Game Misconducts in Hockey – How Misconduct Penalties Work

Posted on April 19, 2024 by Dan Kent
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There are a wide variety of penalties in ice hockey. For the most part, they're simple to understand. However, once we start getting into game misconducts, the overall structure of the penalty system in ice hockey starts to change.

As such, for beginner hockey fans, or even possibly fans with quite a bit of experience, it can be confusing as to what a game misconduct means, why the rules are different in regards to the team being shorthanded, and if a player is even eligible to return to the game.

In this article, I will spotlight the game misconduct and go over it in-depth so that you know exactly what will happen the next time you see a referee give a misconduct penalty.

What is a game misconduct in hockey?

A game misconduct is a penalty in hockey that results in the removal of a player for the remainder of the game and the potential suspension of a player, depending on the severity. 

The game misconduct penalty is reserved for severe penalties. Such penalties are directed towards players who have been reckless regarding player safety or have even tried to hurt a player intentionally. A prime example of a game misconduct would be a player cross-checking another player in the head.

In rare circumstances, minor penalties like elbowing, high-sticking, slashing, and even body-checking can end up in game misconduct, depending on how severe the penalty is. A blatant body check on a player without the puck that is clearly intended to injure the player could be upgraded from interference to a game misconduct.

The most common slang you'll hear regarding game misconduct, particularly among broadcasters, is that a penalized player is given "10 and a game". When a player is given a game misconduct, they are assigned 10 PIMs. This is where the 10 and a game comes from. 10 minutes in penalties, and you're ejected from the game.

How do you get a game misconduct in hockey?

The game misconduct is one of the most severe penalties you can get in a hockey game. The most common occurrence of a game misconduct is when a player makes an action that either outright intends to injure a player or can be considered a play that is highly likely to injure another player, often severely. The punishment for this severe penalty is an offender being kicked out of the game.

Think of things like checking from behind, spearing, butt-ending, head-butting, cross-checking to the head, and boarding (depending on the severity).

How does a game misconduct work in hockey?

In a situation where a player is assessed a game misconduct penalty, they will be forced to leave the ice for the remainder of the game and go to their locker room. However, even though a penalty is called, the opposing team will not be given a power play, and the penalized team will not sit anyone in the penalty box. Instead, the ejection is the only consequence of it.

For there to be a team shorthanded after a game misconduct, the referee must not only issue a misconduct penalty but also a minor or major penalty. Often, you'll see broadcasters and fans refer to this as "5 and a game". In this situation, not only will the player be ejected, but their team will have to kill off the five-minute major penalty. It will stay shorthanded for five minutes, no matter how many goals are scored.

Is a five-minute major a game misconduct?

No, a 5-minute major penalty is not a game misconduct, nor are double minor penalties. A game misconduct by itself does not result in a team being issued any penalty that leaves them shorthanded. A five-minute major, on the other hand, forces a team to play shorthanded for a total of five minutes. Still, the player given the major penalty is not ejected from the game.

As mentioned, the two penalties can work in tandem, and a referee (or even a linesman) could issue one or both simultaneously. In the event of a 5-minute major coupled with a game misconduct, the player would be ejected from the game, and a teammate would be forced to serve the penalty for them. 

Five-minute majors are one of the most detrimental penalties a player can make, as they can change the balance of the game quickly, giving the opponent five straight minutes of powerplay time.

Goaltenders and the game misconduct

There is one situation where getting a game misconduct will not result in the player having to leave the game, and that is when the goaltender gets one. Because a team only dresses two goaltenders, it would be a significant blow to the team if a goalie were to leave the game because of a misconduct. As a result, in most cases, they are assigned the penalty, it's added to their stats, and the game goes on with them in it.

In rare circumstances, however, the goalie can be ejected if the penalty is severe enough. For example, suppose they punch someone with their blocker, use their stick with the intent to injure a, or verbally/physically abuse a referee or member of a coaching staff. In that case, they can be ejected from the game. That is ultimately up to the referee's discretion, and if the goalkeeper is ejected, the backup will have to substitute.

What is unsportsmanlike misconduct in NHL?

Unsportsmanlike conduct is any action that shows a lack of respect for the game, players, officials, or coaching staff. In addition to players intentionally trying to cause physical harm, there can also be sportsmanship-type misconducts, where players use obscene language or obscene gestures at fans, officials, or an opposing player.

However, it's important to understand that not all unsportsmanlike misconducts in the NHL result in a 10-minute penalty or a game misconduct. They can range anywhere from a 2-minute minor penalty to a game misconduct.

Examples of unsportsmanlike conduct can range from abusing an NHL official to shooting someone's loose glove or stick down the ice, intentionally firing the puck away from an official trying to pick it up, or throwing a water bottle at another player, coach, or referee. 

What is a match penalty?

A match penalty and a game misconduct are very similar. However, a match penalty is often used for the most severe infractions. They're also often paired with larger fines and mandatory suspensions, usually determined by off-ice officials in the NHL. It also carries with it a mandatory 5-minute major penalty. In addition to intent to injure, it could be issued due to discrimination or comments based on race or gender.

What is the difference between a game misconduct and a match penalty?

Both penalties are very similar; however, when it comes to on the ice, there is one key difference. In the event of a game misconduct, the receiving player's team isn't put on the penalty kill. With a match penalty, the player is not only kicked out for the remainder of the game and often suspended and fined, but their team must kill off a 5-minute major penalty.

What are examples of gross misconduct in hockey?

A gross misconduct penalty is equally severe as the match penalty but for different reasons. Gross misconducts are barely used because the actions that fall under gross misconduct rarely occur. Think of a player physically attacking an official or spectator or intending to injure an official.

I have never seen the penalty called in the National Hockey League, even in a particular situation where Calgary Flames defenseman Dennis Wideman intentionally body-checked referee Don Henderson.

You will most likely see these penalties issued in minor and recreational leagues and often come with severe suspensions or even being banned from particular leagues.

How many penalties before a game misconduct?

There is no limit to the penalties a player can take before they're issued a game misconduct. This confusion likely comes from a sport like basketball, where you are only allowed a particular number of personal fouls before you are "fouled out" of the game and cannot participate anymore.

A hockey player could, in theory, take as many minor penalties as they want. However, they would be putting their team at a severe disadvantage. They would probably be stapled to the bench by their coach anyway. However, there are no rules in place to restrict them from playing.

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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