An illegal hit to the head in hockey refers to a check in which the head is the main point of contact. This is a penalty in the NHL and in many situations can lead to a suspension.
Throughout this article, we are going to break down what the referees look for in this kind of hit, plus all the consequences a player may face for committing one.
What Is An Illegal Check To The Head Penalty In The NHL ?
An illegal check to the head penalty is fairly complicated and is best explained through the NHL rulebook. To give you the information from the source we will post the rule in full and then break it down in laymans terms.
opponent’s head where the head was the main point of contact and
such contact to the head was avoidable is not permitted.
In determining whether contact with an opponent’s head was
avoidable, the circumstances of the hit including the following shall be
(i) Whether the player attempted to hit squarely through the
opponent’s body and the head was not “picked” as a result of poor
timing, poor angle of approach, or unnecessary extension of the
body upward or outward.
(ii) Whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position by
assuming a posture that made head contact on an otherwise full
body check unavoidable.
(iii) Whether the opponent materially changed the position of his body
or head immediately prior to or simultaneously with the hit in a way
that significantly contributed to the head contact.
The first part of the illegal hit to the head rule we want to focus on is the very first line. It states that the head is the main point of contact when committing this penalty. This is an important aspect of the rule because it allows for contact of the head so long as it is not the main point of contact.
When committing a hit you are still able to make some level of contact with the opponents head. You just need to be sure that the head is not the main point of contact.
The other import line in this rule covers the contact to the head being avoidable. In other words, did the offending player have an opportunity to avoid hitting the player in the head area. In order to figure this out, the referee considers three criteria.
- Was the player attempting to hit squarely right through the opponent’s body
- Did the opponent put himself into a position that made this contact unavoidable
- Did the opponent change body position simultaneously with the hit resulting in more head contact
If you are hitting through the opponent’s body and happen to hit his head that is much different than picking off an opponents head. This is why hitting squarely through the opponent’s body may allow you to avoid this penalty.
If the opponent moves in such a way that the offending player was forced to make contact with the head then a penalty will not be called.
Finally, say a player changes his position right as he is being hit resulting in a hit to the head. In this situation, the player would avoid an illegal hit to the head penalty as he had no opportunity to avoid it.
Like the majority of penalties in the NHL there are several different consequences you may face from an illegal hit to the head. Below we are going to break down all the possible consequences a player may face from this penalty.
Two Minute Minor
Interestingly enough a two minute minor is the penalty you can receive from an illegal hit to the head that will put you in the penalty box. This is the penalty that will be called the vast majority of the time an illegal hit to the head occurs.
If this penalty is assessed the opposing team will have a five on four powerplay for two minutes.
There is no five-minute major penalty for an illegal hit to the head which makes a game misconduct penalty next on the list. In fact, this game misconduct penalty is the only penalty aside from a two-minute minor that can be assessed for an illegal hit to the head.
A game misconduct penalty is given out if the referee believes at his discretion that the offending player was attempting to deliberately injure an opponent.
If this penalty is assessed the player must automatically be removed from the game.
Much like a hooking or crosschecking penalty a suspension can be handed out at the commissioner’s discretion.