Ice hockey is a team sport that is played in an ice rink. It originated…
Anyone who has ever seen a hockey game will be forgiven for wondering whether fighting is allowed in hockey—it certainly seems like it is.
While fighting isn’t technically allowed in hockey, it is accepted that it happens, and therefore there are extensive regulations in place to protect players and dole out appropriate consequences without causing too much disruption to the gameplay.
Let’s take a look at what exactly those regulations are when it comes to professional hockey in North America so that you can better understand what exactly is happening when a fight breaks out on the rink.
We’ll look at both the penalties that affect the game, and the resulting suspensions and fines that may impact the player and their team for the rest of the season.
But wait, if it is technically against the rules, why is fighting allowed in hockey?
Part of the reason that fighting is accepted is that it is historic, and it is considered part of “the code” of the players that lets them self-regulate. If someone throws an elbow or hits you from behind, you are within your rights to retaliate and sort out the situation. The idea is that other players will think twice about using underhanded tactics if they know they could receive a punch in the face for it.
Another reason is that fans love a good fight. So, letting the players battle it out for a minute is good for the fan base, and therefore good for revenues.
Finally, letting the players deal with issues and get aggression out of their system when incidents happen can prevent worse behavior and escalation. If a player had no immediate way to retaliate for a sly elbow in the face, they may do so a few minutes later with an even more dangerous, quiet attack.
This is why Rule 46 exists, which gives referees quite a bit of freedom to manage fighting on their rink.
There are lots of technical details when it comes to managing fights in hockey, depending on the individual situation, and we’ll get into those. But let’s start with the big picture stuff.
Hockey players are within their rights to drop their gloves and fight if they get into a dispute during a hockey game.
The rules also state that neither player may use their stick as a weapon during the fight. They are also not allowed to use their skate to kick an opponent. Unsportsmanlike behavior such as biting and eye-gouging is also not allowed and severely punished.
Fights usually happen when one player uses an underhanded tactic to cover the other during gameplay, or when the verbal abuse between players—common in most sports—crosses a certain line.
When a fight breaks out, the referee will stop gameplay with a whistle. All other players should leave the ice and go to the players’ bench, and the referee will position themselves in the referee’s crease.
The fight continues until one of the players hits the ice, or the referee deems that the fight needs to end.
The referee will never allow multiple fights to occur on the ice at the same time. Players who try to leave the bench and join in a fight that is happening on the ice automatically receive a 10-match suspension to severely discourage this type of behavior.
When the fight is over, it is time to deal with the consequences, which requires identifying the instigator and aggressor of the fight.
The instigator is the person who started the fight, either physically or verbally, as determined by the referee. They receive a minor penalty, a major penalty, and a misconduct penalty. One player is always determined to be the instigator.
The aggressor is the person who throws pouches at a player who does not want to fight, and they receive a major penalty and a misconduct penalty. There is not always an aggressor in the fight, as this is usually assigned when a player continues to fight when the other is no longer able to retaliate.
It is possible that a single player can be deemed to be both the instigator and the aggressor.
As well these principal penalties, the referee can prescribe a range of other penalties for fight-related conduct such as:
Check out our complete guide to the rules of ice hockey here.
Well, the most common type of penalty is the instigator penalty, for which the player receives a major penalty, a minor penalty, and a game misconduct penalty.
The major penalty sends the player to the penalty box for an initial period of five minutes. This gives the other team a power play advantage, and the player may not leave the penalty box until the five minutes are up.
After this, they must serve a two-minute minor penalty. This means they must stay in the box, but if the other team scores during this period of the power play, they may leave the box.
But on top of this, they receive a misconduct penalty, which means they must leave the ice for 10 minutes, but a substitute can be sent on in their place. This means they will not be the one serving the time in the penalty box. The substitute that comes on will need to wait in the box through the penalties until they are allowed to join the play.
If the instigator is also determined to be the aggressor, then they also receive a game misconduct penalty and must leave the ice for the rest of the game, though a substitute can be sent in their place.
The goalie never goes to the penalty box. While a goalie might incur an infraction, an alternative team member will serve their time in the penalty box rather than leaving the team without a goalie on the ice.
While fighting has consequences for gameplay, it also has consequences for the individual players in terms of their playing season. For this purpose, penalties are cumulative over the course of the season.
This is why a player that is determined to be both the instigator and the aggressor receives both a misconduct penalty and a game misconduct penalty, even though one overrides the other (having to leave the ice for the duration of the game overrides the 10-minute expulsion). These stats are needed for the cumulative assessment.
If a player instigates a fight during the last five minutes of regulation time, or during overtime, even if it is their first fight of the game, in addition to the in-game penalty they will receive a one-game suspension, and the player’s coach is fined $10,000.
Both the suspension and the fine double for every subsequent incident during this time.
Players also start to accumulate suspensions when they are deemed to be the instigator or the aggressor of a fight for the third time during a regular season.
When they are deemed to have committed a third offense, they are suspended from the next two games of the regular season. When they are deemed to have committed a fourth offense, they are suspended for the next four games of the season. If they commit a fifth offense, then they are suspended for the next six games.
During the playoffs, rules tighten up, and players who commit a second offense are suspended from the next playoff game. Their suspension increases by one game for every subsequent offense.
Any time that players engage in fighting off the ice, the team receives a fine of $25,000, and the player is automatically suspended for 10 games.
While fighting is tolerated in adult hockey as an essential part of the game, fights are not tolerated in junior hockey for the safety of the young players. Referees will not allow any fighting on or off the ice when players are under 16 years of age.
To learn more, check out our ultimate hockey guide for parents of new players.
Hockey players do not automatically receive fines for being involved in a fight. However, the league will impose fines for behavior considered to be particularly dangerous. For example, in 2018-2019:
There was a total of just over $100,000 in fines for all players across the course of the season.
The team also receives an automatic $10,000 fine for players who initiate fights during the last five minutes of gameplay or during overtime, and a $25,000 fine for any players who fight while off the ice.
Hockey players must drop their gloves before fighting, as the materials in the gloves designed to protect their hands are deemed to do more damage to the other player than bare fists.
Hockey players are not allowed to use any of their equipment as weapons during a fight. For example, they are not allowed to hit other players with their stick, or kick other players with their skate.
Doing so results in a match penalty that sees the player expelled from the ice for the rest of the game. The substitute player who comes on must spend five minutes in the penalty box before joining the game.
While technically not allowed, fighting between players has always been a core part of ice hockey. It has been a way for players to self-regulate since the early days of the game, with players knowing that underhanded tactics will be dealt with using fisticuffs.
While referees now deal with low blows during gameplay, they still allow fights on the ice. This is, firstly, because the fans love it, so it is part of what keeps the game popular. Secondly, it lets players deal with aggression immediately, rather than letting things fester and potentially resulting in an even worse escalation of violence.
There are strict regulations of penalties, fines, and suspensions that control fighting on the ice and ensure the safety of the players, the continuity of gameplay, and that teams don’t bully their way to the top of the table.
Anyone who instigates a fight can expect to be sent to the locker room for 10 minutes. Their substitute will have to pass a five-minute major penalty in the penalty box and then a two-minute minor penalty, which gives the other team a power play advantage.
While a single incident of fighting doesn’t usually have dire consequences for the player of the team, unless it happens during the last five minutes of play or overtime, repeatedly starting fights throughout the season results in fines and suspensions.
What do you think of fighting in hockey? Is it an essential part of the game?