Most Common Hockey Penalties

From the penalty box to the penalty shot

Referee blows his whistle at a game of hockey
Punishments, disciplinary actions, penalty, etc.: Ice hockey has a total of eight different types of penalties.

When is a penalty in hockey given? And what punishment does a cross check actually entail? Not only do we explain what hockey penalties there are and what the most common hockey fouls are, but we also tell you about penalty records!

In the following article we explain the hockey penalties established by the International Hockey Federation (IIHF). The basis of this article is the IIHF Official Rule Book 2018-2022.

What kind of hockey penalties are there?

Depending on which offense a player commits, one of the following penalties may be imposed.

Important first: A goalkeeper never goes in the penalty box. If a goalkeeper receives a penalty, another player who was on the ice at the time of the offense must serve it for him. Exceptions are the misconduct and match penalty or an ejection: If a goalkeeper receives such a penalty, he must leave the ice and a substitute goalkeeper is brought in.

Minor Penalty

  • Penalty Duration: 2 minutes
  • IIHF Rule: 501
  • Example Offences: interfering the goalie, high stick or tripping
  • Description: Punishment for a minor offence
  • Man Advantage: The team with the penalty is down a man for 2 minutes. After 2 minutes, he returns to the ice. The penalty is cut short if the opposing team scores a goal.
  • Additional Info: When the goalie receives a penalty, another player who was on the ice must take the penalty in his place.


Bench Minor

  • Penalty Duration: 2 minutes
  • IIHF Rule: 502
  • Example Offences: Delay of game or too many men on the ice.
  • Description: Punishment for team offense that disrupts the flow of the game.
  • Man Advantage: The penalized team plays with 1 less skater for 2 minutes. After 2 minutes, he returns to the ice. The penalty is cut short if the opposing team scores a goal.
  • Additional Info: The penalty is not directed at a single player, but against the entire team. This means that no specific player is penalized. The coach decides which player goes into the penalty box.

Major Penalty

  • Penalty Duration: 5 minutes
  • IIHF Rule: 503
  • Example Offenses: Boarding, charging, cross-checking
  • Description: When a player commits a major penalty, he is penalized for 5 minutes.
  • Man Advantage: The team with the penalty is down a man for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, he returns to the ice. The penalty remains in effect even if the opposing team scores a goal.
  • Additional Info: Goalies are excluded from this penalty. If a player commits 2 major penalties in a game, the player may be subject to suspension and is thrown out of the game.

Denis Kulyash and Radik Zakiev fight for the puck
Offense in the Russian KHL: The AK Bars defensemen Denis Kulyash fouls Radik Zakeiv on the 28th of September, 2011. This led to a penalty shot.
Credit: Alexander Golovko [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Misconduct Penalty

  • Penalty Duration: 10 minutes
  • IIHF Rule: 504
  • Example Offences: Abuse of officials, unsportsmanlike conduct
  • Description: With this penalty, the player must leave the ice for 10 minutes and remain on the bench until the next stoppage.
  • Affect on Game: The player can be replaced immediately by another player. There is no man advantage for the team.
  • Additional Info: For certain offences (e.g. check to the head, checking from behind), referees usually impose a minor penalty in addition to the misconduct penalty. An extra player must sit in the penalty box for the minor penalty while the original offender must remain on the bench for the 10 minutes. If a player receives a two misconduct penalties in one game, he is ejected.

Game Misconduct

  • Penalty Duration: Game ejection
  • IIHF Rule: 505
  • Example Offences: Throwing objects from the bench, fighting, leaving the penalty box prematurely.
  • Description: A referee shall call a game misconduct penalty for particularly severe fouls which may cause injuries.
  • Affect on the Game: The player must leave the rink. There is no man advantage.
  • Additional Info: The misconduct penalty does not automatically suspend a player. However, the referee may suspend the player if he chooses. In a playoff setting, any player who receives a second game misconduct penalty will automatically be banned from the next match.

