What Is Interference In Hockey?

Table of Contents

Understanding ice hockey rules is desirable if you are a fan of the sport and mandatory for a player. And one of the most fundamental things that you need to understand in hockey is interference.

So what is interference? What penalties does it incur? Is goalie interference a penalty? What is goaltender interference in hockey?

Read on to find answers to these and a few other questions below!

The Interference Penalty Explained

I’m going to have a look at three rules today:

  • Rule 625 on interference from the USA Hockey rulebook.
  • Rule 56 on interference from the NHL 2019-2020 rulebook.
  • Rule 69 on interference on the goalkeeper from the NHL rulebook.

USA Hockey and NHL rulebooks provide a slightly varying definition of interference, although the basics are the same. I’m going to cover both editions to give you a fuller idea of what interference is.

Both rulebooks are rather specific in definitions, so interference is difficult to confuse with other fouls. This is unlike charging, for example, which is commonly mistaken for boarding.

USA Hockey definition

Rule 625 of the USA Hockey rulebook defines interference as follows:

Interference is defined as when a player uses his body (“pick” or “block”) to impede the progress of an opponent (non-puck carrier) with no effort to play the puck, maintain normal foot speed or maintain an established skating lane.

So essentially, any deliberate attempt to block an opponent without need is considered interference.

Rule 625 specifies a few cases in which interference will be called by the referee:

  • An opponent is prevented from applying pressure to a teammate who possesses or controls the puck.
  • In face-off, the offending player plays the body of the opponent instead of playing the puck.
  • A player that no longer possesses or controls the puck contacts a defending player to prevent the latter from playing the puck or an opponent.
  • A defending player changes foot speed or skating lane to play the body of an opponent that no longer possesses or controls the puck.
  • A player intentionally knocks the stick out of an opponent’s hand.
  • A player prevents an opponent that dropped the stick or other equipment from retrieving it.
  • A player directs any object on the ice toward an opponent to distract him.
  • A player makes physical contact with the goalkeeper with his stick or body, interfering with him.
  • A player on the penalty or players’ bench interferences with the movement of an opponent or the puck during play.

In subpoint b, Rule 625 also specifies the following:

  • A face-off will be held at the nearest neutral face-off spot any time an attacking player skates through, stands, or holds his stick in the goal crease when a) the puck is in the attacking zone, b) the attacking team possesses the puck, and c) the goalkeeper is in contact with the crease. 
  • Unless a) the puck has preceded an attacker’s entry into the goal crease or b) the goalkeeper is out of his goal crease area, no goal will be scored if an attacking player is in the goal crease. However, goals will be allowed if the attacking player is in the goal crease due to the interference of a defending player.

Finally, subpoint c specifies how deliberate interference by the goalkeeper is treated.

A goalkeeper will get a minor penalty if he intentionally leaves the stick or its any portion in front of the goal. The non-offending team will be allowed a goal if the stick prevents an obvious and imminent goal no matter whether the goalie is on ice or not.

By the way, USA Hockey provides a casebook on interference – you should read it if you want to get a better idea of this foul. There are some video examples as well.

NHL Definition

In the NHL 2019-2020 rulebook, interference is defined by rule 56. The definition is somewhat long, so I definitely recommend that you give the rule a read yourself.

The key points are as follows:

  • A player has body position when he is skating in front or beside the opponent in the same direction. Body position is key to understanding interference as defined by the NHL. 
  • A player is allowed to block an opponent when he is in front of the opponent and moving in the same direction.
  • A player that is behind an opponent who does not have the puck must skate to establish position for a proper check.
  • Interference will be called when a player performs a “pick” in an opponent’s path while not initially having body position.
  • When a free hand is used to hold, pull, grab, tug, or physically restrain an opponent from freely moving, the offending player will be penalized holding. Exceptions are when a player uses the free hand to “fend off” an opponent or his stick.
  • Using a stick to impede the free movement of an opponent when not having body position will be assessed as a hooking penalty.

Then, the rule goes into detail as to what penalties will be assessed and when. 

  • In most cases, the referee assesses a minor penalty for interference. 
  • When an unidentifiable player on the players’ or penalty bench or any non-playing club staff interferes with the movement of the puck or an opponent, the referee calls a minor bench penalty.
  • When interference is performed violently or results in an injury of an opponent, the referee may impose a major penalty or game misconduct penalty.
  • Penalty shots are awarded when an attacking player in control of the puck in the neutral/attacking zone, with no other opponent to pass than a goalkeeper, is interfered by any member of the defending team.
  • After the goalkeeper was removed from the ice, a goal is awarded to the non-offending team if any member of the goalkeeper’s team (the goalkeeper included) not legally on the ice interferes with the puck or the opposing player in the neutral/attacking zone.
  • At the discretion of the Commissioner, fines and suspensions may also be imposed on the offending player. The NHL does not specify any rules or suspensions for interference though, so this happens on a case-by-case basis.

These points are a compacted version of Rule 56. I strongly suggest that you go and read the rule yourself to gain a better understanding of what interference is and when it is assessed.

What Is Interference On The Goalkeeper?

Rule 69 of the NHL 2019-2020 rulebook also defines interference on the goalkeeper. Essentially, this rule defines cases of interference on the goalkeeper that result in the disallowing of a goal.

The rule states that goals should be disallowed in two cases:

  • When an attacking player prevents the goalkeeper from moving freely within the goal crease or defend the goal either via contact or positioning.
  • When an attacking player intentionally contacts the goalkeeper inside or outside the goal crease.

