One part we love about hockey is its physicality; however the physical aspect can lead to penalties, one of the most serious being boarding in hockey

What is boarding in hockey? Boarding occurs when a player hits an opponent from behind and drives him dangerously into the boards. This action can lead to severe penalties and potentially long-term injuries.

This comprehensive blog post will delve into the nuances of boarding, examining its rules, how it’s policed, and the player safety measures that have been instituted to minimize its occurrence. 

a player gets a five minute penalty for boarding in hockey

Exploring Boarding in Hockey: Rules and Definitions

Boarding is a term that even a casual hockey viewer is likely to hear during a broadcast, and it’s one that carries a lot of weight. In its simplest form, boarding is called when a player checks or pushes an opponent causing them to hit the boards with dangerous force. 

It’s a penalty that can lead to minor, major, or even match penalties, depending on the severity and the referees’ judgment.

Key Elements in a Boarding Penalty:

Here’s a quick reference guide to the severity of the penalties associated with boarding:

Penalty TypeMinutes in the BoxSubsequent ActionInjury Resultant
Minor2Player serves penalty timeNot Always Applicable
Major5Player is removed for the durationPossible
MatchEjectedPlayer is ejected, potential suspension or fineLikely

Understanding the boarding rule requires a look at how it is defined within the rulebooks. 

For example, the NHL rulebook states:

“NHL Rule 41 – Boarding: A boarding penalty shall be imposed on any player who checks or pushes a defenseless opponent in such a manner that causes the opponent to hit or impact the boards violently in the boards. The severity of the penalty, based upon the impact with the boards, shall be at the discretion of the Referee.”

This implies that there is a subjective element to calling a boarding penalty. It’s not simply the act but the outcome and the circumstances that lead up to the hit.

Essentially, boarding is different from legal body checks or even charging penalties. It’s about player safety. A legal body check is often shoulder-to-shoulder and doesn’t involve a player being dangerously close to the boards. Charging, on the other hand, may involve distance traveled or leaving the feet to make a hit, but doesn’t explicitly involve the boards as part of the penalty.

Enforcement and Evolution of Boarding Rules

Role of Referees

Referees are tasked with the job of identifying boarding infractions as they occur. When an official spots a potential boarding penalty, they must consider:

If boarding is determined, the offending player is penalized, and the severity of this penalty may vary based on the official’s assessment of the incident. It’s this immediate action that plays a critical role in reinforcing the standards of conduct expected on the ice.

referee sign for boarding in hockey
Referee sign for boarding in hockey

Video Review and Technology

In the modern era, the use of video review has become an integral part of the game. Off-ice officials can review plays to support on-ice calls. Not all players are reviewable but, with respect to boarding, it can be reviewed where a major or match penalty might be warranted. 

If the boarding penalty does get deemed as a match penalty the player will be ejected from the game and the play will then be reviewed by the NHL’s player safety department who could then fine or suspend the player. 

Analyzing Specific Boarding Incidents

Real-life examples provide valuable insights into the consequences of boarding and the response of the hockey community:

Evolution of Boarding Regulations

Over the years, hockey’s governing bodies have tweaked the rules surrounding boarding to enhance player safety. Let’s take a look at a brief timeline of how boarding regulations have changed:

Historical Timeline: Evolution of Boarding Rules

YearRule Change
1920sBoarding introduced as an infraction
1990sEmphasis on player safety leads to stricter enforcement
2000sIntroduction of video review for certain penalty calls
2010sRule 41.1 modified to give referees more discretion on boarding penalties
PresentOngoing adjustments to rules and referees’ training to prioritize safety

Rules in Other Leagues

Boarding rules can vary across different leagues, especially at the international level or in amateur hockey.

Player Safety and Injury Prevention

Player safety is a top priority in hockey, with boarding being one of the key areas where the risk of injury is elevated. The high-impact nature of the sport means that protective measures are not just beneficial but necessary to guard against the detrimental effects of boarding.

Most of the prevention of boarding goes into player education – both for the player receiving the check and the player receiving the check. 

Education and Coaching

Player education forms a vital part of the strategy to prevent boarding incidents. Coaches have a responsibility to instill safe techniques for hitting and how to properly receive a hit to decrease the likelihood of dangerous outcomes. 

Drills that simulate board play and teach spatial awareness can significantly lessen the chance of boarding penalties and injuries.

Quotes from Players and Coaches

“One bad hit can change a game, a season, or even a career. We teach our players to respect each other on the ice and play within the rules.” – NHL Coach

“I’ve seen the damage boarding can do, both to teams and individual players. It’s something we all need to work together to eliminate from our game.” – Retired NHL Player

“Our role as referees is to make the game safe for everyone on the ice. That means being vigilant, fair, and decisive when it comes to calls like boarding.” — NHL Referee

“As a league, we’ve taken measures to ensure that our rules evolve with the game, especially when it comes to infractions like boarding that can negatively impact player safety.” — NHL Executive


Q: What is the main objective of the boarding rule in hockey?
A: The primary goal of the boarding rule is to ensure player safety by penalizing dangerous hits that could cause an opponent to violently impact the boards, potentially leading to serious injury.

Q: How do referees decide if a hit qualifies as boarding?
A: Referees consider several factors when determining a boarding penalty, including the severity of the check, the distance of the player from the boards, the vulnerability of the player being hit, and whether an injury occurred.

Q: What are the potential consequences for a player who commits boarding?
A: Consequences can range from a minor penalty with a two-minute time in the penalty box to a major penalty or match penalty, which may also include game ejection, suspensions, and fines.

Q: Aside from penalties, what measures are taken to prevent boarding in hockey?
A: Preventive measures include the use of protective gear like helmets and padded equipment, educational programs and coaching strategies to teach safe play, and rule adjustments that increase the penalties for boarding infractions.

Q: How has the approach to boarding changed over the years in professional hockey leagues?
A: The approach to boarding has evolved to provide greater player protection and clarity in the rules. This includes the introduction of video review to assist with penalty calls and ongoing adjustments to on-ice enforcement procedures.

Feel free to ask further questions or share your experiences regarding boarding in hockey in the comments below.