Hockey Checking From Behind Penalty

Ice Hockey Checking From Behind Penalty

In hockey, a checking from behind penalty occurs when a player deliberately skates into (or “checks”) another player who is unaware of the impending hit and thus cannot defend themselves. Checking from behind involves hitting an unwary player in the back. However, if the player receiving the hit intentionally turns their back to block the check, there is no penalty.


A checking from behind penalty is called whenever a hockey player intentionally skates into an opponent whose back is turned, preventing them from seeing or defending against the oncoming hit.

A referee will call this penalty if a player on one team clearly and intentionally approaches an opposing player who has their back turned, proceeding to hit them and knock them down when they could not possibly have seen the strike coming. Checking from behind can cause serious injuries to a player, such as concussions. Therefore, it is against the rules for any player to intentionally strike another who cannot defend themselves or see the blow coming. In most cases, checks from behind also qualify as cross-checks, another form of illegal hockey play that can also be penalized. 

Despite the rule against checking from behind, there is a bit of leeway for hockey referees when it comes to this penalty. In most cases, checking from behind is not called if the player who gets checked turns their back immediately prior to the check, thereby intentionally putting themselves in a vulnerable position. If this occurs, the referee can either call checking from behind as a minor penalty rather than a major one or declare that no foul took place. Therefore, most checking from behind penalties wind up being a minor penalty, with major penalty calls only being made in the case of clear and obviously-excessive checks from behind. 


Checking from behind is a major penalty in hockey, requiring the offending player to spend five minutes in the penalty box, during which time the team must play shorthanded. However, in NHL Rules, checking from behind also automatically incurs a game misconduct penalty, which results in the offending player being ejected from the game and sent back to the locker room. In high school and youth hockey leagues, checking from behind is much more severe and is usually met with immediate disqualification from the match.

Penalty Signal

Referees use two different signals for checking from behind penalties. In USA Hockey and the NCAA, checking from behind is signaled by the referee placing his non-whistle arm behind his back with his elbow bent and his forearm parallel with the surface of the ice. In the NHL and AHL, checking from behind is signaled by the referee making a forward pushing motion with both hands, palms open, extending from the chest.


  • Player 1 and Player 2 are against the boards, trying to gain control of the puck, which is on the ice under their skates. Each is facing the glass. Player 3, trying to free the puck for Player 1, skates in and checks Player 2 from behind into the boards. Player 2 falls to the ice, and the referee stops play, calling a penalty on Player 3.
  • Player 1 is going after the puck during a loose-puck situation, when Player 2 gains speed through the end zone and makes no attempt to decelerate before pushing Player 1 in the back with extended arms into the boards without going for the puck. The referee calls a penalty on Player 2.
  • During play near the goal, Player 1 pushes Player 2, who is ahead of him, in the back with his stick and full extension of his arms, pushing him into the goal. The referee calls a penalty on Player 1. 

Similar Penalties To Checking From Behind


What is a checking from behind penalty in hockey?

Checking from behind in hockey is a penalty that occurs when one player forcibly and intentionally hits another player who has their back turned, meaning that the receiving player cannot see or defend against the blow. Checking from behind is a major penalty in almost all scenarios and can be punished either with time in the penalty box or ejection from the game. However, in some leagues, like the NHL, checking from behind can be downgraded as a penalty if it is shown that the receiving player intentionally turned their back to the check.

According to USA Hockey Rule 604(a), body checking is prohibited in the 12 & under youth age classifications and below, in all girls’/women’s age classifications, and all non-check adult classifications. This means that all forms of body checking, including checking from behind, are illegal in youth hockey. Checking from behind is also the subject of USA Hockey rule 608, which states the consequences for checking from behind, noting that the onus is on the player delivering the check to avoid placing the other player in danger. In youth hockey matches, checking from behind is a major penalty that often results in ejection and match disqualification.

What are the consequences for a checking from behind penalty in hockey?

There are various consequences for a checking from behind penalty. In the NHL and NCAA, checking from behind is a major penalty and a game misconduct penalty that can either result in five minutes inside the penalty box or an ejection. For the NFHS and USA Hockey, checking from behind into the boards is often automatic grounds for disqualification from the match.