Immediate Substitution

The rule for canceling penalties, or coincidental penalties as it is sometimes called, was put in place for minor hockey in order to give more players an opportunity to get ice time. It was found that there were many undisciplined players taking unnecessary penalties, and all it did was force their team to play short-handed and reduce the ice-time of those who were following the rules. By the time the two-minute minor had expired, the penalized player often simply came out of the box and took a regular shift with his usual linemates. In fact, it became a place to rest in between shifts for some players. The rule which applies to coincidental minor penalties is designed to penalize players from each team who insist on roughing after the whistle or who have been send to the box during the same stoppage of play by the referee. Now they sit in the box serving their penalty and the rest of the team gets to play at full strength, allowing all players to take a regular shift.

Under the rule, when one player from each team is given a minor penalty during the same stoppage of play, the on-ice strength stays at five skaters against five.  This is what makes minor hockey different from the OHL or the NHL where the on ice strength would go to 4 on 4 in the same situation, thus allowing for more room on the ice to skate.

Minor hockey is the development stage of hockey. The more ice-time we can give to young players, the better. By allowing immediate substation of penalized players when there are coincidental penalties, it means that other players do not have to suffer the consequences of the actions of their teammates who insist on breaking the rules.

Keep in mind that if one player from each team receives a Minor penalty on the same stoppage of play, each would go to his respective penalty box area and serve the entire 2:00 minutes of penalty time before being allowed to return. In addition, the players must wait for the first stoppage of play after the 2:00 minutes are up before leaving the penalty box. On many occasions, this turns a 2 minute penalty into 3 or longer. 


Have you ever wondered how referees decide which players come out of the penalty box when a penalty on the time clock expires?  Especially when there is a stream of players from each team that go to the penalty box during the same stoppage of play. 

It is not our intention to go into all of the possible examples that can occur in a hockey game, since that would take an entire book itself. You can well imagine that as you get into the higher, more competitive levels, there are situations where a major scuffle on the ice can result in several players from each side going to the penalty box. When that happens, the game usually experiences a delay as the referee goes through a procedure known at ‘MOTO’.

‘MOTO’ is a procedure which deals with multiple penalties in the following manner:

First, the referee will cancel as MANY penalties as possible. This means that he will match as many minor penalties to players on both sides as possible so that at the end if one team has an extra two minor penalties, that team will be the one shorthanded.

     Secondly, the referee will cancel the penalties in a way to make the team only ONE player short. For example, if the team has two extra minor penalties, and one of the players was given a double-minor, the referee will make the one player serve his double-minor so that his team will serve the four extra minutes only one man short instead of serving two minutes in a two-man shorthanded situation.

Third, he will cancel the penalties in a way to avoid TAKING an extra player off the ice. The above example explains how this is done.

Finally, he will cancel the penalties in the ORDER of occurrence or in the order that they were reported by the referee. For example, as the action is happening on the ice, the referee is noting players to whom to assess penalties. He will make sure that if any of the players have their penalties cancelled, it will be the players who were receiving the first of the penalties. This is done so that the players who must then serve the “time penalties” will be the first players to return to the ice in the case of the opposing team scoring a power play goal and wiping out the shorthanded penalty.

For most fans and coaches, the above explanation is all you have to know. When it comes to an actual situation, only the referee can do the calculations at the penalty box and he will make sure that when everything is said and done, the proper result will be in place. This is another important point to remember for players who find themselves involved in a large scrum around the net after the whistle. If the other team has already been assessed a couple of penalties, don’t stay around and try to get in one last push or shove. It is far better for the referee to bring the exact number of players with the exact number of penalties to the box. Everything cancels out and things quickly return to normal. However, referees also like to make sure that the team which started the commotion ends up penalized, so it is not uncommon to see a number of players go to the box and one of the teams end up with a power play for two minutes. The best advice – after the whistle, get out of the play and either go to the bench or get ready for the next face off.

For those of you who like challenges, consider the following example.

#7 from Team A receives a 5 minute major;

#8 from Team A receives a 2 minute minor;

#2 from Team B receives two minor penalties;

All of this occurs at the 8:25 minute mark.

In this example team “A” has a total of 7 minutes in penalties and team “B” has 4 minutes in penalties, therefore team “B” should end up with a total of 3 power play minutes out of this stoppage of play.

Now that the referee has determined the total amount of power play time (if any) that one team will receive, he can use this number to double check after he is done canceling his penalties.  The referee now starts to cancel as Many penalties as possible.  Since team “A” has less minor penalties than team “B”, team “A” will have all their minor penalties cancelled out. 

