A Complete Guide to Penalties in Ice Hockey!

Penalties in Ice Hockey

Ice hockey is a quick-motion and highly decisive game in which one team wants to bring down another team quickly. Because of the fast rapid nature game, sometimes hockey players need to make many nano-seconds defensively and offensively decisions to get the upper hand. When they try to do this, they put themselves in trouble. Then officials hand out a measure of the penalty based on how severe the action is.

A hockey penalty is a punishment given to a player who becomes too physical against the opponent and commits an infraction. The purpose of the penalty is to make players learn a lesson who did illegal actions. There are many types of penalties, minor, major, misconduct, match penalty, and penalty shots. Each has a different punishment range, from minutes to the elimination of the game.

Penalties cover a massive part of games, and events like power play due to a penalty lead to huge scoring chances all around the hockey games.

Let’s jump into these penalties and break down the penalty system of ice hockey to learn how one can spot them.

What is a penalty? – and types?

A penalty occurs in a game when a player enacts a violation that goes against the hockey rules, typically becoming too offensive (means physical) with the opponent.

Ice hockey has many types of penalties, categorized as major, minor, misconduct, penalty shots, and match penalties. A combination of these penalties can be assigned to a player simultaneously, ranging from a 2-minute minor penalty to a game ejection.

One must understand the two most basic measures for penalty: the receiving penalty type and its punishment. To understand them easily, let’s break these into a chart.

MajorA 5-minute penalty results in the team being short-handed.
MinorA 2-minute penalty results in the team being short-handed.
MisconductA 10-minute penalty, but the team stays with full members on the ice.
MatchThe penalty player removes as a game balance, and another team player has to serve a 5-minute penalty.
Penalty ShotThe other will get an unblocked breakaway.

2 – Minute Minor Penalty

A minor penalty is when a player has done a small infraction, and he is required to go to sit in the penalty box for 2-minutes straight. The penalty team will be short-handed means they will be of four vs. five, excluding the goalie on the ice against the opponents. The player has to sit in the penalty box till the termination time of the penalty, or he can move out before the penalty expiration when the opponent scores. This is the crucial point of minor penalties in relation to other penalties.

A double penalty can also be called on a player in case another player gets injured, then the referee will issue a 4-minute penalty, more like a back-to-back two 2-minutes penalty. And if there is a goal by the other team, then the first penalty will expire immediately, and he has to sit for the subsequent 2-minute penalty.

Bench minor also comes under minor penalty. It associates with the non-playing players sitting at the bench and the coaching personnel. It happens when there is some un-sportsmanship action like verbal abuse by these players or coaches and if there are too many people on the ice. The coach can assign a player of his own choice to receive a penalty.

Minor penalties are the most common in a hockey match and are less severe. A list of common minor penalties are slashing, boarding, elbowing, roughing, holding, charging, cross-checking, game delay, interference, head contact, obstruction, kneeing, stick holding, hooking, tripping, unsportsmanlike action, and high-sticking.

5-Minute Major Penalty

A significant penalty is called on a player when there is some severe infraction of rules, and the offending player has a clear intention to make another player down. A strict 5-minute penalty is received on a player. A player must complete his total 5-minute penalty no matter how many times the other team scores. As a result, the offending player’s team will become short-handed for the whole 5-minutes, giving another team a massive opportunity in the shape of a power play.

In case a player receives a 5-minute major penalty and minor penalty simultaneously, then the major penalty has to be served first, followed by the 2-minute minor penalty. Hence a total of 7-minute penalty a player has to fulfill.

The single case when both teams remain equal to one another even after the major penalty is when both teams come under a major penalty. Then, both major penalties will cut out each other as they will be substituted for another player turning both teams again 5v5, and both penalty players will have to sit in the box for 5 minutes.

Major penalty mostly happens for fighting. Some major penalties are listed: fighting, butt-ending, facemask grasping, spearing, pushing off the opponent, fight-instigator, and bench leaving during the altercation.

