out to them). This rule is generally not enforced in amateur leagues except for broken sticks or egregiously out-of-spec equipment as the cost of acquiring gear that meets NHL specifications "post-lockout" is prohibitive, especially for goalies. However, from 2009 onwards USA Hockey will enforce the NHL goal equipment specs, as will IIHF.[dated info] While allowing "big pads" until then, USA Hockey stated in their 2007 Official Rules and Casebook of Ice Hockey that they "strongly encourage" goaltenders to follow the new regulations before they take effect.

Illegal Check to the Head

As of the start of the 2010-11 NHL season, any hit resulting in contact with an opponent’s head where the head was the main point of contact and such contact to the head was avoidable is not permitted, due to the increasing concern following concussion injuries to NHL players following incidents such as David Booth and Marc Savard's concussions in the 2009-10 NHL season. A second incident of this type caused by the same player in a season (or post-season playoffs) results in an automatic suspension for the following game their team plays, with the potential for increasing durations of suspension from active play, for any subsequent checks to opposing players' head areas.

Instigator penalty

Being the obvious instigator in a fight. Called in addition to the five minute major for fighting.


Impeding an opponent who does not have the puck, or impeding any player from the bench.

Joining a fight

Also called the "3rd man in" rule, the first person who was not part of a fight when it broke out but participates in said fight once it has started for any reason (even to pull the players apart) is charged with an automatic game misconduct in addition to any other penalties they receive for fighting.


Kicking an opponent with the skate or skate blade. Kicking carries a match penalty if done with intent to injure, but otherwise carries a major penalty and a game misconduct. (Under Hockey Canada rules, kicking or attempting to kick an opponent always carries a Match Penalty regardless of intent.)


Hitting an opponent with the knee.

Playing with Too Many Sticks

When a player plays with more than one stick. For example, if a goalie were to lose his stick and a player from his team skates over to pick up the goalie stick and then, while skating back to the goalie with both sticks, attempts to touch a live puck with either stick, will be called for Playing with Too Many Sticks.


Pushing and shoving or throwing punches that are not severe enough to be considered fighting. Also called in non-checking leagues when an illegal body check is made.

Secondary Altercation

This infraction is not listed in the NHL Rulebook, but it is prevalent in the Central Hockey League (USA) and other minor leagues. It is most commonly issued when players engage in or attempt to engage in fight after the original fight (between two separate players). This infraction carries an automatic game misconduct penalty.


Swinging a stick at an opponent, no contact is required under new standards.

Slew Footing

Rarely called, as it is easily concealed. Tripping an opponent by using your feet. Most of the time simply called as "Tripping"; Slew footing as a penalty in fact does not exist in the USA Hockey rulebook as of 2005-2006[update].


Stabbing an opponent with the stick blade. It carries an automatic major penalty and game misconduct.

Starting the wrong lineup

This very rare bench 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. Also the penalty may be given if a player is not put on the scoresheet at the beginning of the game and plays. The only way for this to be called is if the official scorer notifies the referee of this oversight.

Substitution infraction (Illegal Substitution)

This rare bench minor penalty is called when a substitution or addition is attempted during a stoppage of play after the linesmen have signalled no more substitutions (once the face-off is set) or if a team pulls its goalie and then attempts to have the goalie re-enter play at any time other than during a stoppage of play. Too many men on the ice and/or starting the wrong lineup can also simply be called a substitution infraction.

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. "Involved in the play" is key; players that are entering the ice as substitutes for players coming off may enter the ice once the player returning to the bench is less than five (5) feet from his team's bench (Rule 74.1); at that point the returning player is considered out of the play, even if the play passes in front of the bench, unless he actively makes a move for the puck. Players entering the ice are part of the play as soon as their skates touch the ice.


Using a stick or one's body to trip an opponent, no contact is required under new standards.

Unsportsmanlike conduct

Arguing with a referee; using slurs against an opponent or teammate; playing with illegal equipment; making obscene gestures or abusing an official. Can carry either a minor, misconduct, game misconduct or match penalty, depending on the gravity of the infraction (for instance, using obscene language to a referee initially results in a minor, but making an obscene gesture to an opponent, fan or official carries a game misconduct.) Also, in some leagues the penalty progression is different for players and team officials (for example, in the USA Hockey rulebook players get a minor for their first infraction, a misconduct for their second and a game misconduct for their third, whereas the option of a misconduct is removed for coaches; in addition, after each penalty for a team official, the penalty count resets itself). Unsportsmanlike conduct may also be called if a player drops gloves and stick in preparation for a fight, but the non-offending player does not drop the corresponding equipment and has committed no action (verbal or physical harassment) to attempt to instigate a fight. As of April 14, 2008, following a Devils-Rangers playoff game, the NHL ruled that standing in front of an opposing goalie and engaging "in actions such as waving his arms or stick in front of the goaltender's face, for the purpose of improperly interfering with and/or distracting the goaltender" will draw a minor unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, a rule interpretation inspired by the play of Sean Avery against Martin Brodeur.

Other leagues typically assess penalties for additional infractions. For example, most adult social leagues and women's hockey leagues ban all body checking (a penalty for roughing or illegal check is called), and in most amateur leagues, any head contact whatsoever results in a penalty.

Penalty as strategy

Coaches or players may occasionally opt to commit an infraction on purpose. In some cases, it is hoped that the infraction can be concealed from the officials, avoiding a penalty. Gordie Howe was one player renowned for his ability to commit infractions without being called.

Hockey players that opt to commit an infraction despite the punishment do so in order to degrade the opposing team's morale or momentum, or boost their own. This is most common with fighting, because the likely coincidental penalties do not result in a hindrance for their team. Hockey players also sometimes commit infractions with the hope of drawing the other player into a committing a retaliatory infraction, and being penalized, while not being caught themselves. Hockey players known as "pests" specialize their game in the strategy of trying to draw opponents into taking a penalty.

Another common reason to commit an infraction is as last resort when an opposing player has a scoring opportunity, when a penalty kill is the preferable alternative to the scoring opportunity.

NHL penalty records

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 3,966 over 14 years. The active penalty minute leader is Chris Chelios from the Detroit Red Wings, who has accumulated 2,873 PIM over 25 seasons.

This page uses content from Wikipedia. The original article was at Penalty. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with Ice Hockey Wiki, the text of Wikipedia is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License 3.0 (Unported) (CC-BY-SA).