What Is Charging In Hockey?

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If you are having difficulties telling charging and boarding apart, you are not alone. These two infractions are so similar that even the most experienced referees are sometimes not sure which one to call.

Below, I am going to explain to you the charging penalty in hockey and how it differs from boarding. Along the way, I will also provide links to USA Hockey and NHL rulebooks – I think that every hockey fan and especially players should know the ins and outs of this sport’s rules.

Charging In Hockey - The Guide

USA Hockey definition

Rule 607 of the USA Hockey Rulebook defines charging in the following way:

Charging is the action where a player takes more than two strides or travels an excessive distance to accelerate through a body check for the purpose of punishing the opponent. This includes skating or leaving one's feet (jumping) into the opponent to deliver a check, accelerating through a check for the purpose of punishing the opponent, or skating a great distance for the purpose of delivering a check with excessive force.

So essentially, a charge is when a skater accelerates by taking multiple strides and deliberately hits another player. Charging can also be called out anywhere on the rink.

For a more visual insight, you may watch this video compilation of NHL charging hits.

National Hockey League definition

Rule 42 of the National Hockey League’s 2019-2020 rulebook defines charging as follows:

Charging shall mean the actions of a player who, as a result of distance traveled, shall violently check an opponent in any manner. A “charge” may be the result of a check into the boards, into the goal frame or in open ice.

I think that the USA Hockey rulebook does a better job at defining charging because the definition is more specific there. USA Hockey specifies that charging involves taking “more than two strides” or “traveling an excessive distance”.

Charging penalties

Rule 607 of the USA Hockey rulebook lists the following penalties for charging:

  • Minor penalty (Rule 402). Any player, except for the goalkeeper, is ruled off the ice to the penalty box for 2 minutes, during which no substitutes will be allowed.
  • Major penalty (Rule 403). Any player, except for the goalkeeper, is ruled off the ice for 5 minutes, again with no substitutes.
  • Misconduct penalty (Rule 404 point a). In the case of misconduct, a player (again except for the goalkeeper) leaves the game for 10 minutes with immediate substitution. Once 10 minutes elapse, the player may return to the game at the next stoppage of play.
  • Game misconduct penalty (Rule 404 point b). The player is suspended for the balance of the game with immediate substitution, as well as for the next game. Additionally, a total of 10 minutes are applied to the records of the player.
  • Match penalty (Rule 405). A match penalty results in the removal of the offending player from the rink for the balance of the game plus a 5-minute penalty. The player may be substituted, but until the penalty expires, the substitute player must be placed on the penalty bench.

Rule 607 also goes into more specifics as to in which cases each of these penalties may incur:

  • For charging an opponent, a minor penalty plus misconduct or major penalty plus a game misconduct penalty.
  • For injuring an opponent as a result of charging, a major penalty plus game misconduct penalty.
  • For body checking or charging a goalkeeper while the goalkeeper is within the privileged area or his goal crease, minor penalty plus misconduct or a major penalty plus game misconduct penalty.

One thing to note with goalkeepers – charging a goalkeeper when he is outside the privileged area is not “fair game”. When a player makes unnecessary contact with the goalkeeper, interference of charging should always be called.

With that said, Rule 607 also notes that referees should be alert of infractions committed by goalkeepers near the goal. So no, you won’t be penalized if a goalkeeper commits an infraction against you.

Additionally, Rule 607 says that any accidental or unavoidable contact with the goalkeeper should be penalized as interference. As for deliberate body contact or checks, they should be penalized as charging.

How do referees call charging?

To call charging, referees clench their fists and move them around each other in a circular motion in front of the chest.

What Is The Difference Between Charging And Boarding In Hockey?

Boarding is often confused with charging because the two infractions are similar. However, the two are distinct and easy to tell apart once you know how each is defined.

Rule 603 of the USA Hockey rulebook defines boarding as follows:

Boarding is the action where a player pushes, trips or body checks an opponent causing them to go dangerously into the boards. This includes: Accelerating through the check to a player who is in a vulnerable position, driving an opponent excessively into the boards with no focus on or intent to play the puck, or any check delivered for the purpose of punishment or intimidation that causes the opponent to go unnecessarily and excessively into the boards. The onus is on the player delivering the check to avoid placing a vulnerable or defenseless opponent in danger.

Rule 41 of the NHL 2019-2020 rulebook defines boarding as follows:

A boarding penalty shall be imposed on any player who checks or pushes a defenseless opponent in such a manner that causes the opponent to hit or impact the boards violently or dangerously. The severity of the penalty, based upon the impact with the boards, shall be at the discretion of the Referee.

Boarding is typically called when the offending player hits an opponent from behind or after the latter no longer has the puck.

It’s clear why charging and boarding are often confused with each other – they are visually similar, and charging may also happen at the boards. However, there are some key differences:

  • With boarding, the infraction must occur at the boards, while charging may be called anywhere on the ice.
  • Charging involves traveling significant distances or taking more than two strides before impact, whereas the definition of boarding does not specify anything like this.

To differentiate between charging and boarding, referees most commonly take the traveled distance and/or the number of taken skating strides into account.

The 3rd Period

So in reality, charging is not that difficult to distinguish from boarding. You just have to look for one of the two:

  • More than two skating strides by the offending player before impact.
  • Excessive distance traveled by the offending player before impact.

In some cases though, telling the two offenses apart may be challenging – well, it’s up to the referee’s discretion which infraction to call anyway.

Cameron Wilson
Cameron Wilson
Cameron is from Ottawa and played college hockey for the Saskatchewan Huskies. He now coaches AA hockey. He is passionate about traveling, trekking, woodwork, and ethnic food. Cameron is also interested in sharing his knowledge about the beautiful game of hockey.