10-Minute Misconduct Penalty

A misconduct penalty is called on when a player does misconduct, such as verbally abusing an official. A misconduct penalty is considered more severe than a major penalty as it makes a player sit in the penalty box for 10 minutes straight. Even after the penalty expiry, he is not allowed to leave the penalty box until a stoppage of play. It is because the misconduct penalty doesn’t cause a power play. Instead, another player will substitute for him and play on the ice. Misconduct penalties are stiff but won’t warrant a direct game ejection.

Match Penalty

A match penalty is the most extreme form of all penalties as it directly ejects a player from the game, and a player must head to the dressing room. Whether there are 2 minutes or an hour left, the player must leave the game.

A match penalty is called on a player who has a clear intention to make another player injured harshly or makes an apparent attempt to injure him. When a match penalty is received, not only a player has to leave a game, but his team also has to play short-handed because another player will serve a 5-minute penalty and is not allowed to return if the other team scores a goal, similar to a major penalty.

However, depending on some leagues, this 5-minute penalty doesn’t require sitting a player in a penalty box at the start of the penalty. The team can put a player in the penalty box after the game stoppage. If they haven’t put any player until the game stoppage in the penalty box, they cannot place a player to skate on the ice until the next stoppage.

The referee in the game reports the details of each penalty to the NHL management. So, the NHL will determine whether further suspension or fines should be charged to him or not based on the deadliness of action.

Penalty Shot

The penalty shot is one of the game’s most exciting and sensational parts. It’s a one vs. one game, a competition between one player and a goalie. Sometimes, the referee gives a penalty shot instead of conducting a 2-minute minor penalty. It happens when any means of action impedes a clear goal score to take away the scoring chance. This can be done sometimes from behind or when there is an intentional dislodge of the net to avoid a goal and, of course, in some other cases.

So a penalty shot is there to compensate for that chance as there will be no hindrance between a penalty shot-taking player and a goalie, and he has a direct way towards a net to shoot the puck.   

  • A penalty shot cannot be down in favor of a power play.
  • A penalty shot gives a 33% score for a team versus 18% on a power play. 
  • A penalized player will not receive a 2-minute penalty on personal stats.

Delayed Penalty

A delayed penalty is not called on immediately but instead can be delayed. You will see a referee raise his hand, indicating that a play will continue despite the penalty that has occurred. The game will not be stopped unless the penalized team touches the puck. During a delayed penalty, the team that is not penalized will get his goaltender as an extra attacker knowing that the game will be stopped if penalized team touches the puck. This makes the match scene six vs. five an uneven match.

If a goal is scored during the delayed penalty, it will cancel the penalty and not count. If not, a player must sit in the penalty box after the game stoppage.

Frequently Asked Questions

What happens when more than one player gets penalized in the same team?

As it’s a rule, a team will not have players less than three on the ice. So in case the team already has three skaters on the ice, then a player will have to go to the penalty box and sit for the designated time of the penalty, but that player’s penalty will start when one of the previous penalties has ended.

Does the penalty happen at the end and continue to the next period?

Yes, a penalty will surely continue in the next period if it happens at the end.
Consider it as if the player does a 2-minute penalty when only 1 minute is left in the period ending. Then he will serve 1-minute in that period and the remaining 1-minute in the next period.

What is a coincidental penalty?

It is the case when both teams come under a minor penalty at the same game stoppage, which results in 4 vs. 4 on the ice. This differs from the major penalty in which one player substitutes for them to make them 5 vs. 5 on the ice.


In conclusion, penalties bring a player into trouble. The more severe the penalty, the more powerful the punishment. These are critical moments of the game when a player has to decide quickly in split seconds and takes rash action. And they are left with no choice.

Sometimes they do it deliberately as a strategic game as long as it is a minor penalty. But in some cases, luck is not on their side, and they fall to a disadvantage, making the game difficult for their team. Hence, each penalty type has its consequence, and one has to take responsibility for either making the game trickier for their team or doing it as a strategic part of the game.

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