What Is Slashing in Hockey?
In any sport that involves a stick—ice hockey, lacrosse, or field hockey, for instance—there's a chance that, whether intentionally or not, a player will use the stick in a way that could cause injury to an opponent. In ice hockey, this has led to a class of penalties called "stick fouls," designed to ensure safety and to encourage players to keep their sticks on the ice, where they can do as little damage as possible. One of the more common stick fouls is the slashing penalty, defined in the rules of USA Hockey as
the act of a player swinging his stick at an opponent, whether contact is made, or not. Any forceful chop with the stick on an opponent's body or opponent's stick, on or near the opponent's hands, shall be considered slashing.
It is also considered hockey slashing if a player makes stick contact with an opposing goalkeeper who is in the goal crease and who has covered or caught the puck.
The slashing definition seems pretty cut-and-dry, but it turns out that there's plenty of gray area because much is left to the referees' discretion. For instance, refs have traditionally allowed non-aggressive stick contact with the pants or shin guards of another player to go unpunished, adopting a sort of "no harm, no foul" attitude as a way to keep the game moving. Also, a "slap" with the flat side of the stick blade, rather than its sharp edges, is rarely penalized.
The majority of slashing penalties are of the accidental variety. A useful defensive strategy is to use your stick to hook or lift an opposing player's stick, causing him or her to lose control of the puck. It's an effective way to force a turnover or to keep an opposing player from receiving a pass in front of goal. The problem is that you need to accomplish such a defensive move without the swinging or chopping motions that are the hallmarks of a slashing penalty. It is also vital to keep your stick away from the opponent's gloves, as any contact between stick and gloves will result in a spell in the "sin bin."
Hockey Slashing Calls
To signal a slashing penalty, the referee makes a chopping motion with one hand against the opposite forearm, and the offending player is assessed a minor or a major penalty, depending on the severity of the infraction. A standard slashing call results in a minor penalty (2 minutes in the penalty box), but if the slash causes an injury, it's a major penalty (5 minutes in the box) plus a game misconduct (the player is ejected for the rest of the game). A player may also receive a game misconduct penalty if the referee deems that there was intent to injure.
For the 2017-18 season, the NHL announced that it would be cracking down on slashing, adhering more closely to the slashing definition in the rulebook. This new focus on slashing was the result of a few recent high-profile hand injuries caused by stick blades, such as when Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby partially severed the fingertip of Ottawa defenseman Marc Methot. The practice of "tapping" an opponent's gloves with the blade of the stick to throw him off stride had been mostly allowed, but the league is now attempting to encourage players to keep sticks down. Too often, these "mini slashes" are last-ditch attempts by a defender to slow or disrupt a very fast or highly skilled player—the kind of players who fill the seats of the hockey arena.
As a player, the best way to avoid a slashing call is to keep your stick on the ice unless you are attempting to lift another player's stick. It's also vital that you never let your stick's blade or shaft hit another player's gloves, as that will draw a penalty every time. For a long time, some level of slashing has been considered "part of the game," but the governing bodies of amateur and professional hockey are trying to change that mindset.