A8 in this instance will have his minor penalty cancelled and he will be required to sit in the penalty box until the 6:25 minute mark but he must also wait for a whistle after this time before he can jump on the ice.  If A8 was to jump on the ice at the 6:25 mark then their team will have too many men on the ice and will be assessed another penalty.

One of the minor penalties assessed to B2 will be cancelled with A8.  This leaves B2 with 2 minutes left of his penalty time to serve.  The referee has cancelled as many minor penalties as he possibly can since there is no more minor penalties on the team “A” side to cancel.  The referee will now look at canceling the major penalties assessed on the play.  Since team “B” does not have a major penalty, team “A’s” major penalty will have to be served on the penalty time clock.

The referee has now cancelled as many penalties as possible and thus he has completed the ‘M’ in MOTO.  Now he moves on to the next ‘O’ (make the team only One player short).  In this situation all we have left for penalties looks like this:

A7 – 5  B2 – 2              8:25

Since these two penalties cannot cancel and there is only one player from each team that will be serving penalties, this ‘O’ in the MOTO has been satisfied.  You also see that there is a total of 3 minutes of power play time for team “A” as was stated before would occur if you cancelled the penalties properly.

Next is the ‘T’ (avoid Taking another player off the ice).  B2 has two minor penalties and one of these minor penalties has been cancelled with A8.  There is now one minor penalty to be served but B2 cannot jump out of the penalty box after these two minutes because he was assessed 4 minutes in penalties.  Therefore, the referee has no choice but to take a player that was on the ice when the play was stopped at the 8:25 minute mark and put him in the penalty box to serve the extra two minutes assessed to B2.

The reason why a player is taken off the ice is because no team can return to full strength after serving a penalty unless a player comes off of the penalty bench.  So if team “B” did not put a player in the penalty box to serve the 2:00 minute penalty on the time clock, then once this penalty expires at the 6:25 mark, the team would be required to stay at 4 skaters and not 5 because they can’t throw a player on the ice from the players’ bench.

The last ‘O’ in the MOTO requires a referee to cancel using the Order of occurrence.  This is only pertinent if after canceling your penalties you still have two or more minor penalties to one team or if you have two or more major penalties to one team and only one minor or one major penalty to the other team.  Then you would cancel using the order of occurrence of these penalties.  The first of these penalties reported to the penalty timekeeper is cancelled under this ‘O’ in the MOTO.

Major + Minor To One Player

You will seldom see a major penalty given to a Minor Hockey player, however, it is important that you at least be given some idea of how these kinds of penalties are dealt with by officials.

When a player is assessed both a Minor and Major penalty at the same time, the Major penalty is the one that is to  be served first.  This is the same for a Minor and a Match penalty. Therefore, the five minute penalty is served first with no substitution if a goal is scored, followed by the minor penalty.

However, when a Major penalty and a Minor penalty are assessed at the same time against two different players of the same team, the Penalty Timekeeper shall record the Minor as being the first penalty assessed.

The above rules tie in together and are crucial for the canceling of penalties when a goal is scored against a short-handed team.  The best way to look at these rules is to look at an example,

A5 – 5 + 2 + GM                  7:15

B Scores at the 4:15 mark

B Scores again at the 1:50 mark

In this example, team “A” number 5 was assessed a major penalty, minor penalty, plus a Game Misconduct.  The team would be required to take a player who was on the ice when the play stopped at 7:15 and put him in the penalty box to serve the 7 minutes.  The Major penalty is to be served first and the minor penalty second.  So when team “B” scored a goal at the 4:15 mark of the period, there was only 3:00 minutes expired out of the major penalty.  The result is that no time is taken off of the original 7 minute penalty and the team stays short-handed for 4 more minutes (pending on a goal scored in the last two minutes of the penalty).

Now team “B” scores at the 1:50 mark of the same period.  Does the player serving A5’s penalty come onto the ice?  Yes, because the original Major penalty expired at the 2:15 mark and the minor penalty commenced at that time.  So when team “B” scored at the 1:50 mark of the period, team “A” was serving a Minor penalty and thus the penalty would be cancelled upon the scoring of the goal and the teams would resume play at 5 skaters on 5 skaters.

Now, consider what would happen in the following situation? Team A’s #2 is assessed a Major plus a Game Misconduct for Slashing.  Team A’s #7 is assessed a Minor penalty for roughing at the same stoppage of play. Both penalties happened at the 6:00 minute mark of the second period.  Team “B” scores a goal at the 4:25 minute mark of the second period.