  • Gross Misconduct Penalty

    • Penalty Duration: Game ejection
    • IIHF Rule: 506
    • Example Offences: Abuse of officials, spats with spectators, alcohol consumption before or during the game, verbal abuse, discrimination
    • Description: Immediate ejection.
    • Affect on Game: The ejected player is replaced on the ice. There is no man advantage given.
    • Additional Info: The NHL removed the gross misconduct penalty from the rulebook and replaced it with the game misconduct penalty.

    Match Penalty

    • Penalty Duration: Immediate ejection + 5 minutes for a teammate
    • IIHF Rule: 507
    • Example Offences: Serious offences such as attempted headbutt or kicking
    • Description: The referee may impose a match penalty on a player or goalkeeper who intentionally injures or attempts to injure another player. The player will be disqualified for the rest of the game and sent to the dressing room.
    • Man Advantage: A substitute player must go to the box for 5 minutes. After that, he may return to the ice.
    • Additional Info: -

    Penalty Shot

  • Penalty Duration: None
  • IIHF Rule: 508
  • Example Offenses: tripping or spearing while the opposing team has a break away
  • Description: The small bank penalty is imposed as a result of conduct that is detrimental to the game, or for rule violations committed by players or team officials from the player's bank.
  • Affect on the Game: A penalty shot is awarded when a player in a break away is fouled. A penalty may only be imposed if the following five conditions are met: (1) The offence did not occur in the own defensive zone. (2) The fouled player had possession of the puck. (3) The foul was committed from behind. (4) The foul foiled a credible chance to score a goal. (5) Between the goalie and fouled attacking player there was no other opponent on the ice between the goalie and fouled attacking player.
  • Specials: Beginning 2010, the fouled player takes the penalty shot himself. Once the player has fouled, the shot is deemed to have been taken. Additional shots are then no longer possible. "Shootouts" also consist of a series of penalty shots if both teams are tied after the regular playing time or extra time.
  • Referee whistles
    The IIHF regulations list a total of 55 different hockey offences.

    List of the most common penalties

    The following is a selection of the 55 different offenses listed in the IIHF rules and regulations.


  • IIHF Rule: No. 119
  • Description: Boarding is a penalty when an offending player pushes, trips or checks an opposing player violently into the boards of the rink.
  • Punishment: Either minor, major or match penalty depending on severity.
  • Additional Info: Boarding that negligently endangers an opponent will always be given a 5 minute major at the minimum.
  • Interference

  • IIHF Rule: No. 149
  • Description: Interference occurs when a player blocks an opponent or prevents him from skating, passing or moving freely on the ice without possession of the puck.
  • Punishment: 2 minute minor penalty
  • Specials: If a player negligently endangers another player, the referee may call a major penalty, eject or even suspend the player.
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    Checking from behind

  • IIHF Rule: No. 123
  • Description: Checking from behind means that a player checks another player who is not aware or unable to defend himself from the coming impact as his back is turned.
  • Punishment: Depends on severity.
  • Minor penalty or disciplinary punishment: If a player checks from behind against the boards, goal or in the middle of the rink
    Major penalty, ejection or match penalty: If a player negligently endangers another player through his misconduct.
  • Additional Info: No penalty is called if the player to be checked suddenly turns his back or dives after impact in order to create an offense.
  • 20 game suspension: Tom Kühnhackl

    In a game between the Niagara IceDogs and the Kitchener Rangers in 2011 Ice hockey legend Tom Kühnhackl races into opponent Brian Murphy. Murphy, who played for the Kitchener Rangers, suffers a severe concussion during the impact and remains on the ice before leaving visibly dazed. Here you can have a look yourself:

    Kühnhackl was ejected from the game. He was subsequently suspended for 20 games due to the injury to the head he caused.

