Can You Hit the Goalie in Hockey? Hockey Goalie Rules 101

Posted on February 27, 2024 by Dan Kent
goalie check

When you're watching professional hockey, you'll notice body-checking is a part of the game. But a unique set of rules relates to the hockey goalie, rarely involved in collisions. 

Can skaters hit the goalkeeper? What happens if they do hit the goalie? Will they be penalized if they check the goalie or poke at pucks in the goalie's equipment? We'll discuss the specifics on hitting the goalie and poking at pucks here.

Can you hit a goalie in hockey?

You cannot body-check the goalie like other opponents on the ice. You will get a two-minute goalie interference penalty if you do, accidentally or intentionally. You can dig and poke at the puck if the goalie does not safely cover it in their equipment, but you couldn't hit the goalie if you were coming in on the forecheck. If the goalie has covered the puck, poking at them with your stick can incur a slashing penalty.

hockey-goalie-hits

Hockey goaltenders are not fair game for body checks. Even though hockey is a contact sport, rules exist to protect them as they fulfill a unique role on the ice – as the netminders.

Minor incidental contact with the goalie in their crease, or outside of the net if the goalie has vacated the crease, can sometimes occur. But you should make a reasonable effort to avoid contact with the goalie.

Can you hit a goalie when they are out of the crease?

No, you still cannot hit a goalie when they come out of the goal crease area. Although you can make a small amount of contact with the goalie to steal the puck from them if they are outside of the crease with possession of it, you still cannot body-check a goaltender in this position. If you do, you will be assigned a penalty.

It is a common misconception amongst new hockey fans that a goalie is "fair game" when they are outside of their crease. This isn't the case. Unnecessary contact with the goalie will result in a penalty.

Can NHL goalies hit?

Nothing in the rulebook states that a goaltender cannot perform a legal body check on a player. However, you could watch hockey for decades without seeing an event like this occur. Why?

For one, because of the goaltender's bulky equipment, body-checking an opposing player has a high likelihood of injuring one or both players. Secondly, a goaltender going for a body check would likely take them out of the play, and there is a good chance the net would be open for the opposing team to score.

So although no rule, in particular, says goaltenders cannot hit a player, deliberate contact by a goaltender to a player is very rare.

Can a player fight a goalie in hockey?

Fighting is allowed but against the rules in hockey. This is why a five-minute major penalty is assessed to anyone who fights. However, nothing in the rulebook says a player cannot fight a goalie. Although it is unlikely to escalate to a full-blown fight due to a team's instinct to protect their goaltender, a player could drop the gloves and fight a goaltender the same way two players would fight each other.

What is more likely to happen when a goaltender wants to fight is that they often skate to center ice to challenge the other goalie rather than a player.

Why don’t you touch the goalie in hockey?

Goaltenders are considered a relatively sensitive position in hockey. For one, you only have two; in some recreational leagues, a team will only dress one. 

For this reason, if a goaltender were injured due to contact with a player, it could put a team in a tough situation. For this reason, players often take liberties with those who come into contact with their goaltender.

Secondly, goaltenders wear an extensive amount of equipment. This may give someone the impression they are more protected against contact. However, the bulk of their equipment makes their balance worse, and a goalie facing contact is more likely to get injured than a player. For this reason, most leagues and players do not take kindly to goaltenders being touched.

goalie-fall

If players were permitted to body-check the goalie during the game, it would greatly hinder the goalie's ability to stop the puck. This would include when the goalie leaves the net to play the puck. If the goalie got hit and knocked down while out of the net, it would lead to unfair empty net goals.

Goalies play with the mindset that they will not be hit by the players. This allows them to confidently face the oncoming play and stand in front of players' shots.

For this reason, goalies are often not braced for collisions when they do occur, which increases their chances of injury. They also trust that players will not hit them when they leave their net.

In other words, goalies are thinking about stopping the puck and not avoiding collisions with players. The players must steer clear of the goalie.

Overall, out of respect for the game, most players will try to avoid contacting the goaltender in any way that could injure them. However, in some instances, particularly when the game gets aggressive or out of hand, a player could decide to hit the goaltender.

Here is a video of Milan Lucic contacting Mike Smith during the 2022 NHL playoffs against the Edmonton Oilers. As you can see, a full-out brawl occurs after contact.

Can a goalie push a player out of the crease?

A player cannot impede a goaltender's movement inside the goal crease. For this reason, if they do enter the crease area, a goaltender can push them out.