Here is what it would look like to a referee,

A7 – 2                          6:00

A2 – 5 + GM                6:00

B Scores  at the 4:25 mark

Notice how A7’s penalty is recorded first.  This is because according to the rule, the Minor penalty is to be recorded first.

Upon the scoring of a goal by team “B” at the 4:25 mark of the second period, A7 would return to the ice because there is still 25 seconds left in his minor penalty. 

What Do Referees Ask Themselves?

There are two questions that a referee asks himself when a goal is scored against a team.

1) Was the team scored against playing short-handed when the goal was scored?

2) Is the team serving a minor penalty?

If after asking himself these questions the answer is “Yes” to both, then a player from the team scored on would return to the ice. However there is always a tricky situation in the game of hockey that arises with every rule.

Lets look at the following situation:

A3 – 2 + 2                    6:30

A8 – 2                          6:00

B Scores at the 5:00 mark.

When team “B” scores at the 5:00 minute mark the referee asks himself the above two questions and in this instance the answer is “Yes” to both questions.  However, most people would assume that A8 would return to the ice because this makes the on ice strength go from 5 on 3 to 5 on 4. But like it was stated above, hockey is never as simple as it seems.  In this case the first minor penalty to A3 would cancel out because of “ORDER OF OCCURRENCE”.  A3 would start his second minor penalty at the 5:00 minute mark and would return to the ice at the 3:00 minute mark assuming no goals were scored during the next two minutes.

But what happens if a goal is scored by team “B” 30 seconds later at the 4:30 mark.  What player do you think should be allowed to come on the ice?  If your answer is A3 because he was assessed the penalties first, you are wrong.  You must remember that in this situation A8’s penalty started at the 6:00 minute mark and at the scoring of the goal he only had 30 seconds left in his penalty.  As for A3, his second minor penalty started at the 5:00 minute mark so he still has 1:30 left on the clock.  Since A8 has less time to serve on his penalty, he would return to the ice bringing the on ice strength to 5 on 4.  A3 would still be required to serve the remaining 1:30 of his penalty unless another goal is scored against team “A” during the next minute and a half, at which time A3 would return to the ice.

As always, keep in mind that no matter what level of play you are watching, these rules apply. So imagine how difficult it must be for a young 15 year old referee who is trying to figure out how to sort things out while coaches, fans and players are all pressuring him and shouting abusive comments. It’s hard enough to manage the game itself without having to remember all of the complex rules in the book – many of which may only come up once every couple of years.

Three players in the penalty box at the same time

Now let’s deal with situations when a team is assessed three or more time penalties (penalties that will be shown on the clock thus placing that team short handed for a period of time).  This doesn’t occur on too many instances, especially at the lower hockey levels where there are less penalties assessed, but as the age of the players increase and the players learn to use body checking and their sticks as weapons, you may see some games where there are more than two players from one team that are sitting in the box with their penalty time either up on the clock or waiting to be put up on the clock once there is room.

In hockey, no team will ever play with less than three players on the ice at any time during a hockey game.  Some hockey tournaments may have different playing rules such as overtimes of 1:00 minute duration where each overtime period will see the removal of one player from each team, thus you can theoretically have a 1 on 1 situation, but for Minor Hockey games sanctioned under the Canadian Hockey Association, there will never be less than three players (skaters) on the ice due to penalties.

The best way to show how this type of situation works is to show you how referees process the information in order to make sure that the right penalty is up on the clock and that no players return before they are allowed.

Delayed Penalty Situation

Player #























1st stoppage of






play after 3:30

In situations such as the one above, it is very helpful for referees and timekeepers to write this type of a chart down.  It allows them to see just when the players will return to the ice providing there are no whistles between the 6:00 minute mark (when A 66 was assessed the penalty) and the 3:30 mark (when A-66’s penalty will expire and A-3 will return to the ice).

Stoppage of Play Before Second Penalty Expires

If however there is a whistle, at for example the 5:15 mark, then this would happen. Since A-12’s penalty has expired, but there are still two penalty times on the clock, A-12 can now return to the ice, but team “A” will still be playing with three players as player A-3 still has 0:15 left is his penalty and A-66 still has 1:15 left to serve in his time penalty. Now assuming there are no goals scored or there are no whistles for the next 1:15, players A-3 and A-66 will return to the ice once their penalties expire.

