What Is A Charging Penalty in Hockey? (NHL Charging Rule)

With hockey being such a high-paced physical and emotional game, players will sometimes lose their cool when it comes to body checking an opponent and a charging penalty will often be the result of an overly aggressive hit.

What Is Charging In Hockey?

In general, charging is the act of taking a run at an opponent from a distance on the ice, often while at full speed. This is usually considered to be taking three or more strides on the ice and then recklessly hitting an opponent. It also includes leaving your feet to make a body check.

What are the NHL Charging Rules?

Rule 42 of the NHL rule book deals with charging and it states that any player who jumps into, skates into, or charges an opponent in any manner should be assessed a penalty.

This rule goes on to state that a penalty isn’t warranted for a typical body check but it should be assessed if the player traveled a considerable distance on the ice to violently check an opponent in open ice or against the boards or the frame of the net.

This also includes hits on an opposing netminder within the goal crease and unnecessary hits on a goalie who may be playing the puck while outside of the crease area. Incidental contact with a goalkeeper is legal though and is at the discretion of the referees. The officials typically turn a blind eye to incidental contact with a goalie as long as the player made an attempt to avoid the impact.

The charging rule is a bit vague and it doesn’t clearly state how many strides a player may take before delivering a hit.

What Are the Penalties for A Charging Infraction?

A player who is deemed to be guilty of charging an opponent will be assessed with either a two-minute minor or five-minute major penalty, depending on the severity of the infraction. It’s also possible for a player to receive a major and match penalty or a major and game misconduct for a serious charge.

The major and match penalty are usually dished out if the player appeared to deliberately try to injure the opponent while taking a run at him. A game misconduct can also be handed out when a charging call results in a major penalty and the recipient of the hit suffers a face or head injury.

For particularly vicious and serious charging infractions, the player could also be fined and suspended for his actions.

Watch NHL Charging Examples:

There have been some very aggressive examples of charging in the NHL over the years and this video shows a collection of them.

Charging is a difficult one to call as many in this video could be called for other infractions. Just keep an eye out for jumping and extra strides, charging looks more like one player running at another a few strides or more away.

How is Charging Different than Interference?

Interference is the act of hitting an opponent or making contact with him in any way when he doesn’t have the puck. Interference is also often called when the puck carrier is hit several seconds after getting rid of the puck.

Charging can be called when anybody on the ice including the puck carrier is hit while the opponent charges at him form a distance or leaves his skates to make bodily contact.

Read our related post NHL Interference Rule Explained here.

How is Charging Different than Boarding?

Charging is usually called when a player is drilled in open ice or into the net while boarding is typically called when the player is hammered or pushed into the boards, usually from behind and in a dangerous manner.

There are occasions when a referee will assess a charging penalty rather than a boarding penalty as it’s basically a discretionary call. Either way, the length of the penalty will be the same depending on the severity of the hit.

Is there a Certain Number of Strides You Can Take Before Body Checking?

In general, most referees will call a charging penalty if a player takes three or more strides to make contact with an opponent. Most officials will allow a player to take one or two strides before delivering a hit.

However, it’s up to the referee to use discretion when assessing a charging penalty and in some instances two strides could be considered charging depending on the intent and the circumstances.

Can You Charge the Goalie in Hockey?

You aren’t allowed to charge any player on the ice without receiving a penalty and this includes the goalkeepers. Also, a goalie doesn’t suddenly become fair game if they’re playing the puck.

Charging penalties can be called when a player makes contact with a netminder but goalie interference is often the call these days.

How Do Referees Determine Whether or Not A Charging Penalty Should Be Called?

Assessing a charging penalty is at the discretion of the referees and this means they will determine if a player took a run at another to deliver a body check. They usually take into consideration the intent of the hit as most charging infractions are deliberate.

This means a referee may call  a penalty on a player who took two strides to hit an opponent but may decide not to call one on a player who took three strides. The intent and severity of the impact is usually the determining factor.

What is the Referee Sign for Charging?

When a referee hands out a charging penalty he will clench both fists in front of his chest and then rotate the hands in a circular motion.

How Have The Charging Rules Changed Over Time In The NHL?

The NHL charging rules haven’t really changed over the years as most penalties for the infraction are two-minute minors with more serious infractions being dealt a five-minute major or a major and game misconduct.

Why is the Charging Penalty an Important Part of the Game?

The charging rule was introduced to help stop players skating a great distance, such as across the ice, to hit an opponent and to stop them from leaving their feet to jump into an opponent. When a player travels a great distance to deliver a hit he’s usually accelerating and skating at full speed and this can often result in a serious collision which may result in an injury.

The game is often played at top speed as it is these days and the rule is in place to cut down on violent collisions. While the official rule is a bit of a gray area, most players, officials and fans know right away when a charging infraction has taken place. Charging is still part of the game but it has been on the decline in recent years.