Cross-checking has become too common an occurrence in minor hockey today. A cross-check occurs when a player holds his stick with one hand up by the butt-end of the stick and then slides his other hand farther down the shaft of the stick thus creating a space of about two or three feet between hands. You will notice two or three feet of exposed stick with which to make contact with an opponent.

Now that the stick is exposed between the hands, the player will take his stick with his arms bent (stick close to his body) and thrust the stick forward (extending the arms) towards an opponent, making contact on any part of his body.

As with other penalty situations, a referee must consider a number of different things when making a determination with respect to calling or not calling a crosschecking.


The location of the stick contacting the opponent’s body is the crucial determining factor for crosschecking.  Since the player has both hands spread apart on the stick it is very difficult to cross check an opponent below the waist as the player would have to bend over or be on the ice to crosscheck a person in this area.  Therefore, it is safe to say that a crosscheck will normally occur in the upper body region of an opponent’s body.

The upper body of a hockey player is fairly well protected with the exception of a few areas.  The areas that are not protected by equipment are the lower back between the tip of the pants and the bottom of the shoulder pads, under the biceps closest to the body, the armpit area, and the side of the rib cage.  Another area is the back of the neck because even though players wear neck guards, there is very little protection from this little piece of equipment in the back of the neck.  The final area of vulnerability is between the top of the glove and the elbow pad. 

All of these areas have little or no protection from equipment, therefore if a player cross-checks an opponent in these areas with enough force there will most likely be a penalty called if the referee is able to see the infraction.


Even though the crosscheck may have contacted an opponent in one of the vulnerable areas, this does not necessarily mean that a penalty will be called. You must remember that referees will let minor impacts go unpenalized if they feel that this impact will have no effect on the outcome of the game.  Therefore, if a defenseman who is standing in front of his net cross-checks an opponent in the lower back, but it is with little jabs that are hardly causing the opponent to even budge, then there will likely be no penalty assessed.  However, if the defenseman was to really thrust the stick forward with a moderate to severe amount of force that struck the opponent in the lower back causing this player to fall to the ice, then the chances of a penalty being assessed will increase tenfold.  This doesn’t mean that a penalty will be called, but the chances of it being called increase.

As was mentioned before, there are game management principles that always come into the equation of whether or not a penalty will be assessed. These include such things as score, time remaining in the game, momentum, emotions, number of penalties called thus far, even strength or short handed, etc. We will not debate the merits of whether or not referees should be calling by the book at all times. Many people argue that a penalty is a penalty and every time an infraction occurs, it should be called. The reality is that this will never happen, and if referees ever did call “everything” by the book, there would be uproar from the fans, coaches and players. The rulebook has been created as a pretty comprehensive guide, and most hockey administrators and associations state publicly that it the rules are there to be enforced, but no one likes to watch a hockey game in which there is a steady stream of players going to the penalty box for seemingly “minor” infractions. To give a perfectly good analogy, one mile per hour over the speed limit is technically speeding. Yet very few people would expect a police officer to pull over every driver who was one mile per hour over the limit and hand out a ticket. A similar situation occurs in hockey and this is where judgment comes into play. The more experienced the referee, the better the judgment – usually.


“Any player who strikes an opponent above the normal height of his shoulders with a cross-check shall incur a Major penalty and a Game Misconduct penalty, whether or not injury results.”

Although this rule sounds fairly straight forward it still isn’t called by the book.  Almost 99% of hockey rules are not called by the book because hockey would be a terrible sport to play and watch if it was done this way.

In recent years there has been an increasing tendency for players to deliver a crosscheck to the head of opposing players. Referees have been advised to deal with this type of infraction harshly, with no room for leniency. It can be called many things, including intent to injure, head checking or high sticking. In any event, when there is intent and force applied to the opponent’s head, serious injuries can occur.  Because intent is entirely a judgment call on the part of the official who cannot read minds, he must usually determine intent by the force applied. The force of the crosscheck is easy to determine because if the force is severe then you are likely to see the head snap in the opposite direction of the crosscheck and sometimes the sound of the stick contacting the helmet can reflect on the severity of the crosscheck. 

The intent can easily be determined by looking at how the player approaches the check.  If the player wanted to throw a crosscheck at the shoulder or chest, then the stick will most likely contact the chest before riding up and contacting the neck or head.  This will not usually be deserving of a Major plus a Game Misconduct because the intent was not to contact the head.  It was a side effect of the original crosscheck.  It may be called a minor penalty, but a Major plus a Game Misconduct is out of the question for the majority of these types of infractions.

If however the player threw the cross-check and it went straight at the head of an opponent with enough force that there is a potential for injury, then you may see the automatic Major plus a GM called in this situation because the referee can now determine that the intent was to make contact with the head first.

The referee can always upgrade the call to a Match Penalty if he feels there was deliberate intent, not only to strike the head, but also to injure the opponent.


Some people think that goalies should be “Fair Play”, meaning that players should be allowed to check any goalie that comes outside his crease.  The goalies are protected by their teammates and also by some very strict rules that apply whether the goalie is in the crease or wandering outside the crease. However, the rules are even stricter if the goalie is located inside the crease area and gets checked by an opponent.

When a goalie gets cross-checked while located inside his crease, the referee is asked to call a major and game misconduct penalty, but this call is not always made simply because a referee usually knows what lead up to the infraction.

 For instance, if a goalie is slashing an opponent, who is screening him in the front of the crease, and this opponent turns around and cross-checks the goalie, there is a minimal chance that the opponent will be assessed a Major + GM. He will likely be given a minor penalty for goaltender interference. And don’t for a moment think that the goalie will be let off the hook.  Any goalie that instigates an infraction or situation will also be assessed a penalty. In this situation the goalie would most likely receive a minor penalty for slashing and a player from the ice would have to go to the penalty box to serve the minor penalty assessed to the goalie.

The rules are in place to protect the goalie from being contacted and thus help prevent fights or brawls that tend to occur after a goalie is run over.  Cross-checks that occur on goalies when the cross-checker is standing still or moving at a slow pace will most likely be called a Minor penalty instead of the automatic Major + GM that is supposed to be called as per the rule book.  The infractions that lead towards a Major + GM being called are when a player takes a run at the goalie and cross-checks the goalie with enough force to either send him falling to the ice or into the net.  It is the type of infraction that leads to an ensuing scrum or fight that will be deserving of a Major + Game Misconduct, as this will send a stronger message to both teams that the referee will not put up with any cheap shots on the goalies.


Cross-checking, although it looks fairly simple, will only be called when there is enough force that can cause an opponent to either lose his balance, change direction, or be injured.  Along with the force applied, a referee looks at where the stick actually contacted the player as well.  If the stick contacts a vulnerable area on the body (area with minimal or no protection) then there is a greater chance of a penalty being assessed than if a cross check hits a player in the shoulder pad.