Goal Scored Before First Player’s Penalty Expires

The same would occur if a goal is scored at for example the 5:45 mark.  Since a goal was scored against team “A” that is currently short handed, one of the penalties will be cancelled and that player will be allowed to return to the ice.  Order of occurrence is crucial in determining which player returns to the ice and since A-12 was assessed a penalty first out of the three players, he will return to the ice.  Since A-66’s penalty can’t start until A-12’s penalty expires, the penalty to A-66 will now start at the 5:45 mark and assuming that there are no goals scored for the next two minutes, A-66 will return to the ice at 3:45.

As you can see, when there are a number of players serving time penalties it can become confusing, but the main thing to remember is that regardless of goals or whistles (stoppages of play): The first player to be assessed a penalty will be the first player to return to the ice in all situations.

Major, Match penalty substitution on the penalty bench

Since Major and Match penalties carry with them a 5:00 minute time penalty that has to be served by a player from the offending team, there tends to be some confusion when such a penalty is assessed. Whereas almost all Major penalties at the Minor Hockey level carry a Game Misconduct penalty, the player actually guilty of such a penalty will be removed from the game and a total of 5:00 minutes will be placed up on the penalty clock. Another player from his team will be required to serve the entire 5:00 minutes (remember that the 5:00 minute Major penalty will not be cancelled when goals are scored against the penalized team).

The same holds true for Match Penalties. The Match penalty carries a 5:00 minute time penalty plus an automatic removal from the game for the penalized player and therefore a substitute is needed on the penalty bench.

Many people feel that it is unfair to have to make a player sit in the box for five minutes for something that a team mate has done. However, since the rules do not allow you to return to full strength from the “Player’s Bench”, when a penalty expires, the only way that the penalized team can place another player on the ice is from the “Penalty Bench”. This is why a player is required to serve the 5:00 minute penalty in the penalty box. So that when the time expires the team is allowed to return to full strength immediately. Otherwise, they would have to wait for the first stoppage of play to do so and that may be another full minute or longer.

Other League Interpretations

Some High School, Major Junior and Professional leagues have a different substitution rule when a Major Penalty is assessed to a team.  In some of these leagues a team is not required to place a player in the penalty box.

For instance, when a team is assessed a Major penalty the player guilty of this penalty is usually ejected from the game and now there is a 5:00 minute time penalty up on the clock against the team of the penalized player.  This team is not required to place someone in the penalty box right away but must have a player in the penalty box prior to its expiry or else the team will be required to remain short handed even after the penalty has expired because they are not allowed to return to full strength unless a player returns to the ice from the Penalty Bench.  Teams usually place a player in the penalty bench on a stoppage of play with 1:30 – 2:00 minutes remaining in the penalty because they also cannot place a player in the penalty bench unless it is done on a stoppage of play.  They do it at this time because they don’t know if there will be another whistle before the penalty expires.

Penalty On Delay

Another rule which causes grief for referees is the one which deals with the calling of a penalty when a team is already shorthanded to begin with. A few years ago this rule was changed and it is taking some oldtimers a long time to understand the changes.

Old Ruling

The old rule was that when a Referee had a penalty on delay (arm up in the air waiting to blow the whistle once the offending team gains possession and control of the puck) and the non-offending team scored a goal, the scoring of this goal would cancel out the penalty that the referee was about to assess.  All penalties that were currently on the clock to the offending team would stay up on the clock and play would resume as if there was no penalty on delay and the goal would count.

New Ruling

The new rule is that when a team is serving a Minor or Bench Minor penalty (2:00 time penalty) and they are about to be assessed another penalty by the referee, when a goal is scored by the non-offending team during the delayed penalty signal by the referee, the original penalty that is currently up on the clock will be taken off or cancelled and the penalty that is about to be assessed by the referee will be served in its entirety.


A-4 is serving a Minor penalty for Slashing and he has 0:20 left in his penalty when the other team scores a goal.  The only complicating factor is that the referee was going to assess another Minor penalty to A-7 for Roughing before the goal was scored.  The scoring of the goal will cancel the 0:20 remaining to A-4 as would normally occur and now A-7 will have to serve his 2:00 minute penalty for Roughing. 


The reason for this is that teams were being let off the hook for committing penalties.  Why should a player who is about to be assess a 2:00 minute minor penalty not have to serve it?  In the previous example, team “A” was gaining an advantage of 1:40 of not having to kill a penalty because even though they were scored on, the old rule said that all they have to serve is the remaining 0:20 in A-4’s penalty.

This new rule makes teams and players more accountable for their actions by making them serve the entire penalty.