Suppose a goal is scored, and a player is ruled to be inside the crease, impeding the goaltender's ability to make a save. In that case, the referee can wave the goal off, or a coach could challenge it to overturn it.

The goalie crease is reserved for a goaltender, not player. However, many goaltenders like to be aggressive toward shots and skate beyond the crease to make saves. This is why you'll often see the opposing team have a presence in front of the net, right in front of the crease. This is in an attempt to get the goaltender back inside their crease so that making saves is more difficult.

Can there be goalie interference outside the crease?

Suppose a goaltender comes into contact with a player outside of the crease. In that case, it is not a guarantee that there will be a goaltender interference call. A player has a right to the ice in and around the goal crease, and if there is incidental contact outside of the crease, it will be up to the league and referees to decide if the play should be deemed goaltender interference.

I've witnessed these calls go both ways in my long history of watching hockey. If the contact by the player is not intentional and is more a result of the goaltender being outside of the crease, then the goal will still count.

However, if a player goes out of their way to interfere with the goaltender outside of the crease, the goal will still be waved off.

What is not allowed in the goalie crease?

Generally, unless the puck is inside the goal crease, the players from the attacking team are not allowed to enter it. If the puck is inside the crease, the attacking team can enter it but must not contact the goaltender in a way that impedes their ability to make a save.

In addition, a defending player is not allowed to put their hand on the puck inside the crease. If this happens, the attacking team will receive a penalty shot. This is an infrequent call in the National Hockey League, but it still does occur at the odd time.

Can a goalie touch the puck outside of the crease?

Yes, a goaltender can touch the puck outside the crease. However, the NHL rulebook has a few limitations for goaltenders doing so. If the puck is above the goal line, a goalie may play it wherever they want. However, if it is behind the goal line, there are some rules.

They must play the puck only in the trapezoid area, a restricted area behind the net. If the goalie's stick touches the puck outside this area behind the goal line, they will be assessed a two-minute minor penalty.

This rule was implemented to avoid goaltenders killing offensive plays by simply playing the puck from the corner to their teammates when the opposing team dumps it in. This was not always the NHL rule, but it was necessary as the goaltenders developed better puck-handling skills.

Is it a penalty to hit the goalie?

Suppose you do collide with the other team's goaltender. In that case, you will be assessed a two-minute minor penalty for goalie interference.

Goalie interference penalties are called regardless of whether or not your collision with the goalie is accidental. Your duty as a player is to avoid running into the goalie, so you are seen as responsible for this collision, even if it is accidental.

Goalies, however, are aware that even minor collisions with them can result in penalties. For this reason, goalies are sometimes accused of diving (or "flopping") whenever they feel any contact with opponents.

But you should not give the referee a reason to call a goaltender interference penalty on you. Don't hit the goalie or make enough contact to allow the goalie to dive and draw a penalty on you.

The only instance in which a collision with the opponent's goalie is not a penalty is if an opponent pushes or checks you directly into their team's goalie. You would not be responsible or penalized for this type of hit.

Can you poke at the puck around the goalie?

For starters, when the goalie is playing the puck with their stick, you can attack or defend against their stick as you would against any other player's stick.

goalie-poke-puck

Otherwise, so long as the goalie does not cover the puck, you can continue to try to score a goal. This includes a "loose" puck in the crease when the goalie attempts to cover it with their glove or other body parts.

But once the goalie has the puck covered, you should not poke at their equipment. Even if the referee has not blown the whistle, don't poke the goalie with your stick.

For example, a goal will be disallowed if you push the goalie's pad into the net while the puck is beneath it. The same rule will apply if the goalie's glove is pushed into the net by your stick or if you try to kick the puck into the net.

Not only can poking the goalie with your stick injure them (especially on their catching glove), but you can also get a minor penalty for slashing.

A hockey motto says, "play hard until you hear a whistle," but be cautious about poking at the goalie when they have the puck fully and safely covered.

Also, beware because goalies don't take kindly to being poked at. If you poke at their equipment, they may take a swing back at you with their stick or blocker – and can you blame them?

Dan Kent

About the author

Growing up in a hockey hotbed (Calgary, Alberta. And yes, I'm an Oiler fan), I decided to put my love and knowledge of the game to work. I started at five and am still playing today into my early 30s. By acquiring Brave Stick Hockey and rebranding it to Big Shot Hockey in 2023, I plan to teach people about this great game and educate them on the best equipment and history of the game. On a career level, I am in finance, running one of the largest financial websites in Canada, Stocktrades.ca.

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