A scrum in front of the net, in the blink of an eye, a player hits the ice, clutching his side or sometimes his family jewels! Upon a slow motion review, someone forcefully jabbed him with the blade of their stick! What is this called? Is it legal? Will there be a suspension?
A spearing penalty in hockey is when a player stabs an opponent with the point of his stick blade, whether contact is made or not.Source: NHL Rulebook
What we described above is a penalty in ice hockey called ‘Spearing’. We will go over below what the National Hockey League defines as spearing, what kind of penalties come out of it, and even some infamous incidents involving spearing penalties!
NHL Rule 62 – Spearing
Rule 62.1 – The definition of spearing, or, in the NHL’s eyes – stabbing your opponent with the stick blade, whether contact is made or not. (Many don’t realize the motion of spearing can also be considered a penalty!
Rule 62.2 – This rule defines that a player committing the spear will have a double minor (4 minute) penalty assessed if contact is not made.
Rule 62.3 – A major penalty will be assessed if a player makes contact and successfully spears an opponent
Rule 62.4 – A match penalty will be imposed on a player who injures the spearing victim
Rule 62.5 – If a major penalty is assessed (the player made contact with the spear) they will also be ejected for the remainder of the game
Rule 62.6 – This rule mentions fines and suspensions, there is no standard for fines or suspensions as a result of the spear but the league has the ability to impose either based on the severity of the call!
As you might imagine, the penalty is more severe when actual contact happens. Even when there is no actual contact, but it is obvious that the player intended to ‘spear,’ a penalty will be assessed. Sometimes this might happen when a spearing doesn’t quite make full contact, and a player gets off a bit easy! Rules 62.2 – 62.5 specify the types of penalties. Rule 62.6 states that there are no specific fines or suspensions for the act, however, at the league commissioners discretion supplemental fines or suspensions may apply.
Let’s be honest, spearing is one of the more greasy moves you see in hockey. I rank it right up there with slew foots and butt-ending. Sure a slash or hook here or there is always expected, but a spear takes it to the next level. Your stick isn’t a weapon and shouldn’t be used like one, no matter how fired up you might be! Odd’s are you aren’t going to get away with it, and in the NHL with hundreds of cameras operating throughout the game, you know a guy really lost his cool when he tries something like spearing!
USA Hockey also has it’s own definition of spearing, which is very similar to the NHL, but we will focus on the NHL here.
What Kind Of Penalties Can Result From Spearing?
Spearing is no joke, and as such the minimum possible penalty (the intent to ‘spear’), players are imposed with a double-minor penalty. However, when the intent is successful, and contact is made with the stick and an opponent, the offending team is going to have to kill a five minute major off! Not only are you stuck killing a major, where goals do not end the penalty, but you’re now down one man as that offender gets the ol’ boot and is done for the night. On top of all that – If the opponent suffers a serious injury, a Match penalty is imposed.
Let’s break the potential punishments down in an easy to read and understand list –
- A Double-Minor penalty: As per Rule 18 of the NHL rule book, a double-minor penalty will cause the offending player, other than the goalkeeper, to be ruled off the ice for 4 minutes.
- A Major penalty: This is subject to Rule 20. It states that for the first major penalty of any one game, the offender, as long as he is not the goalkeeper, will be ruled off the ice for 5 minutes.
- A Game misconduct penalty: Rule number 23 specifies that the player will be substituted for the balance of the 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 game, and likely more games to follow!
What Are Some Infamous Spearing Incidents?
Ovechkin Spears Frederic
A relatively recent and controversial case – Washington Capitals Superstar Alex Ovechkin. In a game against the Bruins, played in March 2021, speared Boston Bruins forward Trent Frederic. The referee assessed the incident as ‘slashing’ and imposed a minor penalty. Commentators were quick to point out that it was clearly a spearing incident and Ovechkin deserved more than he got. Nevertheless, a fine of $5,000 was imposed, the maximum permitted by the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Now, why did Ovi get away with this one? Well being one of the best players of all time, maybe the refs were a bit lenient when a 4th liner like Frederic tries messing with Ovechkin. It goes against the ‘code’ an unwritten rule book for a relatively new player to try and mess with one of the greatest in the game. The fine afterwards was the NHL admitting the call on the ice was the wrong one, but really, I’m sure for another $5k Ovi would do it all over again.
RELATED PENALTIES: Slashing Penalty In Hockey: Rules and Examples
Marchand Spears Dotchin
Back in 2017, another spearing incident occurred concerning Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins. After taking exception to being roughed up in front of the net, he downed Jake Dotchin with a quick little spear to the berries. Marchand got a two game suspension without pay. Fining players the maximum allowed by the CBA which is $5,000 really doesn’t teach them a lesson, but once you start suspending them for games and they have to forfeit real pay, they start to think twice about their actions! Based on his salary, Marchand likely lost out on $75,000 sitting those two games out.
SIMILAR PENALTY: What Is A Butt Ending Penalty In Hockey?
Common Questions About Spearing In Hockey
Is Spearing A Major Penalty?
Spearing can either be a double minor (4 minute) or a major (5 minute) penalty. If contact is made with the spearing attempt, a 5 minute major penalty will be assessed to the offending player.
We hope you have a clearer picture of what it means to spear someone in hockey. 99% of the time a spear is the result of a players frustration boiling over and them making a bone headed play. Rarely (but not never!) do players plan to spear someone in advance. We just wonder how many gruesome spears there were in the 70’s and 80’s that we don’t have on film… We’ll never know now, probably to the NHL’s benefit!