High-Sticking in Hockey – What Is It and What’s the Penalty?

Posted on May 17, 2024 by Dan Kent
stack of sticks

As hockey has advanced over the years, players get faster and stronger, requiring specific rules to be implemented to reduce injury and protect the players. 

A significant focus of many sports over the years has been reducing concussions and trauma to the head. Adding helmets for all players has aided the fight against head trauma, but more must be done. 

Hockey has also implemented many rules to aid in this endeavor, including the high-sticking penalty. The NHL high sticking against an opponent is Rule 60 of the rule book, while Rule 80 covers high sticking the puck during play.

Let's get into both rules in this article. 

What is considered high sticking in hockey?

High sticking is an action in that when carrying one's stick above the height of their opponent's shoulders, the stick comes in contact with the opposing player, and a penalty is assigned. Players are responsible for controlling their stick, and it is not allowed to come into contact with another player above the shoulders. 

The only time a player is allowed to make accidental contact with an opponent with a high stick is on the follow-through of a shot, making a shooting motion (like winding up for a shot), or over the course of a face-off when both players are in position for the draw.

Why is high sticking not allowed in hockey?

High sticking has become an infraction due to a long history of injuries from players' sticks striking opposing players above shoulder height. 

Actions like this have been known to leave players with such things as head injuries and facial trauma, making player safety a priority. Penalizing this action has reduced the amount of injuries over the years. 

What is the penalty for high sticking in the NHL?

The penalty for high sticking can be classified in three ways: a minor, double-minor, or major penalty.

When is high sticking a minor penalty?

A minor penalty is given when a player's stick contacts a player of the offending team above the shoulders by accident or without intention. This would result in a two-minute penalty. Typically, the player is not injured and, although in pain, is fine to continue playing.

When is high sticking a double minor?

In the NHL and most professional leagues, high sticking automatically becomes a double minor if the high stick results in a player bleeding. This rule has been heavily scrutinized, primarily because although the presence of blood indicates that the high stick was more violent, it can also simply be a player more prone to cuts or scrapes.

Many fans believe the double minor for high-sticking should be left to the ref's discretion.

How does a 4-minute penalty work?

A 4-minute penalty is typically called a double minor penalty. The guilty player will serve 4 minutes in the penalty box, and their team will play short-handed. If the team scores within the first two minutes of that 4-minute penalty, the penalty is reduced to a single two-minute minor. The player is let out of the box if the team scores again.

If the time runs from 4 minutes down to below 2 minutes and the opposing team scores, the player is let out of the box and play resumes even-strength.

Overall, you can think of a double minor penalty as two separate two-minute minor penalties served by the same player.

When is high-sticking a major penalty?

A major incident is where the referee determines the result of the high sticking is intentional, and this is typically guided by the presence of blood and the overall maliciousness of the player. 

With a 5-minute major, the player is not allowed to leave the penalty box regardless of the other team's scores. This is why a five-minute major is one of the worst penalties in hockey to take.

There is the possibility that if the penalty had enough malicious intent, the player will be suspended or possibly issued a game misconduct penalty.

What is a match penalty?

Typically, a match penalty is given a 5-minute major. These penalties are a result of what the referee deems dangerous and deliberate. This also results in the guilty player being ejected from the game and another player on the ice to serve the penalty in the box. 

What is a stick infraction?

Some broadcasters, players, or coaches may call a high-sticking penalty a stick infraction. Why?

There are many penalties regarding a player's use of their stick. Any use of a stick resulting in a penalty is considered a sticking infraction. This could be from high-sticking, hooking, cross-checking, butt-ending, slashing, or spearing.

What is the NHL rule on high-sticking the puck?

High sticking of the puck is not a penalized offence, nor does it necessarily create a stoppage in play in the NHL. However, in some smaller leagues, you may see the whistle blown immediately after a player high-sticks the puck. This is in an attempt to reduce the attempts made by players to high-stick the puck out of the air, as it is a dangerous act.

In the NHL, however, there is some leeway. When a player on either team contacts the puck above the height of the crossbar or above the player's shoulders, the ref will put his hand up for a delayed high-sticking call. The play is blown dead if the offending team touches the puck first. However, if the opposing team touches the puck first, the play can continue to carry on.

The face-off is determined by who and where the high stick occurs. For example, suppose the defensive team high-sticks the puck in the defensive zone. In that case, the face-off will occur on one of the face-off spots in the defensive zone if the play is blown dead, but if the offensive player is the guilty party, the face-off will occur in the neutral zone. The attacking team is punished by taking the face-off outside the zone into neutral territory for the infraction.

What about high-sticking the puck into the net?

You cannot high-stick the puck into the net. Although it is not a penalty, any player who redirects the puck into the net and the puck's contact point is a stick above the crossbar, the goal will be waived off.

It's important to understand that it is where the puck makes contact. A player could have the blade of the stick way above the crossbar, but if the puck contacts the player's stick below the crossbar, it is not deemed a high stick.

Remember that this high-sticking rule does not apply to your own net. A player can high-stick a puck into their own goal.

Can you review a high stick in hockey?

A high stick resulting in a goal can be reviewed in the NHL via a coach's challenge. Reviewable plays include goaltender interference, offsides and high sticking the puck that results in a goal. Referees can review high-sticking resulting in a goal and a player's action resulting in a major penalty. 

If the coach challenges the play and the ruling is not a high stick, the team will be assessed a two-minute minor penalty.

Can a goalie high-stick the puck?

A goalie is like any other player on the ice. They must abide by the high-sticking rules laid out in the rule book. Goalies typically keep their sticks on the ice, but they, too, can be caught with a high stick, mostly out of the net.

They are held to the same standards as a player in this situation. If the puck is hit above the height of the shoulders or contact is made above the height of the opponent's shoulders, a high-sticking infraction will occur.

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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