What Is A High-Sticking Penalty In Hockey?

A player goes down in a heap, gripping his face. When he comes up there is some blood, and the other player automatically starts skating towards the penalty box. What just happened? It’s a High Stick!

A high sticking penalty is defined as any contact made by the stick of a player above the shoulders of an opponent

Source: NHL Rulebook

In a game as fast paced and intense as hockey, high sticking penalties are quite common. From a missed stick lift that then hits someone in the face, or a careless players errant stick hitting someone they don’t see in the face, to the more rare intentional high sticks, you will see a high sticking penalty in almost every NHL game you watch! Read on to understand what the penalty is for different types of high sticks, and see some famous high sticking penalties at the end of the article!

NHL Rule 60 – High-Sticking

Rule 60.1 – The definition of high sticking by the NHL – is when the stick is above the height of the opposing player. However, accidental contact during a normal shot wind up or follow through, as well as during a faceoff when the players are close to the ice are not considered high sticks. In these situations players are responsible for getting out of the way of the shooters stick!
Rule 60.2 – This rule defines that a Minor Penalty will be imposed whenever contact is made to an opposing player with your stick, above their shoulders.
Rule 60.3 – A Double Minor Penalty will be assessed to the player committing the high stick if he causes an injury due to carelessness with his stick. Drawing ANY blood with a high stick automatically warrants a 4 minute double minor!
Rule 60.4 – A Match Penalty will be issused if, in the referees opinion a high stick was deliberately used on an opponent and injures an them.
Rule 60.5 If a player scores a goal by making contact with a puck over the height of the goal, either by deflection or a swinging motion, the goal will be disallowed. If the puck strikes a players stick above the crossbar and goes into his own goal however, the goal will be counted.
Rule 60.6 – Unlike penalties like boarding or spearing, high sticking does not have a specified fine or suspension. If the infraction is serious enough, the Commissioner can apply additional discipline at his discretion.

If you’ve ever played hockey before, you have probably either been on the receiving end of a high stick or accidentally delivered one. You have to be very careful with your stick as it is easy to miss a stick lift or swing for a puck and have the follow through hit someone in the face. Because High Sticks can happen so easily, all minor hockey players as well as the NCAA must wear full cages to protect their faces. The NHL and other minor pro leagues, as well as Major Junior and Junior A in Canada all allowed half visors in the place of cages.

Hockey Canada has high sticking under Rule 8.3 in their rule book, and Hockey USA defines high sticking under rule 621 – both are very similar to the NHL rule.

What Penalties Are Called If Someone Gets High Sticked?

High Sticking can have all sorts of implications, from a 2 minute minor to a game ejection and a suspension! So what gets called when the referees call a high sticking 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 High Sticking: If a player makes contact with an opponent with their stick above their shoulders, and no injury occurs.
  • A Double Minor penalty for High Sticking: If the player makes contact with an opponent with their stick above their shoulders, and an injury occurs, the referees will issue a double minor (4 minute) 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: There is no specific set of fines or suspensions for high sticking and is at the leagues discretion.

Want to learn about the rules of hockey in one definitive article? Check ours out by clicking on the link!

What are the Craziest and Most Infamous High Sticks Ever?

There are a few crazy high sticking / slashing incidents in NHL history, but we will cover those in our Slashing article, following will be what we consider to be purely high sticks without a slashing motion

Gustav Nyquist High Sticks Jared Spurgeon February 2017

Spurgeon and Nyquist were battling on the boards in the first period of this game between the Detroit Red Wings and the Minnesota Wild. Spurgeon delivered a bit of a dirty cross check right to Nyquist’s back, and he had good reason to be a little angry about it. The high stick that followed certainly did not have any good reason for happening however! You can see in the video below that Nyquist violently high sticks Spurgeon right in the face!

Now Nyquist is not historically a dirty player, but the NHL still chose to suspend him for 6 games for this dangerous and scary high stick. Thankfully by some kind of miracle, Spurgeon was not injured and continued to play in the game. Nyquist later said it was accidental and that he hoped people did not view him differently after the incident. I do believe Nyquist didn’t set out to jab Spurgeon right up near his eyes, but obviously he lost control of his temper and the end result was a dangerous and unnecessary play.

Nyquist hasn’t been suspended since, and typically takes 5-10 penalties a year, so we tend to believe that it was a one off incident.

Wayne Gretzky High Sticks Doug Gilmour 1993 Playoffs

Here is a crazy incident from the early 90’s where the Great One himself high sticked Doug Gilmour right after he took a shot. Gretzky spent his entire career with people taking shots at him because he was so good – but here he did not even receive a penalty!

To add insult to injury – Gretzky later scored the game winning goal! Many Leaf’s players and fans thought Gretzky should have been penalized (surely) and maybe even kicked out of the game. Toronto then lost game 7 in Toronto to the kings, and the Kings went to the Stanley Cup Finals.

The interesting documentary below done by former NHLer Jeff O’Neil has a great look into the penalty and series. The referees of the game even admitted that it was a missed call (Don’t expect refs to say they missed the call often!). One has to wonder in todays game with endless instant replays, would Gretzky have been ejected and could the Leafs have won and made it to the final? That’s up for you to decide!

OTHER STICK INFRACTIONS: What Is A Cross Checking Penalty In Hockey?

Common Questions About High Sticking In Hockey

Why Is High Sticking A Penalty?

Don’t shake your head, sometimes people ask this question! Maybe after seeing a high stick where someone wasn’t injured or no blood is spilled… I’m not sure. But I’m sure after seeing the videos above, or if you’ve ever played hockey, you understand high sticking is a penalty in hockey because it is very dangerous for player safety!

How High Can You Lift Your Stick in Hockey?

While I wouldn’t advise it, you can skate around with your stick as high in the air as you’d like! There is no rule saying your stick can’t be above a certain height. However if you make contact with someone above your / their shoulders, it will be a penalty. If you make contact with a puck above your shoulders, the play will be blown dead as soon as your team touches the puck!

Can You High Stick the Puck To Yourself?

You cannot hit the puck above your shoulders to yourself, or ‘high stick’ it to yourself. The play will be blown dead once you or a team mate touches the puck. In this situation you’d be best off to catch the puck with your hand, without closing your hand on it, and dropping it down to the ice where you can play it.

Is the Follow Through of a Shot a High Sticking Penalty?

As we said earlier, in the NHL this is not a penalty. However, in minor hockey and non pro senior hockey or ‘men’s league’ this is typically a penalty. Since those leagues are for fun, there is more focus on player safety and making sure no one loses an eye when they are just supposed to be having fun!

SIMILAR STICK PENALTY: How Many Penalty Minutes Does A Butt Ending Penalty Incur?


As you can see High Sticking can be a very dangerous play, and often can have some big repercussions. One thing is for sure, you need to be careful out there with your stick as it can cause heavy damage if you are careless. I’ve taken a few to the chops before, one to the nose, but luckily have never been hit in the eye (knock on wood!) so I can say first hand it is not enjoyable to have a stick make contact with your face – I hope you never have to find out!

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