    Checking to the Head and Neck

  • IIHF Rule: No. 124
  • Description: This penalty is called when a player checks another player in the head or neck area or pushes the head into the glass or boards.
  • Punishment: Depending on severity, the referee may call a minor, major, misconduct, game misconduct or match penalty.
  • Special Info: Checking the head or neck will always be penalized. There is no "clean" check against the head and neck area. If a foul is aimed at another area of the body, but is consequently shifted to the head and neck area, there will be no penalty for a check against the head and neck area.
  • Elbowing

  • IIHF Rule: No. 139
  • Description: When a player uses his elbow to hit or check another player, an elbowing penalty is called.
  • Punishment: The penalty depends on the severity of the offence.
  • Minor penalty for lighter elbow checks
    A major, misconduct or match penality is imposed if a player negligently risks the health and welfare of an opponent.


  • IIHF Rule: No. 146
  • Description: A hooking penalty is called when a player uses his stick to push, pull or move his oppenent.
  • Punishment: Minor penalty
  • Additional Info: If a player negligently endangers another player by hooking, either a major penalty, misconduct or match penalty is called.
  • Holding

  • IIHF Rule: No. 144
  • Description: Holding is called when a player uses his hands, arms, legs, skates or stick to prevent an opponent from skating freely.
  • Punishment: Minor penalty
  • Additional Info: -
  • Holding the Stick

  • IIHF Rule: No. 145
  • Description: Holding or controling the stick of the opponent with either hands, arms, legs, body will result in this penalty being called.
  • Sentance: Minor penalty
  • Additional Info: -
  • Two players fight for the puck.
    Two players fight for the puck.

    High Stick

  • IIHF Rule: No. 143
  • Description: When a player raises any part of his stick higher than the cross bar of the goal post or hits an opponent with any part of the stick, a high stick is called.
  • Punishment: Depends on the severity.
  • At least minor penalty: A player touches his opponent with a high stick.
    Double Minor Penalty: A player accidentally injures an opponent with a high stick.
    Major penalty, match penalty or ejection: A player negligently risks injury of an opponent.
  • Additional Info: A high stick is called when a player deliberately moves his stick over shoulder height and places it against a player. Even if a player's stick accidentally hits an opponent on his upper body while shooting or passing, a high stick is called.
  • Headbutt

  • IIHF Rule: No. 142
  • Beschreibung: When a player uses his head (or attempts) to hit his opponent, this penalty is called.
  • Punishment: Ejection
  • Additional Info: Contact is not required. The mere intent is enough for the penalty to be called.
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    Abuse of Officials

    • IIHF Rule: No. 116
    • Description: Abuse of officials occurs when a player physically confronts or openly questions a referee's authority.
    • Penalty: Depends on the severity.
    • Minor Penalty: Using your stick to strike against the glass in order to protest or insult the referee's decision.
      Penalty: The team or player or official insults a referee; a punished player refuses sit in the penalty box; physically protesting the referee's ruling; use of video material to challenge referee ruling.
      Disciplinary Penalty: A player requests or uses video footage to challenge a referee's verdict; intentionally pushes the puck away from the ref; a player comes too close to the referee; a (co-)captain complains to a referee about the conduct and verdicts of another referee; an already-penalized player does not immediately go to the penalty box.
      Game Misconduct: Use of offensive language or obscene behavior after a minor penalty has been imposed; disrespectful or violent behavior toward a referee by a player or team official; throwing an object at a referee or spraying the referee with a water.
    • Match Penalty: Violence against a referee or injury to the referee; volleying or throwing the stick or puck at the referee; threating, discriminating, spitting or smearing blood at the referee by a player or team official; obscene language or gesture of a player or team official to the referee before, during or immediately after play.
    • Additional Info: If obscene language or behaviour occurs on or off the ice after the match, the referee may impose a suspension.

