What Is Spearing in Hockey?
Perhaps no infraction is more frowned-upon than hockey spearing. The National Hockey League rulebook defines 36 different fouls, from boarding to illegal substitution, and although all result in penalties, both players and fans recognize that most fouls are accidental—the result of bad judgment, a lack of skill, or simple exhaustion. Any instance in which one player deliberately tries to hurt another is considered dirty and outside the game. Whereas it's possible to, say, inadvertently slash an opponent while attempting a stick check or trip someone because you're not paying attention to where your stick is, spearing in hockey seems a more deliberate and aggressive attempt to cause pain or injury.
Hockey spearing is when one player stabs or pokes an opponent with the point (or “toe”) of the stick blade. It doesn't matter whether the blade actually makes contact with another player; the intent to cause pain is enough for an official to call a penalty. Because the blade of the stick has a relatively sharp edge, it can cause intense pain and do serious damage to any body parts not protected by hockey pads—such as the calf, stomach, or neck. Officials will also call a spearing penalty when a player sharply lifts a stick to jab an opponent in the groin. The referee signals a spearing penalty by holding both hands in front of the body, as if holding a stick, and making a forward jabbing motion.
The seriousness of spearing is evident in the harsh penalties meted out to those who commit such a foul. In the NHL, any player who attempts to spear another and doesn't make contact is given a double minor penalty and spends four minutes in the penalty box. If the stick blade does make contact, the offending player is assessed both a major penalty and a game misconduct. The major penalty means that his or her team will be short-handed for five minutes, and the game misconduct requires that the player is ejected from the game. (USA Hockey rules, which govern most amateur and youth hockey, draw no distinction between spearing and attempting spearing, penalizing both by a major penalty and game misconduct.)
A match penalty—ejection plus a chance for further suspension—is imposed on any player who injures an opponent as a result of a spear. Since a match penalty is imposed specifically for an attempt to injure, the referee is required to report the circumstances of the penalty to the Commissioner of the League immediately following the game. The league can then impose further sanctions, and in recent years, several high-profile spearing incidents in the NHL have resulted in multi-game suspensions.
There is simply no place for spearing in hockey, and both players and fans can react angrily to a spearing incident. Once a player has earned a reputation for being dirty, it's hard to change that perception, and any player found guilty of spearing is putting his or her team at a real disadvantage—forcing them to play a man down and to lose a player for at least that game.