Stick infractions are obviously penalties that involve the use of a player or goalie’s stick in a manner that is outside of the rules of hockey.  Some stick infractions are more serious than others, with real potential of causing injury, while others are mostly annoying, defensive measures to slow down or impede opponents. Many hockey associations in Canada and the United States have taken a proactive approach to curbing the illegal use of sticks by adopting a policy whereby a player will be ejected from the game upon incurring his third or fourth stick infraction. This differs from place to place, so you will have to find out what the policy is in your area.

Because of the fact that stick infractions may result in removal of a player from a game, it has now become increasingly important for referees to be more careful when defining an infraction that may involve a stick. This is a point which must be emphasized. If your hockey association has adopted the policy of removing a player from a game after a specific number of stick infractions, the referee must be extremely careful in making his call. In the past, it wasn’t important if he called hooking or high sticking, as long as he called the penalty. Now, it could make a big difference in the outcome of  a game if a player is ejected in the latter stages of a contest because the referee was not careful in how he identified an earlier infraction.

For example, a “Hooking or Tripping” penalty is one where a player uses his stick to slow down an opponent by using the blade of the stick to hook either across the chest, stomach, leg or arm. However, for the purpose of the “Game Ejection” policy a ‘Hooking’ penalty does not come under this classification.

There are five infractions which are generally accepted as falling under the “Game Ejection” category. They are high sticking; slashing; crosschecking; spearing; and butt-ending. 





High sticks have become a common occurrence in the game of hockey in recent years.  This is especially evident at the Minor Hockey Level, where players are required to wear full face masks to protect against injury to this area of the body. 

An unfortunate consequence of this protection is that, from a very young age,  minor hockey players go through their development stage believing that a high stick to the head will not hurt because they have a full-face mask on.  When these young children move up into the Junior ranks and play with half visors, they are so accustomed to having their sticks high up in the air and flailing all over the place that there are some serious injuries to the faces of Junior players.

The goal is to teach players to get into the habit of keeping their sticks down when they are young. If we are unsuccessful in accomplishing this goal, we may soon see insurance companies forcing older players to wear full visors to protect against injury at that level.  The reason the full visor was brought in was to reduce the possibility of serious long-term injury to children. As medical and insurance costs increase, one of the ways of cutting down premiums is to reduce the chance of injury.

The main purpose of the High Sticking rule is in place to protect the upper regions of a person’s body, particularly the neck and head.  A penalty for High Sticking may be assessed when a player contacts an opponent anywhere in the upper chest or above.  This means that if a player is hooking an opponent up around the shoulders, the referee will likely call it a high sticking penalty, and this is one of the penalties that could lead to a game ejection. If a referee calls the infraction a “hook”, even though it is up around the shoulder, it is not counted as one of the game ejection penalties. As you can see, the “call” is very important since it could mean the loss of a player later on in the game. As well, it could mean that a player who should be ejected is allowed to remain in the game if he receives penalties for lesser infractions when he should have received one of a more serious nature.


A player may receive a Minor penalty, Major and a Game Misconduct penalty, or a Match penalty at the Minor Hockey level.  Match penalties are the most severe hits to the head with a stick and are usually easy to call because of the obvious intent to injure.


Minor penalties are the most commonly called High Sticking penalties largely due to the fact that players in Minor hockey wear full face masks and it is difficult to injure a player’s head that has a helmet and full face mask on. 

Players sometimes use their stick to intimidate an opponent by waving the stick high around a person’s face or head. Others actually make contact accidentally, or intentionally to a player’s shoulder or head area. Both of these infractions should be called high-sticking and result in a penalty to the offending player. 

EXAMPLE #1 – In Hot Pursuit!

Consider the following example.

Mario Lemieux is skating down the side of the ice surface near the boards with the puck. He is currently in the neutral zone and Marty McSorley is trying to catch him after Lemieux was able to get around.  McSorley is just a stride behind Lemieux so he starts to use his stick to lightly tap on Lemieux’s pants (around the waist).  The slashes are very light in force and are mainly a way for McSorley to let Lemieux know that he is right behind him and that he had better not cut into the middle of the ice or else he will get run over.  This is good for McSorley because Lemieux has less chance of scoring if he is near the boards as opposed to the middle of the ice.

