What Is A Cross-Checking Penalty In Hockey?

Two players come together at top speed, one player leads with his shoulder but the other brings both his hands up with his stick and hammers the other player with it! What is this called? It’s a Cross Check!

A cross-checking penalty is the action of using the shaft of the stick between the two hands to forcefully check an opponent

Source: NHL Rulebook

A cross checking is a very common penalty you will see in the NHL and hockey in general. Players will use their sticks to cross check others when they are upset or aggravated, and often defensemen will cross check forwards in the back when they are in front of the net, in an effort to clear them out. Knowing what a cross check is, lets get into some details on how it is defined, and what kind of penalty comes along with it!

NHL Rule 59 – Cross-Checking

Rule 59.1 – The definition of cross checking, or, as the NHL defines it – when a player uses the shaft of his stick between his two hands to forcefully check an opponent. Typically a players hands will be about 2 feet apart, and at chest level to deliver a cross check.
Rule 59.2 – This rule defines that a player committing a cross check, based on the severity of contact, will have a two minute minor penalty imposed on them.
Rule 59.3 – If the referee determines that there was a higher severity of impact, a five minute major penalty can be imposed. This is typically for egregious cross checking, or when the cross check is close to or makes contact with the head or face.
Rule 59.4 – The referee may also assess a Match Penalty if the players intention when he delivered the cross check was to deliberately injure his opponent.
Rule 59.5 – If a 5 minute major is assessed, a Game Misconduct is given to the offending player immediately.
Rule 59.6 – If a 5 minute major penalty is handed out to the opposing player, an automatic fine of at least $100 will be imposed (I find this some what hilarious… imagine you were fined 10 cents for speeding). However, on top of the $100 supplementary discipline can also be applied by the commissioner (Gary Bettman at this point in time) at his discretion.

The more hockey you watch, the more easily you will identify the severity of cross checks. Typically any time a player cross checks an opponent with their stick to their body, it’s going to be a 2 minute minor. Once you start seeing egregious cross checks to the head and neck area or if a player has his back turned to the boards, this is when you will start seeing the more severe penalties start to get handed out!

Hockey Canada and Hockey USA also have a definition of cross checking, which is nearly identical to the NHL rule.

What Penalties Are Called If Someone Gets Cross Checked?

Cross checking can have all sorts of implications, from a 2 minute minor to a 5 minute major and a big suspension. So what gets called when the referees call a cross checking penalty? Read on to find out?

Let’s break the potential punishments down in an easy to read and understand list –

  • A Minor penalty for Cross Checking: If a non serious cross check is delivered that doesn’t injure anyone
  • A Major penalty for Cross Checking: If the referees decide that the severity of the cross check is serious enough, the player may be assessed a 5 minute major penalty, where goals against during the powerplay do not end the penalty.
  • A Game misconduct penalty: Rule number 23 specifies that the player will be substituted for the balance of the hockey game, but the team can call in a substitute immediately to replace the player. In addition, the league records will register ten minutes against the player imposed with a Game misconduct penalty.
  • Match penalty: Rule 21 classifies the Match penalty as when a player seriously or deliberately injures an opponent. This involves the immediate suspension of the player for the rest of the match, and likely more games to follow!
  • Fines or Suspensions:

What are the Dirtiest Cross Checks Ever / Famous Cross Checking Incidents?

Nazem Kadri cross checks Jake DeBrusk in the 2019 playoffs

Nazem Kadri has a penchant for getting kicked out of playoff hockey games, which is unfortunate for him and his team because when he’s focused and not taking penalties he’s an effective goal scorer! In this playoff contest in 2019, Kadri took exception to what appeared to be a pretty clean hit to Patrick Marleau by Jake DeBrusk on a backcheck.

When you watch the video you can tell Kadri let his emotions get the best of him, as he gets his stick right up into DeBrusk’s face and drops him with a dirty cross check. Kadri was kicked out of game 2 of the second round of the playoffs, and suspended for the rest of the series. Toronto went on to lose the series 4-3 in a game 7 blowout – so this was Kadri’s final skate of the year. He was traded to Colorado that summer and has enjoyed amazing success in the Mile High City!

Auston Matthews Cross Checks Rasmus Dahlin in the head March 2022

Another Toronto Maple Leaf! No I don’t hate the leafs, but they provide a few great examples of what not to do – ironically two very skilled players!

During the 2022 Heritage Classic, with Buffalo taking it to Toronto on semi home ice (the match took place in Hamilton, a city directly south of Toronto) you could tell that the Leafs tempers were beginning to flare. After getting boxed out by Dahlin, Matthews responds and crosschecks him right in the side of the head. Matthews isn’t a known dirty player, and I believe this was partially just being careless with his stick combined with losing control of his anger.

Matthews was suspended only 2 games for this, given that he has a very clean history with penalties and suspensions. If he had a checkered past you can believe it would have been more. Regardless I’m sure the Leaf’s superstar will be more careful next time when someone gets under his skin!

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Bonus Cross Check: Dennis Wideman Destroys Linesman Don Henderson

Here is a crazy one that you will likely only see once in your life! On January 27 2016, Calgary Flames defenseman Dennis Wideman cross checked linesman Don Henderson from behind on his way to the bench.

Now if you watch the footage, Wideman gets hammered head first into the boards, and wobbles his way back to his bench, obviously under a bit of duress. On his way there, the linesman is backing up to track the play, doesn’t see Wideman, and Wideman lays him out with a big cross check just before he gets to his bench.

The aftermath of this one is crazy. Wideman was suspended 20 games by the league, and Henderson never reffed a game again. He filed a 10 million dollar lawsuit against the NHL, Calgary Flames, and Dennis Wideman, which was eventually thrown out. Wideman, who just as recently as 2014-2015 had 56 points, never played the same and left the NHL after the 2016-2017 season at only the age of 34!

RELATED: How Many Penalty Minutes Are Assessed For High Sticking?

Common Questions About Cross Checking In Hockey

Is Cross Checking a Major Penalty?

A cross checking penalty, depending on its severity, can be a Major Penalty. However it can also be a minor penalty if it is not very severe. It is up to the referees discretion!

Why Is Cross Checking Never Called?

Some people might attend a hockey game and think there are TONS of cross checks that the referee doesn’t call, and they would be right! Sometimes when players are jostling for position in the corner or in front of the net, there are lots of small cross checks thrown, or people are pushed around with what appears to be a cross checking motion. The fact of the matter is, most of these are not severe enough to be penalized and it is up to the referee to decide when a penalty should be called.

What Is The New NHL Cross Checking Rule?

For the 2021-22 NHL season, the NHL is striving to call cross checking penalties stricter than in previous years. The definition of the penalty is the exact same, but less severe cross checks that would have gone unpunished in years past will now be called more often.

This is in part due to the excessive cross checking received by superstars such as Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid. Since they are so good, have the puck so often, and are so hard to get off the puck, players have taken liberties in the past, but can expect to at least receive a minor penalty going forward if they get too aggressive!


We’ve given you some good examples of cross checking – so now you know not to do it! Sometimes it happens, I’ve received and delivered many in my day, but if you have learned one thing from this article, it’s to under no circumstances crosscheck someone in the head!

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