Rule 69 specifies that incidental contact with the goalkeeper is permitted and that goals resulting from such contact are allowed – given that the player reasonably attempted to avoid contact and that the contact was initiated outside of the crease.

Additionally, if the attacking player has been pushed or fouled by a defending player into making contact with the goalkeeper, then the contact will not be considered as a foul for the attacker – again, given that the attacking player made reasonable effort to avoid contact.

The rule further specifies that if a defending player was pushed or fouled by an attacking player with the intent of initiating contact between the defending player and the goalkeeper, then such contact will be considered as initiated by the attacking player.

Contact, by the way, is defined as body or stick contact between an attacking player and a goalkeeper.

Penalties for interference on the goalkeeper

Interference on the goalkeeper may incur minor, major, match, or misconduct penalties. Referees decide at their own discretion which foul to call.

Contact with the goalkeeper inside the crease

Most commonly, interference on the goalkeeper causes the disallowing of the goal. Rule 69.3 defines what happens when an attacking player contacts the goalkeeper inside his goal crease.

Goals will be disallowed if they are scored in the following circumstances:

  • When an attacking player contacts the goalkeeper – whether deliberately or incidentally.
  • When a goalkeeper comes into contact with an attacking player while establishing position within his crease, which results in the impairment of the goalkeeper’s ability to defend the goal.
  • When the attacking player does not immediately give ground to the goalkeeper after contact while the goalkeeper is attempting to establish his position within the crease. Notably, no matter whether a goal has been scored or not, the attacking player will receive a minor penalty as well.
  • When the attacking player establishes significant position in the goal crease to impair the goalkeeper’s ability to defend the goal.
  • Every time the referee interrupts the game to disallow the goal after contact with the goalkeeper, a face-off occurs in the nearest neutral face-off spot.

Contact with the goalkeeper outside the crease

Rule 69.4 defines cases when interference has occurred outside of the goal crease.

Even when the goalkeeper is outside the crease, interfering with him is not “fair game”. Players may still be penalized and goals disallowed if contacting the goalkeeper outside his crease.

For contact with a goalie outside the goal crease, the NHL rulebook defines the following penalties:

  • If an attacking player non-incidentally contacts the goalkeeper and a goal is scored, this goal will be disallowed.
  • If a goalkeeper played the puck outside the crease and is then prevented from returning to the crease by an attacking player, the latter may be penalized for interference.
  • If the goalkeeper deliberately prevents the attacking player from playing the puck or an opponent, he (the goalkeeper) will be penalized.

Incidental contact with the goalkeeper outside his goal crease is allowed if the goalkeeper is playing the puck, given that the attacker reasonably attempted to avoid contact.

Rebounds and loose pucks

Rule 69.7 also specifies a few situations involving rebounds and loose pucks:

  • In rebound situations or when the goalkeeper and attacking player (or players) are attempting to play a loose puck at the same time, incidental contact with the goalkeeper is allowed, and so are any goals scored as a result. This applies to both when the goalkeeper is inside or outside the crease.
  • If an attacking player pushed the goalkeeper into the net along with the puck after making a stop, the goal will be disallowed. The goal may be allowed, however, if the attacking player was pushed or fouled by a defending player into pushing the goalkeeper into the net.
  • And most funnily, if the puck is under a player in or around the crease and if that player together with the puck gets pushed into the net, no goals will be scored.

In some cases, these offenses may incur a penalty against the attacking or defending player, depending on who did the foul.

Coach’s Challenge

And finally, we have to cover the most controversial rule that relates to interferences – Coach’s Challenge defined by Rule 38.

Essentially, when a team requests a Coach’s Challenge, a video review will take place in “goal/no goal” debates. As a result of the video review, goals that have been originally called on the ice may be overturned.

Coach’s Challenges may also be requested if the referee missed a game stoppage event or a goal was scored as a result of an off-side play, but this is a bit off-topic for the subject of interference.

The subpoint (c) of Rule 38.2 allows a team to request Coach’s Challenge if a goal may have involved interference on the goalkeeper. If the interference matches what is specified in Rules 69.1, 69,3, and 69.4, the goal will be disallowed.

Rule 38.8 also states that if the Coach’s Challenge is unsuccessful – i.e. when the original call is not overturned – the team requesting the Challenge will get a minor penalty. For more than one unsuccessful challenge, the team will get a double-minor penalty.

So yeah, teams should be careful when claiming interference on their goalkeeper.

Anyway, I’ve mentioned earlier that Coach’s Challenge is controversial. This is due to the video reviews.

Video reviews are being used more and more to assess and overturn decisions made on the ice. This has sparked some controversy among players. 

Some think that video reviews diminish the role of referees on the rink. Others agree that the system should exist to make things right because it’s difficult to keep up with what’s happening on the ice.

However, allowing video reviews for just three scenarios may instill confidence in players that they can do certain offenses scot-free. With that, the video review system is still far from being perfect, although it seems to be on the way.

The 3rd Period

Unlike fouls like charging, interference is pretty easy to identify because the NHL and USA Hockey are very specific in their definitions. In most cases, you could look at the rules and try to match them with what is happening on the ice.

I’ve covered the most important things above, but I suggest you read the rules independently. There are some minor details that I didn’t include to keep the post short and simple, but they may be very useful for you.

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.