What Is High Sticking in Hockey?
At any given time during a hockey game, 12 sticks are in play. To maintain player safety and minimize the risk of face and head injuries, a rule was established making it illegal to carry the stick above the shoulders to knock down the puck and thus gain an advantage against the opponent, or to intentionally or inadvertently use the stick to make contact with an opponent above the shoulders. In ice hockey this is called "high sticking," and it carries three penalties.
The degree of an infraction and its corresponding penalties varies, leading to confusion among new players and fans. To help clarify this, high sticking is defined in the rules of USA Hockey as follows:
Rule 621 | High Sticks
(Note) High Sticking is the action where a player carries the stick above the normal height of the opponent's shoulders and makes contact with the opponent. A player must be accountable for being in control of their stick at all times.
- A minor or major penalty shall be assessed for high sticking an opponent.
- A major plus a game misconduct penalty shall be assessed to any player who injures an opponent as a result of high sticking.
Batting the puck above the normal height of the shoulder with the stick is prohibited and no goal can be scored as a result of an attacking player playing the puck above the shoulder with the stick and directly entering the goal.
When the puck is played above the height of the shoulders with the stick, play shall be immediately stopped and a face-off conducted at one of the end zone face-off spots in the defending zone of the offending team unless:
- The puck is batted to an opponent who gains possession and control of the puck, in which case play shall continue, or
- A player of the defending team bats the puck into their own goal, in which case the goal is allowed.
- The use of "slap shot" in the Youth and Girls' 10 & under age classifications and below is prohibited. When a player who, in the process of making a forehand or backhand shot or pass, raises the blade of the stick above his waist as part of the backswing, play shall be stopped immediately and a face-off is conducted at one of the end zone face-off spots of the offending team."
High Sticking Calls
A referee signals a high sticking call by holding both fists clenched together at the height of the forehead.
In most cases, high sticking is a minor penalty, with the highest number of incidents occurring during scrums along the boards, or when a defender swings his stick towards the puck but ends up colliding with other players. His stick connects and inadvertently travels up the opponent's side and slides all the way to the facial area. Players who make contact with an opponent using a high stick are typically given a two-minute minor penalty.
No matter how minor, in every single instance the referee checks for injury. A minor penalty is assessed unless the referee finds blood, in which case a double minor penalty is assessed, recalling the adage, "No blood, no foul."
How to Avoid High Sticking
Due to the risk of head injuries, including concussions, in recent years the NHL has taken steps to add rules like high sticking to prevent contact to the head. While head protection for players is crucial, NHL teams are coming up with innovative ways to avoid high sticking, its associated injuries, and the subsequent penalties. Defensemen can run drills using sticks weighted with three pucks taped to their blades. The added weight ensures that players keep their sticks on the ice while making defensive plays.