What are the types of penalties in hockey? (a guide with definitions and pictures)

In getting to know any sport you need to know what you are not allowed to do – and in hockey there are a lot of things that you are not allowed to do. I have put together a guide to helping you figure out what things on the ice will cause you to get a penalty and be sent to the penalty box. 

The different types of penalties are as follows: minor, major, misconduct, match penalties and penalty shots. It is possible for a player at one-time to receive a combination of these penalties together. The length of a penalty ranges from 2 minutes to removal for the balance of the game.

MinorMajorMisconductMajorPenalty ShotPenalty ChartsReferee Signals

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A referee indicating a high-sticking call against Sidney Crosby. Please see the hand signal chart at the bottom of the post for the referee signals for some of the most common penalties.


A penalty is a punishment in hockey for breaking the rules of the game. As with most sports there are different levels or severities of penalties that can be taken. 

The two most important things to know about penalties are the type of penalty received and what the actual punishment is for the penalty.  This following chart will help breakdown each of these aspects:

TypePunishment
Minor2 minutes resulting in theteam becoming shorthanded
Major5 minutes resulting in theteam becoming shorthanded
Misconduct 10 minutes, but the team does not lose a player from the ice
MatchOffending player is removed for the balance of the game,And another player on the team is required to serve a 5 minute penalty
Penalty ShotOpposing team receives an unobstructed breakaway



Minor Penalty – 2 minute penalty 

The minor penalty is by far the most common of all the penalties called with 88% being of this type. Common types of minor penalties are slashing, tripping, holding, roughing, interference, and cross-checking. 

When a player, excluding the goalie, receives a minor penalty they are required to go to the penalty box for 2 minutes and the team will not be allowed to put on a player in their place. The player will be allowed out of the penalty box after either the full 2 minutes has expired or the opposing team has scored. 

Other types of minor penalties: 

  • Double minor – a player can receive more than one minor penalty on a play. If this were to happen then a player would sit in the box for 4 minutes in total, in actuality they are serving two penalties back-to-back. If the opposing team scores on the first of the back-to-back penalties the first penalty will expire and then the subsequent one will start for the full two minutes. The most common double minor is when a player high sticks another player and draws blood – this is an automatic double minor with the referee having discretion to call it a major penalty if the high stick is egregious. 
  • Bench minor – minors also include penalties assessed to the coaching staff or non-playing personal while they are the bench. These types of penalties include a coach receiving an unsportsmanlike penalty for verbal abuse of the official or a too-many men on the ice penalty. The coach is allowed to assign the player of his choosing to serve the penalty. 


Major Penalty – 5 minutes 

A major penalty is called for a more serious infraction of the rules than a minor penalty. With the more serious infraction comes more time in the penalty box at 5 minutes, excluding the goaltender. This type of penalty occurs in approximately 5% of the penalty calls with the most common for fighting. 

Here is a list of common instances around the major penalty: 

  • When a 5 minute major is assessed the team is forced to sit the offending player and is not allowed to substitute another player resulting in the team being shorthanded
  • The 5 minute major does not end until the player has served the full 5 minutes of the penalty. Even if the other team scores while a major penalty is being served the player still does not come out of the box. This is a real opportunity for the team with the power play to try and score multiple goals. 
  • During a fight in hockey both players, most commonly, will be assessed a 5 minute major. When this happens the penalties are said to even out and both teams will still skate five aside. The players come out of the penalty box at the first whistle after the full five minutes has been served. 
  • When a player receives a major penalty and minor penalty at the same time, the major penalty is served first followed by the minor – that’s 7 minutes of straight penalty time. 
  • The only exception is if the other team also receives a major penalty at the same time and then the major penalties cancel each other out, and the team will serve the minor penalty first. This is what happens when two players fight and one of them additionally has a minor penalty attached (usually for instigating the fight). 
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Misconduct Penalty – 10 Minutes

A misconduct penalty is given to a player for a serious infraction such as the verbal abuse of the officials. A misconduct is given for 10 minutes, but the team will not be shorthanded for that time as they are allowed to replace the penalized player with someone from their bench. 