    Billy Coutu was banned from the NHL
    Billy Coutu: Boston Bruins, lifetime ban from the NHL (in 1927), Credit: Unknown author [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

    Life ban in the NHL: Billy Coutu

    In the Stanley Cup playoffs, Billy Coutu, the Boston Bruins left wing, beat referee Jerry LaFlamme. As a result, he was banned from the National Hockey League (NHL) for life. This was the first and only lifetime ban ever imposed in the NHL. The defender then moved to the Canadian-American Hockey League and ended his career there in 1934.


  • IIHF Rule: No. 127
  • Description: A cross check is a check where the attacking players uses his stick to physically check the opponent.
  • Penalty: Minor Penalty
  • Additional Info: If a player is harmed by a cross-check, either a double minor, major or misconduct is awarded.
  • Roughing

  • IIHF Rule: No. 158
  • Description: Roughing is called when two players are in a minor altercation.
  • Punishment: Depends on the severity of the offense.
  • An altercation: can lead to a minor, double minor, major or misconduct penalty.
    Striking the opponent's head: minor penalty
  • Additional Info: -
  • Charging

  • IIHF Rule: No. 122
  • Description: Charging is the action of a player or goalie who, as a result of distance traveled, shall violently check an opponent in any manner.
  • Punishment: Depends on severity
  • Additional Info: If a player negligently endangers his opponent, the referee may impose a major, misconduct or match penalty.
  • Unsportsmanlike Conduct

    • IIHF Rule: No. 168
    • Description: Unsportsmanlike conduct is when a player or official violates the rules of sportsmanship, fair play and respect.
    • Punishment: Depends on severity.
    • Minor Penalty: refers primarily to clearly identifiable players; when offensive language or behaviour is used towards teammates, opponents or spectators, cheers for fouls or injuries, spraying ice on the opposing goalkeeper when braking.
    • Bench minor: refers to unidentifiable players or the entire team; for when a team member or official behaves in an unsportsmanlike manner, uses obscene or abusive language or conduct, celebrates fouls or injuries, throws a stick or other object at the ice to protest.
    • Misconduct: Is imposed when a player shoots the puck after a whistle from the referee, in apparent misconduct, or if a player continues to misbehave, when a player instigates an opponent to commit a foul, or when a player intentionally enters the bench area of the opposing team.
    • Game Misconduct: Is pronounced if a player or official does not cease misconduct, such as the use of obscene or offensive language, even after a minor penalty or a bench sentence.
    • Match Penalty: Imposed when a player or official uses racist, sexist or threatening language, spits or wipes blood on someone, usage of obscene gestures or conduct towards people on the ice, in the bank or spectator area before.
    • Additional Info: -

    Stephan Daschner, longest penalty recorded in the DEL

    Ice hockey player Stephan Daschner from the Hannover Scorpions is currently defending the DEL league record for the longest penalty. Background: In a match between the Hannover Scorpions and the Straubing Tigers in 2012, Daschner racked up the longest penalty ever recorded. The referees Daniel Piechaczek and Simon Aicher imposed a penalty of 59 minutes, with Daschner holding the record for the longest penalty in DEL history.

    Too Many Men

    • IIHF Rule: No. 166
    • Description: A team may only have six skaters on the ice. As soon as a team has 7 or more skaters, a penalty is called for too many men on the ice. A player may only enter the game if the player leaving the ice is 5 feet or less away from his own bench.
    • Punishment: 2 minute minor
    • Additional Info: -

    Cheer on your favorite team with your own jersey

    Ice hockey is a sport with a lot of body contact and can seem quite harsh. Nevertheless, the players are actually well protected, not only from padding but also strict rules. This is why many players still play into their 40s.

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    Picture credits: Cover image: © gettyimages/gorodenkoff, Image 1: © Wikimedia Commons/Alexander Golovko (License: CC BY-SA 3.0), Image 2: © gettyimages/gilaxia, Image 3: © gettyimages/vm, Image 4: © Wikimedia Commons/unknown.