Can you hit the goalie in hockey?

It is common to see the goalie come out of his net and play the puck. When this happens, is the goalie fair game? Is a player able to bodycheck the goalie like any other opponent on the ice?

The goalie in hockey is not allowed to be hit by a player. There is no instance where the goalie is ‘fair game’ and allowed to be checked like a regular skater, even if the goaltender is handling the puck outside of the crease area. There is sometimes incidental contact between a player and a goaltender, but body checking a goaltender will always result in a penalty.

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According to Rule 69.2 of the NHL rulebook: in all cases where an attacking players initiates intentional contact or deliberate contact with a goalkeeper, whether or not the a goal is scored, the attacking player will receive a penalty. In all cases, the referee will give more consideration to the type of contact with the goaltender.

Let’s look at the issue of contact and the goaltender more in-depth.


Contact with a goalie outside of the crease

Many fans see the goaltender come out of his crease to play the puck —which many are quite proficient at doing — and assume that they become a regular player and can be body checked. However, this is not the case.

Yes, a goalie is allowed to come out and play the puck, but they still receive protection under the rules of play and cannot be body checked.

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I love this old photo of legendary goalie Ken Dryden being checked by New York Ranger player Eddie Johnston. This is not allowed and would be called a penalty.

The player is allowed to try and steal the puck from the goalie by using a stick check. Or, some physical contact can be made if the goalie has the puck along the boards and the player is simply jostling for position to try and secure the puck for themselves. But, there is no instance where the player would be allowed to bodycheck the goaltender away from the puck.


Why players would want to ‘hit’ the goalie?

The goaltender always has the freedom to come out of the crease and play the puck without fear of being body checked by an opposing player. Why is this?

The goaltender is arguably the most important position in the NHL. Brad Treliving, General Manager of the Calgary Flames, has been known to comment that the NHL should just change the name of the league to ‘goalie’.

A strategy in hockey to try and get more goals is to try and get in the goalie’s ‘face’. This means that when a goalie is in his crease the players want to jostle with him as they screen him to block of his view of the play, give him little ‘bumps’ that the referee would not call as a hit, and even try to hit his own players into him. All of these tactics are in the grey area of the rules and border on a penalty but players often get away with them.

This jostling of the goalie or bumping into the goalie is designed to try and throw the goalie off his game — and it works. The goalie knows that he is not supposed to be hit, so when he is touched in any way, he will often get upset. Furthermore, when a goalie gets bumped in any way, his teammates often become very upset and it can throw them off their game as well.

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The goalie is such a hard position that it needs so much concentration to keep focused on the puck and to save shots that are coming at you at 100 mph. It would not take much to impede that concentration; so, there is no way that a goalie should be hindered in trying to stop the puck — that simply makes it too difficult.

If a player was allowed to bodycheck the goaltender when he is outside of his crease, you can be 100% sure that this would lead to players taking extra liberties with the goaltender. A goalie has big padding, but it is awkward padding, and it is tough to keep your balance in it while being hit. The padding was designed for stopping pucks, not body contact.

As well, goalies in some cases are allowed to freeze the puck outside the crease – would players be able to bodycheck them when they are freezing the puck? This makes no sense, it would be tough to enforce against, and again goalies would be targeted for hits.


Contact with a goalie inside the crease


The goaltender is not allowed to be hit under any circumstances while in the crease, although there may be incidental contact between an opponent and goalie.  

If a player is deemed to have made intentional contact with a goaltender it will be called automatically as goaltender interference. If the player makes incidental contact with a goaltender, then the referee will usually not call a penalty and will allow the play to continue.

A strategy for players to score is to try and screen the goalie. To do this a player will stand at the front of the crease. As he is doing this, you will often see the goalie trying to see around the player or establish position beside the player as he comes out and blocks the shot. It is common for there to be a little shoving between the players.

However, the player wants to make sure that nothing is intentional because the NHL takes contact to the goaltender very seriously. Any deemed contact towards the goaltender will be deemed goaltender interference.  And, with the addition of video review by the NHL, the most common review on potential goals is to see whether there was any contact between the player and the goalie. If there is any deemed contact by a player — in or out of the crease — that has impeded the ability of the goalie to get into position to make a save, the goal will automatically be disallowed.

The player is allowed to go into the crease even if the puck is not there, but again: they are not allowed to make any contact with the goalie.

If the puck is in the crease, the player has the ability to go into the crease to try and shoot the puck, and this may cause contact to be made with the goalie, which will be deemed valid as long as the player is going for the puck first. This is simply deemed as a fight for the puck, similar to a player trying to jockey for possession of a puck with a goaltender along the the boards.

Finally, you will often see a player push an opponent into a goaltender. The defensemen is not doing this on purpose, but as they try to more the forward away from the front of the net what can happens is that they accidentally push him into his own goaltender. Below is a photo of a defensemen pushing the opponent into his goaltender. The referee will not call this a penalty.

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Now, truth be told, the players are very smart and they often know when they are being pushed into a goaltender and will ‘let’ that happen and take the risk of it being deemed intentional. If they can fall on a goalie and get a goal or throw the goalie off his game, it is worth the risk.


Conclusion

So, don’t listen to your friend who says that goalies are fair game when they play the puck out of the net. You cannot hit the goalie when they are out of the net, or in the net for that matter. This is one of the oldest hockey myths and just not true!

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