Can goalies get penalties in hockey?

Penalties are a big part of hockey, and they every happen for goalies. However, when you go to a game you will always see players sitting in the penalty box, but never the goalie. Why not? 

Goalies can get penalties, but what happens when a goalie gets a penalty? When a goalie gets a penalty the goalie does not serve the penalty, but instead a player of the coach’s choosing will serve the penalty in his place. The penalized goalie is allowed to stay in his net even though the penalty has been credited to him.

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Can a goalie get a penalty in hockey?

Yes, they can! And, as you will see from the charts at the end, which gives the goalie penalty minute leaders in a season and all-time, they in fact get a lot of penalties!

The goalie can pretty much be called for a penalty on anything a player can be called for: slashing, high-sticking, tripping, roughing, fighting, delay of game etc. They even have a few penalties that are specific to themselves: such as intentionally freezing the puck outside of the crease and playing the puck in the non-trapezoid area behind the net.

What happens when a goalie gets a penalty?

When a goalie gets a penalty they do not have to go to the penalty box to serve the penalty. Instead a player from their own team will go and serve the penalty for them in their place. The goalie is still credited for the penalty against his own stats, and not the player in the box, but they do not have to actually go and sit in the box.

The coach gets to choose which player goes into the penalty box. The player chosen does not have to be on the ice when the penalty was called, similar to the too many men on the ice infraction. Instead, the coach can choose anyone from the full roster.

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The coach will usually choose a player who does not play on the penalty kill. The thinking behind this goes that the player would not be playing those two minutes of hockey anyway, so they can sit in the box on behalf of the goalie. Often the coach will also choose a player that has some offensive flair because when a penalty comes to an end the player who comes out of the penalty box can sometimes use that transition to create a scoring opportunity. The team on the power play is often thinking offence, so a player coming out of the box can get a quick chance as the other teams are sometimes caught off guard.

There is a backup goalie – can’t he play while the other is serving in the penalty box?

Well, why don’t goalies have to go to the penalty box? There are two goalies on each team  so couldn’t the backup goalie come and play net while the goalies served the penalty?

This could logically happen, but there are a few reasons why it probably does not. The goalies is such a special position in hockey – probably the hardest of them all.  During the course of a game when a backup goalie has to come in to replace a goalie that has been suddenly hurt it is a big task for the backup goalie. He has been sitting on the bench for countless minutes not being warmed up and essentially coming in ‘cold’. There is no way around this but to say it would be tough, tough, tough!

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If a backup goalie had to come in when a goalie took a penalty, it would seem like it was an extra form of a penalty against the team who was penalized. Not only do you have to kill a penalty, but the team taking the penalty now has a cold goaltender and the other team will get high end scoring chances against this goaltender. That situation is just too much in favour of the team with the power play.

Furthermore what happens when a penalty comes to an end? Is the goalie supposed to skate out and act like a player? Well, this wouldn’t work because, for one thing, a goalie is not allowed to carry the puck over the red line into the opposition end. Additionally, a goalie with all his pads could not compete like a normal player out. Again, this seems like it would give too much advantage to the team that had a power play.

Match Penalty: The one exception to the rule where a goalie serves his penalty

The one exception where a goalie does have to serve his penalty is if the goalie gets what is called a match penalty. The match penalty is the most egregious of all penalties given to a player who deliberately tries to injure another player or does deliberately injure a player.

When a player receives a match penalty they are immediately suspended for the rest of the game and have to leave the ice and go to their respective dressing room.

Although the player is suspended from the game the team does receive a five minute penalty where they have to send a player to the box in place of the suspended player. So in this case the goalie will, again, not have to sit in the penalty box, but they will serve their match penalty by being suspended for the rest of the game. The backup goalie will come and replace the goaltender who has received a match penalty.

Have goalies ever served penalties in the NHL?

When the NHL first formed in 1917 the goalies did serve their own penalties. Much of the game in the early days of hockey would be unrecognizable to the fan of today – there were no lines on the ice and no forward passing of the puck.

When a goalie took a penalty they had to serve it themselves. A teammate would cover the net in place of the goaltender, until the three (not two) minute penalty was served. The rules officials probably did not think a goalie serving a penalty was that dramatic given the fact that goalies had way less padding, could not freeze the puck, and were prohibited from falling onto the ice to make a save.

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Photo: the most penalized goalie of all-time, Ron Hextall, after a fight

List of most penalized goalies in a single season

NameTeamYearGames PIM
1Ron HextallPhiladelphia Flyers1988-8964113
2Ron HextallPhiladelphia Flyers1986-8766104
3Ron HextallPhiladelphia Flyers1987-8862104
4Tom BarrassoBuffalo Sabres1988-895470
5Gerry CheeversBoston Bruins1979-804262
6Ed BelfourChicago Blackhawks1993-947051
7Andy BrownPittsburgh Penguins1973-743660
8Ron HextallPhiladelphia Flyers1992-935456
9Bob FroeseFlyers/Rangers1986-873156
10Sean BurkeNew Jersey Devils1988-896254

List of all-time goalie penalty minute leaders

NameGames PlayedPIM
1Ron Hextall608584
2Billy Smith679490
3Tom Barrasso777437
4Ed Belfour963380
5John Vanbiesbrouck882310
6Sean Burke820310
7Don Beaupre666283
8Mike Vernon782271
9Patrick Roy1029262
10Dan Bouchard656255


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