Hockey Illegal Check To The Head Penalty

ice Hockey Illegal Check To The Head

An illegal check to the head in hockey is a penalty that occurs when a player makes contact with an opponent’s head during a body check. Players are allowed to perform checks on opponents, but the torso and upper arm must be the main points of contact, not the head.


An illegal check to the head is a penalty in hockey that is committed when a player makes physical contact with an opponent’s head, face, or neck. Checking is the process in which players physically engage while competing for possession of a puck. Both body checking and stick checking are permitted in professional hockey and many amateur leagues, but these checks must be executed properly to avoid committing a penalty. Any type of check must be performed on the puck carrier; physical contact away from the puck will never be a legal check. A legal body check is performed by using the elbow, upper arm, shoulder, and hip, all together at once to apply equal force to an opponent’s body. Types of illegal checks include cross-checking, clipping, elbowing, and boarding, as well as illegal checking to the head.

For a check to be considered an illegal check to the head, the head must be the main point of contact, and the contact must have been avoidable. When determining whether an illegal check to the head foul has occurred, a referee will consider the actions of both the potential offender and their opponent. A penalty will not be called if the player appeared to aim at their opponent’s body and inadvertently struck their head. Likewise, a penalty will not result if a player makes their head vulnerable during a check through their own actions. Checks to the head can be dangerous to players, and as a result, if they are committed forcefully or result in injury, the offender will typically be ejected.   


The result of an illegal check to the head penalty being called is a minor penalty being assessed on the offender. This result is the same in amateur and professional leagues. However, USA Hockey referees will assess a major penalty plus a game misconduct penalty for recklessly endangering an opponent while committing this penalty, with the option of a match penalty. In contrast, NHL referees may assess a match penalty for injuring or attempting to injure an opponent, but never a major or game misconduct penalty.

Referee Signal

Ice Hockey Illegal Check To The Head Referee Signal

A referee will immediately whistle to stop play unless the foul is committed by the defensive team, in which case they will wait until the next stoppage or possession change. To signal an illegal check to the head penalty, a referee will first raise their flattened non-whistle hand slightly to the side so it is at the same height as their head with the palm facing inward. Then they will pat the side of their head with their hand. 


  • A skater makes attempts to regain possession from their opponent who has the puck. The player drives their shoulder upward into their opponent's face.
  • Away from the puck, a player collides with an opponent, hitting them in the helmet with their shoulder and upper arm.
  • A skater checks an opponent in the process of making a play for the puck. The opponent slips and falls, their head colliding with the skater’s arm as they fall. No penalty has occurred.

Similar Penalties to Check to The Head


What is an illegal check to the head penalty in hockey?

An illegal check to the head penalty in hockey is a penalty that results from a player making prohibited contact with an opponent’s head. Players are never allowed to make contact with an opponent’s head during a check unless the contact is unavoidable. The typical penalty for committing an illegal check to the head foul is a two-minute minor penalty. However, the punishment can be more severe if the foul is committed with excessive force or causes injury.

What are the consequences of being called for an illegal check to the head penalty in hockey?

The consequences of being called for an illegal check to the head penalty range from being forced to serve two minutes in the penalty box while your team is shorthanded, to a longer time penalty or even an ejection from the game. A two-minute time penalty is the minimum punishment for an illegal check to the head. Committing this foul violently or with excessive force brings harsher consequences such as a five-minute major penalty or an ejection.

Body checks and stick checks are legal in professional hockey, provided they are executed properly and against the puck carrier in an effort to gain possession of the puck. To properly execute a body check, a player uses their hip, shoulder, upper arm, and elbow, driving these body parts equally and simultaneously into their opponent. Competitive contact is also allowed, in which players inevitably make physical contact while competing over the puck.