As they continue to skate down the ice, McSorley continues to slash at Lemieux, but they are light taps or flicks against the side of Lemieux’s body.  These are more annoying than hurtful.  The only problem is that McSorley is starting to move his stick up towards Lemieux’s head.  He is now slashing Lemieux at the shoulder area and the referee is starting to warn McSorley that he had better keep his stick down.

Referees will usually yell at the players to “Watch the wood”, “Keep your stick down” or “Keep the lumber down”.  If the Referee is close to the player then he will be able to know that the player has heard him. If McSorley continues to hit Lemieux with his stick then the referee knows that McSorley is doing this not only to annoy Lemieux, but also to test the official. Officials do not like to be tested by players.  This is an important thing for young hockey players to remember. Officials like to be respected, not tested.

In this example, and in situations that can be seen numerous times in hockey rinks all across North America, the problem begins the moment McSorley starts to bring his stick up above the waist of Lemieux.  McSorley continues to tap Lemieux with his stick, but now McSorley’s stick is up around Lemieux’s shoulder. If McSorley continues to hit Lemieux at the shoulder area with light taps of the stick, he has probably a 50% chance of being penalized at this point because he has been warned by the Referee to keep his stick down.  Lets just say for this example, McSorley now accidentally hits Lemieux in the side of the face with his stick (in Minor Hockey it would have contacted the face mask).  Now McSorley probably has a 100% chance of being assessed a penalty.  This is because he has been warned by the Referee to keep his stick down and it is up to McSorley to be in complete control of his stick at all times.

Even if the Referee is not able to communicate with the player in this instance, a penalty will most likely be called because a high stick is what is called an Impact or High Risk penalty.  It is a penalty that has a greater severity of causing an injury and this type of infraction cannot be allowed to go unpenalized if the hockey game is going to flow smoothly. 

You are more likely to see a Minor penalty called if the stick of a player contacts an opponent with very little force.  The tapping or flicking of the stick with very little force will usually be called as a Minor because the chances of the player being hurt by are minimized by the lack of severity or force of the stick contacting the player’s head or shoulder area.

EXAMPLE #2 – Accidental High Sticks

Accidental high sticks are usually called minor penalties, even when the high stick injures a player.  This is because the Referee usually does not want to suspend a player for a high stick that was accidental.  An example of an accidental high stick is when a player is skating down the ice and then he decides to make a sharp turn going in the opposite direction.  This usually happens when the puck has been turned over and the play is going back the other way.

When this player makes his sharp cut back in the other direction he sometimes has his stick up in the air as a means to let his other players know that he is open and wants a pass.  The only problem with this is that there may be a player from the other team who was skating right behind him down the ice.  When the player makes his sharp turn with his stick up, the other player may have been still skating forwards and will often skate right into the stick of the player who just made his turn.

This is obviously an accidental high stick, but since the player who was hit with the high stick is still going at a fairly fast speed, it makes the high stick look worse than it actually was.  The contact is usually loud enough for everyone in the arena to hear, so it is will generally result in a penalty.  At times the contact will be rather severe due to the speed of the players, and it may even stun or slightly injure the person being struck.

Unfortunately for the referee, he will often not even see this infraction because of the fact that he is focusing on the puck carrier. He may hear the contact of the stick and see the player fall down, but he may not have witnessed the play. People in the arena will sometimes notice the referee and linesmen talking to each other during the resulting stoppage of play. It is at this point that the referee will ask the linesmen if they saw what had happened. Based on their comments, the referee will sometimes then award a minor penalty for high sticking to the guilty party. Seldom will you see a major penalty awarded for high sticking which was accidental because of the serious consequences with respect to suspensions.

Granted, it is up to the player with his stick up in the air to be in complete control of his stick, but the game of hockey is so fast that accidents do happen.  Referees don’t like to kick players out of games unless they have committed a penalty on purpose or intentionally hit an opponent with a high stick. 

Major Penalty – High Sticking

Now that you are aware of the kind of high sticking infractions that may receive a minor penalty, let’s examine what might qualify as a Major penalty. 