  • A player can receive another penalty along with a misconduct such as a minor penalty. In this case the team would be shorthanded, and the team would need another player to serve the 2 minute penalty because the 10 minute misconduct penalty would not be over at its expiry. 
  • A player can also receive a game misconduct penalty, which is the equivalent of an ejection from the rest of the game. The game misconduct differs from the match penalty in that a team will not be shorthanded, and it covers a player’s conduct for egregious offences outside of injuring another player (ie. abuse of officials, leaving the bench to fight etc.)


Match penalty – 5 minutes

A match penalty is an extremely serious infraction where a player is suspended for the rest of the game because they have either injured or attempted to injure another player. Additionally, a 5 minute penalty will need to be served by another member of the team which will cause the team to be shorthanded. 

When a player receives a match penalty they are removed for the balance of the game whether there is 58 minutes left or 2 minutes left. They are not allowed to stay on the bench and are required to head immediately to the dressing room. 

  • The 5 minute portion of the match penalty is similar to the major penalty in that the penalty will not end if the opposition scores. The team must have another teammate serve the total 5 minutes of the penalty.
  • The team is not required to put a player in the penalty box at the start of the penalty. They are allowed to put a player in the box after in stoppage in play during the 5 minute penalty. However, if the penalty expires and they have not put a player in the penalty box they will not be allowed to place a player on the ice until the next stoppage on the ice – this has happened before during an NHL game!
  • The referee is required to report all match penalties to the NHL after the game is over, where the NHL will determine if any additional suspension will be warranted for the player. 

Penalty Shot

The penalty shot is one of the most exciting plays in sports. The goalie versus a player where the player gets to come in from center ice with no other players on the ice. But how do we get to this point? 

The main thing that a referee looks for when calling a penalty shot is:

Does the obstruction, in whatever form it comes, take away a clear scoring opportunity

By far the most common example occurs when a player is in on a breakaway and a defender will trip, slash, or hook that player from behind. This is deemed by the referee to have taken away a scoring chance. 

  • A player scores on about 33% of attempts versus 18% for a team on a power play, therefore the penalty shot gives a better chance to score than the 
  • A penalty shot cannot be declined in favour of a power play
  • The player who was penalized does not receive 2 penalty minutes to his personal stats
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Related Questions

What is a delayed penalty? 

If the non-penalized team has the puck and a penalty occurs the referee does not blow the whistle and, instead, lets the play continue. Why would he penalize the team who has the puck from trying to score by blowing the whistle when they have done nothing wrong? The play will not stop until the offending team has touched the puck or a goal is scored.

You will know that it is a delayed penalty if you see the referee lift his hand in the air signalling a penalty and the play continues. The team with the puck knows the other team will receive a penalty when the puck is touched, so the team will pull it’s goalie for an extra attacker – they know they will not score because the play is frozen the second the soon-to-be penalized team touches the puck. 

If a goal is scored during this delayed time the penalty is wiped out and not assessed, otherwise at the stoppage of play the offending player will go to the penalty box to serve his penalty. 

What are coincidental penalties?

When players from opposing teams each receive a minor penalty at the same stoppage of play, both teams will go to 4-on-4 skaters. This is different than when both teams receive a major penalty and the teams are allowed to substitute a player and keep the full allotment of players at that time. 

What happens when multiple players are penalized from the same team?

A team cannot lose more than two players from the ice at the same time – they will never have less than 3 skaters and a goalie. So what happens if a team gets a penalty when they have three skaters? The player will still be penalized and will have to go to the penalty box, but there penalty will not start until one of the previous penalties have ended. When the previous penalty has ended that player will not be allowed to come back on the ice to help his teammates. 

Do penalties occur at the end of the period carryover to the next period?

Yes, any penalty occurred at the end of the period will carryover to the next period. For example, if a player takes a minor penalty with 30 seconds left at the end of the second period, the player will serve the first 30 seconds of the penalty during the second period, and the final 90 seconds at the start of the third period – unless they are scored upon which ends the penalty. 


