Clarification of Playing Rules & Implications Regarding Player Eligibility

By Michael Barrett, IL Referee-in-Chief/Supervisor of Officials


Rulebook_cover_largeAt this time of the year inquiries are made regarding playing rules and their implications regarding player eligibility. I will try to identify some key items for coaches, players and administrators to be aware of as the season winds down and playoffs approach.

The USA Hockey playing rules vary regarding the amount of time associated with a particular infraction. Infractions may result in a player receiving something as “small” as a minor penalty; some require a minor penalty and misconduct; some allow for a major penalty; some require a major penalty and game misconduct; some require an automatic major and game misconduct; and others include the possibility or mandates of a match penalty.

There is no simple rule of thumb to replace the required knowledge of which infraction carries which assessed “time”. However, the USA Hockey playing rules mandate that any time an infraction results in an injury to the non-offending player, a major penalty and a game misconduct (or a match penalty) are required. In this regard, the official has no discretion but to impose the major/game or a match.

USA Hockey rules require that for one of the following infractions: Checking from Behind, Boarding, Head Contact and Charging – the official must assess one of the following: minor and misconduct OR a major and game misconduct OR a match penalty.

Butt-ending, spearing, head butting, grabbing the facemask and kicking all carry either major/game OR match penalty options.

A Fighting infraction results in a major/game and in Illinois carries a 3 game suspension for the first offense. There are also increased suspension requirements for subsequent fighting infractions.

These are just a few of the examples of the assortment of infractions and associated penalty times available to officials. For further rule discussions, please review USA Hockey playing rules 411 and 601 through 640.

This year USA Hockey instituted Rule 411 regarding progressive suspensions for multiple major penalties. Rule 411 identifies 16 playing rules applicable to the Rule 411 progressive suspensions. If a player receives his/her third major penalty in a season for one or more of these 16 penalties identified in Rule 411, then he/she is required to sit an additional 3 games. If the player receives a fourth major for one of these penalties in a season, he/she is required to sit an additional 5 games. If a player receives his/her fifth major for one of these penalties in a season, he/she is suspended from further play until a hearing is conducted by AHAI.

You should know that when a player receives his/her third major which invokes the Rule 411 progressive suspension criteria, the onus is on the player to sit out the required number of games. This is problematic when a player is double rostered because it is conceivably possible for a double rostered player to incur Rule 411 ramifications for one team and then have to sit out a game (or more) for the other team. Administrators, coaches and parents need to be aware of these requirements in order to avoid playing with an ineligible player.

In some instances, it is possible for an official to render a major penalty WITHOUT a corresponding game misconduct if the rules permit it. In all instances where an official assesses a major penalty (whether or not a game misconduct is simultaneously assessed), the official is required to report the assessment and AHAI takes note of the player and the infraction.

The score sheet utilized for a game is the “official” record of what occurred during the game. Therefore, all score sheets should clearly and accurately identify the players and coaches present and participating in a game. Additionally, coaches and team managers should ensure that all players serving suspensions are clearly identified on the score sheet.

Once the game officials sign off on the score sheet at the end of a game, there should be no additions or subtractions to the score sheet.

And remember, various leagues and organizations may have rules and regulations which increase the suspension time for various infractions; therefore, be sure, check with AHAI AND the league/team in which a player participates.

I hope the above clarifies a few items. If not, or if you have any other questions, please feel free to email the appropriate AHAI Committee (Tier I, Tier II, High School, Girls, etc.) or me at

We look forward to an exciting finish of the season.  Good luck to all.

Categories: Hockey Headlines, Officials

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