Too Many Men

Hockey is pretty simple when it comes to numbers of players. You are allowed to have a maximum of 6 players on the ice at any one time while play is in progress.  Play in progress means the time from when the puck has been dropped at a face-off until the next stoppage of play.  The team can have either 5 skaters and 1 goalie, or 6 skaters on the ice at one time ,but they can never have 2 goalies on the ice at the same time unless these goalies are changed on the fly.  Yes, goalies can be changed on the fly (during play) as long as they obey the same rules governing hockey players changing while play is in progress.  In other  words, they must adhere to the ten foot rule described below.

The Ten Foot Rule

Changing on the fly is a common part of hockey. Players may be changed at any time from the players’ bench, provided that the player or players leaving the ice shall be at the players’ bench within 3.05m (10 feet) and out of play before any change is made. This rule is what causes the most controversy with regards to “Too Many Men” potential situations. 

The key to remember is that the player that is coming off the ice must be within 10 feet of the player’s bench before the player that is coming onto the ice is allowed to either jump over the boards or go through one of the doors of the bench. Since there are no lines that designate exactly where 10 feet from the doors and bench are, it is entirely up to the Referee and his linesmen to make this judgment. Yes, Linesmen can also call a Too Many Men infraction.

For this type of penalty to be called it usually has to be very obvious as it is not an impact penalty that is going to set the tone of a game.  Referees don’t only look at whether or not the players are within 10 feet of the bench to assess this penalty, but whether or not these players have become involved in the play while the player that is either coming off the ice or going on the ice is still on the ice. Therefore Referees use the following rule to help with their decision:

Intent = Too Many Men Penalty

If in the course of making a substitution, either the player entering the game, or the player leaving the game, intentionally plays the puck with her stick, skates or hands, or intentionally checks or makes any physical contact with an opposing player, while the player respectively leaving or entering the game is actually on the ice, then the infraction of “Too many men on the ice” shall be called.”

Therefore, the key to a “Too Many Men on the Ice” penalty being called is the “INTENT” of the player either coming on the ice, or the player leaving the ice. 

For instance, as Andrew Brunette is leaving the ice he is within 10 feet of the bench and his replacing player, Marian Gaborik jumps over the boards. The puck is shot towards Gaborik, strikes his skate and then the puck continues on down the ice.  Since Brunette is still on the ice the opposing team is upset and yelling that a “Too Many Men” penalty should be called, but remember what the rule states.  There was no INTENT by Gaborik to play the puck and therefore no penalty for “Too Many Men” will be called.

Now lets use the same example but instead of the puck accidentally striking Gaborik in the skate, Gaborik intentionally stops the puck with his skate or stick.  Since Brunette is still on the ice then this would be called a “Too Many Men” penalty because Gaborik INTENTIONALLY played the puck.

The ten-foot rule does not protect Gaborik in this instance since he intentionally played the puck while Brunette was still on the ice.

Was The Player A Factor In The Game?

You may see from time to time a situation where there are 6 skaters plus 1 goalie from one team on the ice and no Too Many Men penalty is assessed.  There are a couple of reasons for this.

Firstly, perhaps one of the players from the guilty team was able to get off the ice before the Referee or Linesmen realized that there were too many players on the ice. 

Secondly, perhaps the score is tied with two minutes left in the game and the extra player is so far out of the play that he will never become a factor in the game before this player is able to get off the ice surface.  The main reason for not calling this type of penalty is that you must remember the game management factor in hockey.  Why should a referee assess a penalty that will have no bearing on the outcome of a game? 

If this wandering player should however get closer to the play or become involved in the play then the referee has no choice but to assess the penalty. Also, if the extra player has enabled his replacement to get into the play much sooner, thus preventing the other team from scoring or giving his team too much of an advantage, then a penalty will likely be called. It is a judgment call, and most senior referees will usually bend over backwards to avoid calling penalties.

