Skating speed is very important in hockey, but so is a player’s ability to effectively puck-handle and use their stick in general. When it comes to using a hockey stick, a lack of finesse can lead to costly penalties. One of these penalties being slashing.
So, what is slashing in hockey?
Slashing is the act of a player swinging their stick at an opposing player, whether contact is made or not. Any forceful chop to an opponent’s body or on their stick (near or on the hands) is slashing. Slashing is usually a minor penalty but may turn into a major penalty based on severity.
If there was not a rule for slashing, injuries would be the new normal and games would quickly get out of hand. To learn more about slashing in the National Hockey League (NHL) and to get a better idea of why the rule exists – stick around.
What Is Slashing in Hockey?
Slashing can be a confusing penalty to understand, even for the most well-versed of hockey fans and players. To the untrained eye, the call can seem entirely arbitrary.
Some referees seem to be pretty strict about calling slashing, while others seem to be completely oblivious to certain acts.
This confusion can be exacerbated if you play or watch other sports with seemingly similar rules like lacrosse, where there is no real equivalent to the slashing penalty (at least in men’s lacrosse).
According to the USA Hockey rule #634, “Slashing is 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.”
In a subsection of this rule, there is an extension that includes any swinging of the stick at the opposing goalkeeper after he or she has frozen the puck while in the crease, whether the referee has deemed play to be dead or not.
At this point, you might be wondering “why slash at all in the first place?” This is where your knowledge of the game beyond the rules is useful in understanding the logic behind such an act.
A key component of this rule that would deter players from using their stick too aggressively is the act of a player swinging their stick at an opposing player even without making contact, as this is deemed a foul.
However, I believe this is misleading as to the logistics of how the rule is called in games.
To call a foul in this scenario, an official would have to judge the intent rather than actual action. Therefore, slashing is much less often called without contact than with contact.
Moving on – what about when there is contact? This act can be performed by a player for many reasons, but usually, it is when the opposing player has the puck and the offending player is trying to gain possession, or at least cause the other player to lose possession.
If you take a closer look at the way the rule is outlined, there are several ways in which, if done carefully, the stick can effectively be used to accomplish this task without being called for a foul.
Along the same lines, the stick, when used in such a manner that would warrant a slashing call, must come in contact with one of two major areas for it to be called a foul.
These two areas, as described by the rule, are 1) the body and 2) the player’s stick. But for the latter, there is a specification that it needs to be at or near the opponent’s hands on the stick.
This means that there are many areas on the stick where, supposedly, a relatively forceful swing by an opponent would not draw a penalty under the rule.
However, sticks are somewhat fragile pieces of equipment and are designed to flex bidirectionally to elicit faster and more consistent shooting.
If a slash is so hard that an opponent’s stick breaks, it likely doesn’t matter if it was in a ‘legal’ location along the opponent’s stick to hit, and should draw a penalty.
Why Is There a Rule Against Slashing in Hockey?
The reasoning behind the rule against slashing in hockey, which isn’t laid out in the rulebook (but we can infer) is a two-part answer. First, there are safety concerns.
While the hockey stick is designed to bend or flex in one plane, it is designed to be quite stiff in the other plane for the same reason.
This plane where it is stiff is typically the plane used to attack an opponent when a slash is committed. Even with the extensive protective gear worn by players in the modern game, slashing still presents a great risk for injuring opponents.
Second, the rule against slashing provides some stability to the infrastructure of game planning.
If there were no slashing penalty, it would be a lot easier to obtain possession of the puck from opponents. Positioning would become less important and there would be more frequent, and less cleverly earned, turnovers of the puck.
Therefore, the slashing penalty is a key rule in maintaining the integrity of the game.
What Is the Penalty for Slashing?
Similar to other penalties in the game of ice hockey, there is some discretion left up to the official making the call as to the severity of the punishment for a given offense.
Subsection (a) of the USA Hockey rules regarding slashing states that a minor penalty or major penalty may be called for slashing. This indicates that it is up to the official to determine where the foul lands on a scale of severity before designating a minor or major penalty.
But at minimum, this means that a slashing penalty results in a 2-minute minor penalty against the offending team. This is certainly the most common punishment incurred.
There are scenarios in which the severity of punishment is not left up to the discretion of the official, however, because the offense is that detrimental to the legitimacy of the game.
This is particularly evident when a player injures an opposing player. The penalty assessed in this case according to the USA Hockey rulebook is a 5-minute major penalty, plus a game misconduct penalty.
This means that the player is ejected from the game and a teammate must serve his or her five minutes in the penalty box.
This player must then also sit out their team’s next game (note the NHL has different penalties).
If a player swings their stick at an opposing player during an altercation, the result is a minimum of a match penalty, meaning ejection from the game, or may be assessed a game misconduct penalty. When a game misconduct penalty is assessed, the offending player is suspended for the next game as well.
Lastly, there is the case when a player hits the opposing goalkeeper with their stick while the goalie is in the crease and has the puck frozen, whether play has been suspended by the referee or not.
Being called for this penalty results in a 2-minute minor penalty, unless one of the above infractions causes the penalty to be assessed at a greater threshold.
This form of the penalty is not as common as many may think, given that players seem to be hitting the opposing goalkeeper with their sticks quite frequently.
This is because officials tend to give the offensive attacker the benefit of the doubt, provided the slash on the goalie was not too vicious, as many times their perspective of whether or not the puck is fully covered by the goalkeeper is limited.
It is also possible the player was charging the net and was unable to stop themselves in time before the puck was covered.
NHL Slashing Rule
The NHL rule against slashing is categorized as a stick foul and is designated under rule #61.
This rule provides more freedom to the referee making the call as well as the player using their stick. In this rule, it is legal for a player to “non-aggressively” swat their stick at the pant or front of the shin of an opposing player.
Additionally, it is a penalty to swing the stick forcefully at an opposing player with or without making contact with the opponent’s stick, the opponent’s hands, or the opponent’s body, if there was no intent to play the puck.
If the official deems that the slash occurred under the pretense of attempting to play the puck, it is not a foul. This makes sense in professional hockey, as there is a balance between preventing injuries and preserving the integrity of the game.
Nonetheless, the slashing penalty is still in effect to keep the structure of the game, as well as the safety of the players intact.