Penalty Charts

Minor Penalties

Minor PenaltyDescription
BoardingWhen a player pushes or checks a defenseless player violently into the boards.The onus is always on the checker to make sure the player is not in a vulnerable position.
Broken StickA player is not allowed to play with a broken stick. If the stick is broken the playermust drop it immediately.
ChargingWhen a player takes three or more strides, or leaves his feet when checking a player
Closing hand on puckA player who catches a puck and skates with it, the player may catch the puck butmust immediately drop it.
Concealing puck with handA player who covers the puck with his hand on the ice to prevent an opponentfrom playing the puck
Cross-checkingWhen a player holds the stick sideways in both hands and hits an opponent. The referee willnot always call this as you see defenceman constantly giving light cross checks to forwardsin front of the net. Subjectively, the referee is looking for a cross-check that is forceful
Delay of GameThere are many ways this is called: intentionally shooting the puck over the glass, a teamdelays putting the correct number of players on the ice, intentionally pushing the net off the moorings,a goalie running out of the crease to freeze a puck
ElbowingA player uses his elbow to hit an opponent
Goalkeeper interferenceBodychecking a goalie inside or outside the crease, or intentional contact within the crease
High-stickingHitting an opponent in the neck or face with your stick
HoldingUsing your hands to grab and impede the progress of your opponent
Holding the stickGrabbing and holding onto your opponents stick
HookingUsing the blade of your stick to hook another player and slow them down
Illegal check to the headMaking any body contact to the head of your opponent
Illegal equipmentEquipment must fit those specificed by the NHL; for instance, goalies not using too large of pads
Illegal stickThe NHL has specific rules around what constitutes a legal stick
InstigatorA player who has been deemed to start a fight and force his unwillingopponent to fight
InterferenceChecking, hitting or picking a player who does not have possession of the puck
KneeingA player uses his knee to check or hit an opponent
Leaving penalty bench too earlyA player leaves the penalty box before the time has expired on his penalty
Leaving the crease (goaltender)A goaltender leaves the crease during a stoppage in play to participate in a scrum of players
Participating beyond the center red line (goaltender)A goaltender skates past the red line into the opposing half of the rink
RoughingA player who goes beyond the basic physical aspect of the game
SlashingA player who uses his stick to strike another player or knocks a players stick out of his handsor breaks another players stick
TrippingA player who uses his stick or body to cause an opponent to fall to the ice
Unsportsmanlike conductA player who uses verbal abuse towards an opponent or referee


Bench Minor Penalties

Bench MinorDescription
Abuse of officialsThe coaches or playes on the bench are determined to have used unnecessaryand inappropriate language towards the referee
Delay of gameThe bench does not substitute players in an appropriate amount of time
Face-off violationThe players do not lineup correctly during a faceoff – the players will receive awarning before receiving a penalty
Interference from players’ on benchA player on the bench will reach out and touch or interferee with a player from the opposing team while he is on the ice
Throwing objects on the iceA coach or player will throw an object – such as a stick, towel or water bottle onto the ide
Too many men on the iceA team during the course of the play puts more players on the ice then they are permitted too. For example, a playercoming onto the ice and playing the puck before his substitute player is fully off
Unsportsmanlike conductA player who uses abusive, profane, or obscene language towards his opponent. A player is responsible for their behaviouron and off the ice


Major Penalties and Match Penalties

Major penalties and match penalties generally have the same definition as the minor penalties, they are of more egregious or violent act. Match penalties will be used when a referee deems there has been an attempt to injure or injury imposed on the player

Major PenaltiesMatch Penalties
BoardingAttempt to injure
Butt-endingBiting
ChargingBoarding
Checking from behindButt-ending
ClippingCharging
Cross-checkingChecking from behind
ElbowingClipping
FightingCross-checking
Head-buttingDeliberate injury
HookingElbowing
InterferenceGrabbing of the face mask
KneeingHair pulling
SlashingHead-butting
SpearingHigh-sticking

Illegal check to the head

Kicking a player

Kneeing

Punching and injuring an unsuspecting opponent

Slashing

Slew-footing

Spearing

Throwing stick or any object

Wearing tape on hands in altercation


Penalty Referee Signals

Here are some of the referee signals for the most common penalties. The referee will indicate the penalty call using these actions to indicate to the players and fans why the player is receiving a penalty.

Source

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