Premature Substitution

Rule 19f NOTE 3:

“When a goaltender leaves her goal area, and proceeds to her players’ bench for the purpose of substituting another player, she must be within 3.05m (10 feet) of the bench before the substitute may enter the game.  If the substitute is made prematurely, the official shall stop the play when the offending team gains possession and control of the puck.  The resulting face-off will take place at the center face-off spot, unless the offending team gains a territorial advantage, then the face-off shall take place where the stoppage occurred, unless otherwise stated in the rules.  There shall be no time penalty to the team making the premature substitution.” (Canadian Hockey Referee’s Case Book/ Rule Combination, 2001, pg.37).

Premature substitution for a goaltender brings about an interesting situation.  For example, if a player  jumps on the ice for an extra attacker before the goaltender is within the ten foot space, the official will stop play as soon as the guilty team gains possession and control of the puck. However, there will be no penalty assessed. Instead, the face-off will take place at the center ice face-off spot, unless this gives the offending a territorial advantage. In that case, the face-off will be where the puck was touched.

This infraction of the rules does not occur very often, but when it does there is a puzzled look on most of the people in the arena who are all wondering why was the whistle blown?  Then once they see a face-off occur at the center ice face-off dot they assume that there was a mistake made by the officials when in actual fact the correct call was made.

This usually occurs as one team (team that is losing) wants to gain an extra skater in an attempt to put extra pressure on the opposition to try and score a goal. Since a player has greater mobility and speed than a goalie, it is only natural to change up the goalie for a skater. Furthermore, a goalie is not allowed to play the puck in the opposition’s side of the ice without being penalized.

As the team is skating up the ice, or once the team gets the puck deep into the opposition’s end zone, the goalie usually starts to skate towards the bench to be substituted by a player from his team.  If the player jumps over the boards too early in an attempt to get into the opposition’s end faster and thus increase the chances of scoring a goal, the linesman will blow the whistle if they catch this infraction.  For the most part, the officials will allow a little more than 10 feet leeway, but if the goalie is still at the top of the circle in his end zone or close to the net then there will most likely be a stoppage of play as soon as the offending team has possession and control of the puck.

Premature Substitution Face-offs

If the offending team is in control of the puck anywhere in the opposition’s half of the ice when the play is stopped for premature substitution then the face-off to resume play will be at the center-ice face-off spot as this penalizes the offending team by bringing the puck back to center-ice rather than dropping it where the puck currently is, for instance in the end zone of the non-offending team.

If the play was stopped for premature substitution and the offending team had the puck still in their half of the ice then the next face-off will take place where the puck was located because if you were to bring the puck forward to the center-ice face-off then you in essence would be giving an advantage to the offending team when we are trying to penalize this team for trying to put a player on the ice before they were legally able to do so.

Deliberate Illegal Substitution

Rule 19f:

“If, in the last two minutes of regular playing time, or any time in overtime, a Bench Minor penalty is imposed for DELIBERATE illegal substitution, a Penalty Shot shall be awarded against the offending team.  The Bench Minor shall not be served.” (Canadian Hockey Referee’s Case Book/Rule Combination, 2001, pg.36).

Deliberate Illegal Substitution rarely occurs in hockey, especially with less than two minutes remaining in the game or in overtime, because the consequence is a penalty shot. When it does occur, it us usually clear that the coach intentionally sends extra players onto the ice while play is in progress in order to gain an advantage over their opposition, to cause a stoppage of play, or prevent a goal being scored against their team.  This should not be mistaken with Too Many Men or Premature Substitution of the goalie.

EXAMPLE:  The Sharks are winning by one goal with 30 seconds left to play in the game and the Bruins are applying intense pressure in the Sharks defending zone.  The Sharks have two players in the penalty box and as such are killing a penalty.   Since the coach knows that they will be two men short handed for the remainder of the game, he decides that he is going to throw another player on the ice in the hopes that the referee will either miss the extra skater on the ice or even if the referee calls a penalty on this extra skater, at least it gives them a stoppage of play to give the goalie a chance to take a breather and for the coach to change his players.  Regardless of the penalty, the team will still have three skaters on the ice when the play resumes.

Knowing this, the rule of awarding a Penalty Shot in the last two minutes of the game or any time in overtime (if there is overtime) has deterred the teams from attempting this type of tactic.  Now if they Deliberately place another skater on the ice this team will have to defend against a penalty shot that, as anyone knows, is a far better opportunity to score than trying to score on a 5 on 3 power play.