Getting to Know the NHL Rulebook: Physical Fouls - Boarding, Charging

2013-14 NHL Official Rules (PDF)

Section 6 - Physical Fouls

We've left behind the entities involved in the game, from the players and the officials to the rink itself. We've left behind its governance, the regulations on players and equipment and the duties of the various officials. We've even left behind the various sanctions available to the referees and the League itself to discipline the players.

Now we get to see those sanctions in action. It's time we started looking at actual penalties for once.

Rule 41 - Boarding

Hockey as a sport is played in a self-contained space. Play stops if the puck goes "out of play," but all the action otherwise happens within a confined area defined by the ice surface and its surrounding boards. If you remember way back when to the very first post of this series, we detailed that the dasher boards rise 40 to 48 inches from the playing surface, and the glass at different parts of the rink are 5 feet at the sides and 8 feet at the ends. So in total, "the boards" rise from 8-9 feet at the sides and 11-12 feet at the ends.

These boards can be made of many kinds of materials, including steel-frame board systems. You can see one such company (using different materials) here. As well, the glass is advertised as shatter-proof because pucks are going to be striking it at high speed often in any hockey game, especially during warmups. This design and these materials are essential for the game to function as it does. With the current level of technology, most attempts to soften the boards or glass will cause disruptions of flow because the puck would bounce very differently. Using the boards to bank the puck off to create plays is a legitimate hockey skill.

As such, because of the design and materials, it's not safe for players to impact the boards above certain degrees of violence. The Boarding rule exists to prevent players from shoving, tossing, or outright slamming other players against the boards or glass, especially face- or head-first. This is a Red Wings blog, so I know what you all are thinking.

41.1 Boarding: A player incurs a boarding penalty for body-checking a "defenseless" opponent into the boards with a degree of violence up to the discretion of the referee. "Defenseless" is emphasized because hitting a guy into the boards who braces himself for the hit is in most cases not a penalty. It is also important to note that "defenseless" does not necessarily mean a player whose body faces the boards, but any instance where he is not prepared for contact.

Referees have full discretion as to whether the hit deserves a penalty, and if so, what kind of penalty. Players must be responsible for their decisions to use body contact in the game, so players initiating hits must ensure their opponents are not "defenseless." That said, there are times when a player puts himself in a vulnerable position, and the player throwing the check can do nothing about it. Those instances can sway a referee's judgment away from calling a penalty.

On an obvious offside or icing play, any "unnecessary" impact between players that causes one of them to hit the boards is boarding. If there is no board contact, it's treated as charging.

41.2 Minor Penalty: The referee can say a boarding penalty was only violent enough to warrant a minor penalty.

41.3 Major Penalty: The referee can say a boarding penalty was severe enough to warrant a major penalty.

41.4 Match Penalty: The referee can say a player was intentionally trying to hurt someone and assess a match penalty.

41.5 Game Misconduct Penalty: If the referee invokes 41.3 and assesses a major for boarding, he must also assess an automatic game misconduct if the major penalty for boarding resulted in an injury to the face or head.

41.6 Fines and Suspensions: Two game misconducts incurred under 41.5 and/or 43.5 (Checking from Behind - Game Misconduct) in either the regular season or playoffs leads to an automatic one-game suspension. Every new game misconduct thereafter is another automatic suspension, increasing the number of games by one.

If 41.3 is invoked, the offending player is fined $100.

Like most of the next few rules we'll be talking about, the Commissioner has discretion to unleash Rule 28 Supplementary Discipline if so desired because of a violation of this rule.

Rule 42 - Charging

If boarding is something like 50% location and 50% degree of violence, charging is 100% degree of violence. Taking a run at someone, especially over long distances across the rink, is not ok.

42.1 Charging: I just . . . I just don't know.

A minor or major penalty shall be imposed on a player who skates or jumps into, or charges an opponent in any manner.

"skates . . . into": Welp, might as well eliminate body-checking. If you're going to throw a check, you better be a flat-footed pylon.

"OR jumps into": You know, this rule would make a bit more sense if we just change that "or" to "and." Charging is most obvious when a player's skates leave the ice.

"OR charges": This helps illuminate things quite well. Hey, did you know that charging is when you charge someone?

Thankfully, the next paragraph restores a little bit of sanity to this rule and its wording.

Charging shall mean the actions of a player who, as a result of distance traveled, shall violently check an opponent in any manner. A "charge" may be the result of a check into the boards, into the goal frame or in open ice.

The "as a result of distance traveled" phrasing probably contributes most to the notion that a player commits charging if he takes more than three strides. The charging rule doesn't explicitly state a number of strides, but any buildup of speed tends to put the skater at risk for incurring a charging penalty.

Charging is also called on players that skate swiftly into a goaltender within his crease. The next paragraph is the "goalies are not fair game outside the crease" stipulation, with the exception of the catch-all "incidental contact." Honestly, I hope more goalies get called for interference because they tend to get into skaters' skating lanes after already getting rid of the puck.

As mentioned in the boarding rule, any unnecessary contact on an obvious icing or offside sequence in open ice is charging.

42.2 Minor Penalty: The referee can say a charging penalty was serious enough just for a minor penalty.

42.3 Major Penalty: The referee can say a charging penalty was severe enough to warrant a major.

42.4 Match Penalty: The referee can assess a match penalty for charging if he thinks a player actively tried to hurt an opponent.

42.5 Game Misconduct Penalty: An automatic game misconduct is assessed to any major penalty where there is an injury to the face or head.

42.6 Fines and Suspensions: When the "five and a game" rule is applied, the offender is automatically fined $100, which is at odds with the stipulation under Rule 23.2 which states that a player incurring a game misconduct shall be fined $200.

Rule 28 Supplementary Discipline can be applied here at the Commissioner's discretion.


Checking from behind, the uncommon clipping infraction, and elbowing are on deck. After that is a whole mess of rules about fighting.