The Beginner’s Guide to Hockey- Part 2

Yesterday, I began my Beginner’s Guide to Hockey. Part 1 included a breakdown of the very basics of hockey, the icing and offside rules, as well as how the NHL is organized. You can find it all here. Now, on to part two, which is all about penalties! In hockey, there are three main types of penalties: minors, double minors, majors, and misconducts. A minor penalty is two minutes long, a double minor is four minutes, a major is five minutes, and a misconduct is either ten minutes or the game. There are also match penalties, which are when a player is ejected from the game and suspended indefinitely until NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman makes a ruling on it, but they are less common. Now, let’s take a look at some of those.

Beginner’s Guide to Minors

Minors are the most commonly assessed penalty, and there are a lot of them. However, there are a lot that you just never see. Since this is just a beginner’s guide, I’ll be skipping those ones and only describing penalties you may actually see in the game. The only other thing you need to know about minor penalties is that if a power-play goal is scored as a result of one, the penalty is negated and play will resume at 5v5. Now, let’s get into the descriptions, organized by type of infraction.

Stick Penalties

Tripping: When any action is taken that causes an opponent to fall unless it is deemed accidental or as the result of a fair battle.

Hooking*: The act of using your stick to impede the progress of an opponent. It is most commonly called when a player’s stick is parallel to the ice and on an opponent.

Slashing*^: The act of a player swinging their stick at an opponent, regardless of whether contact is made. However, it is very rare that a slash is called without contact. If non-aggressive, actions such as this that make contact with the pants or shin pads of an opponent are allowed. Slashing is most commonly called when a player swings their stick and makes contact with the hands or stick of an opponent.

High-sticking^: Any contact made with the stick above the shoulders of an opponent. If an injury occurs/blood is drawn, it is a double minor.

Cross-checking*^: Checking an opponent with the shaft of the stick while two hands are on it. Lots of leeway is given to players doing this in front of the net unless it is excessive.

Restraining/Interference Penalties

Holding: Any action by a player that restrains or impedes the progress of an opponent, regardless of whether or not they have the puck. Holding is most commonly called when a player uses a free hand to grab or otherwise restrict an opponent.

Interference*: Any action by a player that impedes an opponent without the puck from skating or receiving a pass.

Goaltender Interference: There is a lot of judgment involved in this call, and at times it is next to impossible to predict or understand. However, the basis of the rule is that a player cannot run into a goaltender at any time, regardless of whether or not they are in the crease. If they do, it’s a penalty. Another common form of goaltender interference is a player impeding a goaltender in any way from making a save and a goal is scored, but a penalty is not assessed if that happens and instead, the goal is just disallowed. What constitutes impeding the goalie is up to the discretion of the referee, which is where the judgment comes into play.

Hitting/Violent Penalties

Roughing: When a punching or slamming motion is made, with or without gloves on, or a minor skirmish occurs that it is not to the point of a fight. 

Elbowing*^: Any time a player extends their elbow to make contact with an opponent.

Boarding*^: Simply put, boarding is what happens when a player checks another player dangerously or violently into the boards. However, there is an insane amount of judgment involved in this call. There is no checklist of things that constitute boarding. It’s simply up to the ref as to whether or not they think it’s dangerous. For that reason, it’s next to impossible to predict. So, don’t spend too much time attempting to understand it, because you’ll inevitably be left speechless by a call (or non-call) anyway.

Illegal Check to the Head^: When the main point of contact of a check is the head and it was avoidable.

Kneeing*^: When a player leads with their knee and/or extends their leg to make contact with an opponent.

Charging*^: When a player travels a long distance (although there is no specified number, it’s subjective) and skates or jumps into, or otherwise violently checks an opponent. 

Clipping*^: When a player throws their body or checks and makes contact at or below an opponent’s knees.

Other Penalties

Unsportsmanlike Conduct: There are a lot of specific criteria for what constitutes unsportsmanlike conduct, but it essentially boils down to players and team personnel basically can’t act like complete assholes. It is up to the referees as to exactly how much they will tolerate, particularly when it comes to profanity and yelling at them. Luckily, most of them are fairly lenient. But, they can call the penalty whenever they deem it necessary. Should the guilty party continue to do whatever got them the initial penalty, they will be assessed a misconduct.

Delay of Game: There are several possible delay of game penalties; however, two are significantly more common than others. Delay of game penalties are called if a puck is shot directly over the glass (meaning it is not deflected off a player or stick and does not hit the glass at any point) and out of the defensive zone by the defending team. The other most common delay of game penalty is when a coach challenges a goal, and the challenge fails. If done twice in one game, it is a double minor.