Major penalties at the Minor Hockey level also carry with them an automatic Game Misconduct.  Therefore, before a referee is going to kick a player out of a game he is going to make sure that the intent of the guilty player was to use excessive force, and that it was not accidental.  The Referee may also take into consideration, the area where the stick contacted the player.  If a high stick hits a player in the ear hole, the neck, or the upper back area, which are areas that are more susceptible to injury, a major penalty may be called


The following is an example of a situation that would warrant a Major penalty plus a Game Misconduct.  Jerome Iginla is standing between the hash marks up near the top of the end zone circles in his attacking zone and he is waiting for a pass to come out of the corner.  The defenseman of the defending team is leaving Iginla alone because Iginla is too far away from the front of the net to be considered an immediate threat for a goal to be scored.

After a battle in the corner, one of Iginla’s teammates gets the puck and sees Iginla standing alone in the top of the slot.  He decides to pass to Iginla, but as the pass is about to reach Iginla, the defenseman skates towards Iginla and with force, swings his stick at Iginla’s upper shoulder in hopes that this will disrupt Iginla’s one timer.  The problem is that the stick ends up riding up Iginla’s shoulder and hits him in the throat.  Iginla is unable to get the shot off but he is also sent to the ice gasping for air because the stick contacted him in the throat. This type of high stick may be called a Major penalty because of where the stick contacted Iginla. 

If the stick had of stayed on the shoulder of Iginla then perhaps a minor penalty would have been called because there was too much force used by the defenseman for this high stick to be ignored. As was stated before, the defenseman intentionally swung his stick at the shoulder area in an attempt to stop Iginla from getting a shot off.  The force of the stick hitting Iginla was severe because the defenseman for example swung his stick from one side of his body to the other.  By doing this he was able to build up speed on the stick and it made for force greater.  Finally, the intent was to go for the shoulder, so there will likely be no Match penalty for ‘Attempt to Injure’ in this situation.  However, the final outcome was that the high stick did hit Iginla in the throat and this has caused Iginla to be injured.

The final outcome was an injury to the throat, with excessive force used with the high stick as it was swung at the player. The intent was to high stick the player in an attempt to stop a shot. It was not an attempt to injure, although that was the result.  All of these factors put together provide a recipe for a Major penalty plus a Game Misconduct to be assessed to the defenseman.  In handing out the penalty, the referee must try to get inside the mind of the player committing the infraction because there is a big difference between a major and a  match penalty.

Match Penalty – High Sticking

There are a couple of things from the above Major penalty situation that would have to be changed for a Match penalty to be called.  As was stated earlier in the reading, a Match penalty is usually assessed for high sticking when a player  is seen to be trying to decapitate an opponent’s head.

In the situation with Iginla, the defenseman would have had to do the following to deserve a Match penalty.  First of all the force of the stick swinging towards Iginla would probably have to be increased slightly.  Almost at the speed it would take to put an axe a few inches into a tree. This analogy shows how hard a player needs to swing his stick to deserve a Match penalty.

Secondly, in the eyes of the Referee, the defenseman would have had to been aiming at Iginla’s neck or head instead of the shoulder.  When a player aims directly at the head, and especially at the neck, with the force stated above, he is not just trying to stop Iginla from getting his shot off, but he is trying to intentionally hurt Iginla. 

There are three key factors that separate Minors from Majors, and Majors from Match penalties with respect to high sticking. First, is the severity of the force used by the offending player.  Second, is where the stick was aimed?  Third, is the reason for the high stick.

This third point is worth repeating. After determining the force of the contact as well as where the contact was made, the referee will consider ‘why’ the high stick was made. If it is in the play, the referee may feel justified in assuming that the player was merely attempting to do his job and perhaps got carried away. However, if the contact occurs completely away from the play, then there is no question as to the intent. And most senior referees will have no compassion for a player who decides to use his stick in this manner. A Match Penalty will get the player off the ice, not only for one game, but for several additional games as well. Hockey does not need this type of player. In all cases, a high-sticking penalty should be called when contact is made in the upper section of the shoulders, neck and head. The referee must then determine “what” to call.


A popular option for referees at upper levels of hockey where half visors or no face shields are worn is the double-minor penalty.

This penalty is usually given when an injury, such as a minor cut to facial area, occurs. It permits the referee with the option of determining that the intent to injure was not a factor, but that the result warrants more than just a minor penalty. To give out a major penalty also means the player is out of the game, and yet the situation may have been purely accidental and nothing more than part of the game. It is serious for the offending team because it gives the other club two consecutive power plays, but the penalized player will not be lost for the rest of the game. If the injury is very serious, however, the referee still has the option of increasing the penalty.