Most hockey fans know that checking from behind in youth leagues is not allowed. This sort of hit can be dangerous and often leads to injury. But when it comes to the NHL the rules are a little blurrier.
The NHL has rules against checking from behind but they are rarely called. A lot of this has to do with the fact that checking from behind can only be assessed as a major penalty and not a minor.
But before we get into the consequences lets determine what an illegal check from behind looks like.
What Is A Checking From Behind Penalty
Now that we know checking from behind can be penalized in the NHL let’s get into the rule itself.
Here is the official NHL rule regarding checking from behind:
Checking from Behind – A check from behind is a check delivered
on a player who is not aware of the impending hit, therefore unable to
protect or defend himself, and contact is made on the back part of the
body. When a player intentionally turns his body to create contact with
his back, no penalty shall be assessed. – NHL Rulebook
As you can see the penalty of a check from behind stems around the player who was hits ability to protect himself. This wording displays that the NHL is not going to call every check that occurs on the back of a players body but rather those that put him in a potentially dangerous situation.
The rule also references players turing there body to intentionaly get hit from behind. In many situations spinning to get hit from behind can earn you a powerplay due to a boarding or checking from behind call.
This is gives the referees more wiggle room when a player is hit from behind while turning. Oftentimes especially in the corners players may spin or rotate in the corner in order to chang direction quickly.
This spin move often leads to accidental hits from behind. This wording was added to the rule in order to not call all of these hits as a penalty the NHL.
So we know that checking from behind is an illegal play if the player cannot defend himself and contact is made from behind. But what are the consequences when a player makes a hit like this?
No Minor Penalty
One aspect of checking from behind that is interesting is the lack of minor penalty for this hit. As the NHL rulebook states there is “no provision for a for a minor penalty for checking from behind”.
This means that the referees cannot give a player a two-minute penalty regardless of the severity of his hit from behind.
Though this doesn’t entirely stop players from getting minor penalties for these kinds of hits. Hitting from behind is usually going to fit the criteria of a boarding call. This is because hits from behind almost always occur near the boards.
In these situations, you may find the referee will call a minor penalty for boarding in lieu of a minor penalty for hitting from behind.
Five Minute Major
Though you cannot receive a minor penalty for hitting from behind you can receive a major penalty. A major penalty for this type of hit requires the player to also charge or crosscheck the player he hits from behind.
The official rule is as follows:
Any player who cross-checks, pushes or charges an
opponent from behind who is unable to protect or defend himself, shall
be assessed a major penalty. This penalty applies anywhere on the
playing surface – NHL Rulebook Rule 43
As you can see the rule states that a player cross-checks, pushes or charges an unprotected opponent will receive a five-minute major.
This frankly isn’t true when it comes to watching NHL hockey. If you watch any NHL game you will notice players cross check each other in the back from time to time and they certainly aren’t getting five minute majors.
This is why the “unable to protect themself” wording was added into this rule. This portion of the rule allows the referee to use his discretion to when calling this penalty.
On top of the five minute penalty, you will also be awarded a game misconduct for this hit. Any time a major penalty is given for a check from behind the player is automatically awarded a game misconduct. This means the player will be immediately ejected from the game.
In most cases, a check from behind will land you a two-minute penalty via boarding or roughing. Five-minute majors are more often reserved for dangerous hits from behind.
The referee is also able to charge the offending player with a match penalty for hitting from behind. The referee may only charge a player with a match penalty if he believes the offending player deliberately attempted to injure his opponent.
Deliberately injuring an opponent with a check from behind is an incredibly dirty play so there is no surprise this will land you an ejection from the game.