Too Many Men On the Ice: Any time more than 5 skaters (or 6, if the goaltender is pulled) are more than five feet away from the bench on the ice for one team and the team has possession.

Diving/Embellishment: Any blatant dive, embellishment of a fall or reaction, or feigning of injury in order to draw a penalty.

Closing Hand on Puck: Players are not allowed to close their hand on the puck at any time on the ice. They may only bat the puck.

Double Minor

There are only five possible double minor penalties in the NHL, and only one of them is seen frequently: high-sticking. Since that is also a minor, see the above description for what makes it a double minor. Also, see the description for delay of game penalties to find out what could make it a double-minor. You can find descriptions of the other three below. If a power-play goal is scored on the first half of a double minor, there will still be two more minutes of power-play time for the other team. If one is scored on the second half, the offending team will return to even strength.

Spearing*^: Stabbing (or attempting to stab) an opponent with the point of the stick blade.

Head-butting*^: When a player leads with their head and intentionally makes, or even attempts to make, contact with an opponent.

Butt-ending*^: Any use of the shaft of the stick above the upper hand to check, jab at, or attempt to jab at an opponent.


There are many possible major penalties. However, there aren’t many that are automatic majors. Most possible major penalties are more commonly minors that can be majors if they’re deemed severe enough. All of those are marked with an asterisk in their above descriptions. All majors except for boarding, charging, elbowing, interference, and fighting (except in some circumstances) result in an automatic game misconduct as well. However, in the case of boarding, charging, and elbowing, if there is an injury to the face/head as a result, an automatic game misconduct is assessed.

A key difference between a minor and a major penalty, other than the length, is that if a goal is scored on the ensuing power-play, the penalty is not negated. So, teams can score as many power-play goals as possible within the five-minute penalty. Now, let’s dig into which penalties carry an automatic major.

Penalties That Carry Automatic Majors

Checking From Behind^: Exactly what it sounds like, so essentially any check to the back of a player. However, if a player turns their back and there is no time for the offending player to avoid the hit, no penalty is assessed.

Fighting: Exactly what it sounds like. It’s called any time punches are thrown with gloves off. An additional aggressor penalty is assessed if a player continues to throw punches at an unwilling and/or defenseless opponent. Aggressor penalties come with an automatic game misconduct. An additional instigator penalty is assessed if a player is deemed to have clearly instigated the fight. However, there are no hard and fast rules as to what constitutes instigating. Instead, there are only a number of subjective factors that contribute to it. As such, it’s rather hard to predict, so don’t spend much time trying to understand it. Any player deemed to be the instigator will be assessed a minor and misconduct. There are many other rules under the fighting heading, but they’re rarely, if ever, used during a game, and therefore are not worth mentioning here.


Per the official NHL rulebook, there are several specific instances that a misconduct or game misconduct is assessed. However, in the case of a misconduct, almost all of them boil down to unsportsmanlike conduct. Misconduct penalties are also rarely, if ever, specified, so it’s unnecessary to know those rules. Just know that if a player does something incredibly stupid, usually on top of another penalty, they’re getting a misconduct. Luckily for players, refs normally have a lot of patience. So, it takes a lot to get one, but they do happen. They are most common after fights or with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

As for game misconducts, they never occur on their own. They are always in addition to a minor or major penalty, and only occur if the infraction is deemed severe enough. So, there is nothing extra about them to add.

Match Penalties

Match penalties are the most serious ones in hockey. There are not many that carry an automatic match penalty, but there are a few. The only one that is really worth mentioning is described below. Any penalty can be deemed a match if the official thinks it’s worthy of it. But, the ones where a match penalty is specifically referred to in the NHL rulebook are marked with a ^. 

Slew-footing: Occurs when a player uses their leg or foot to kick an opponent’s feet out from under them, or when a player pushes an opponent’s upper body backward at the same time they knock/kick their feet out from under them.

And So Ends the Beginner’s Guide to Hockey

As you can see, there are a ton of different penalties in hockey. However, most of these are not very common. So, don’t get too overwhelmed trying to understand them all, especially the ones that are mostly judgment calls such as boarding, charging, or goaltender interference. I hope this guide is helpful to at least some of you. But, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me! I am a rulebook nerd and am happy to answer any questions I can. If I don’t know, I’ll direct you to the right place.

The growth hockey has been seeing recently has been incredibly exciting. I hope that it not only continues but that those who are watching during the playoffs stick with it beyond their team’s run. There may be nothing like playoff hockey, but the regular season is pretty great too!

-Lydia Murray (@lydia_murray12)

Featured image courtesy of sportsnet.ca.

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