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Safe Expectations

By USA Hockey, 09/10/19, 11:15AM MDT


Expectations of officials in relation to the new USA Hockey Declaration of Player Safety, Fair Play and Respect

The 2019-20 season is about to get underway and by now you’ve probably heard something about USA Hockey’s latest initiative that encourages a “change the culture” as to what is considered to be acceptable/unacceptable body checking and competitive contact at all levels of play. 

The USA Hockey Declaration of Player Safety, Fair Play and Respect was adopted by USA Hockey’s Board of Directors at Annual Congress this past June. As part of this initiative, a comprehensive education program is taking place with parents, players, coaches and officials. There are no changes to the current rules or format, but some new language may be used to help enhance the understanding of what is acceptable/unacceptable behavior and add clarity to existing interpretations. 

You can view the entire three-page Declaration (which we highly recommend) but have provided an overview of the relevant points for us in stripes.  

COMPETITIVE CONTACT (Acceptable for Body Contact Category Games and is encouraged at all levels of play)

Competitive contact is body contact that occurs between two or more skaters who are in the vicinity of the puck and who are in the normal process of playing the puck. Physical contact is likely to occur between the players and is allowed provided the primary focus of the players is to gain possession of the puck. Examples of competitive contact include:

  • Angling: Defensive skill used to direct/control the puck carrier to an area that closes the gap and creates an opening that is too small. Angling occurs when a defending player takes away space and forces the attacking puck carrier into a smaller area.
  • Physical Engagement: Players who are in pursuit of the puck are allowed to reasonably lean into each other provided possession of the puck remains the sole objective. This may occur as players are racing for the puck or when battling for a loose puck in along the boards or in front of the goal.
  • Collisions: Occur when players are allowed to maintain their established position on the ice. Collisions are likely to occur when opposing players are racing for the puck from different directions and arrive at the same time.

Additional acceptable forms of competitive contact include:

  • A skater is entitled to the ice he occupies so long as he maintains his skating speed and body position between an opponent and the loose puck.
  • A skater is entitled to stand his ground and is not required to move if an opponent wishes to skate through that area of the ice.
  • A skater may block an opponent so long as he is in front of the opponent and moving in the same direction.
  • A skater can use his body position to force an opponent to take a less direct route to the puck, so long as he does not use a hand or arm to hold or block the opponent.

USA Hockey strongly encourages legal “competitive contact” to occur in all age classifications as part of the skill progression that teaches legal body checking. Non-check hockey does not mean no contact and the Body Contact Category game can be very physical. Officials are expected to have a thorough understanding of “competitive contact” principles and properly enforce these rules at all levels of play.

BODY CHECKING (The following guidelines apply to all games played in the Body Checking Category)

A body check represents intentional physical contact, from the front, diagonally from the front or straight from the side, by a skater to an opponent who is in control of the puck.   Legitimate body checking must be done only with the trunk of the body (hips and shoulders) and must be above the opponent’s knees and at or below the opponent’s shoulders. The use of the hands, forearm, stick or elbow in delivering a body check is unacceptable and not within the guidelines of a legal body check. 

The opposing player’s objective is to gain possession of the puck and proper body checking technique starts with stick on puck, therefore the stick blade of the player delivering the check must be below the knees. It is unacceptable to initiate a body check for the purpose to punish or intimidate an opponent.

The following are considered unacceptable body checking examples:

  • Vulnerable or Defenseless: A skater is considered to be in a vulnerable or defenseless position when he is unaware, unprepared, or unsuspecting of an impending hit (Boarding, Charging, Checking from Behind, Head Contact). When done in a dangerous, careless or reckless (unacceptable) manner where the player delivering the check has made no effort to play the puck, a major plus game misconduct or match penalty must be assessed.
  • Physically Engaged: When two or more players are physically engaged for control of the puck along the boards, they are considered to be vulnerable and defenseless. Any body check delivered by a skater to an opponent who is physically engaged with another skater is considered dangerous, careless or reckless (unacceptable).
  • Late, Avoidable Body Check: Any avoidable check delivered to a player who is no longer in control of the puck. An avoidable check is when the player delivering the check has an opportunity to avoid contact or minimize contact, once it is realized the opponent no longer has control of the puck. The concept of “finishing the check” is an unacceptable action as it is one that is meant to intimidate or punish the opponent with no intent to gain possession of the puck.  The responsibility is on the player delivering the check to avoid forceful contact (minimize impact) to a vulnerable or defenseless player who is no longer in control of the puck. 
  • Control of the Puck: A player delivering a check to a vulnerable or defenseless player, who is not in control of the puck, will be assessed a penalty for roughing. Officials are to pay particular attention to these examples when applying this rule. These are intended as a guide and include, but are not limited to, the following:
    • A player who is dangerous, careless or reckless (unacceptable) in delivering a check.
    • A player who anticipates an opponent gaining possession or control of the puck but who makes contact with the opponent before possession or control occurs.
    • A player who delivers a late, avoidable check to an opponent who has released a shot or pass and is no longer in control of the puck.
    • The use of the hands, forearm, stick or elbow in delivering a body check OR making contact with the opponent after the whistle. If contact is made above the shoulders, this action must be penalized as Head Contact. This includes any contact that occurs as part of a scrum situation after play has been stopped.
    • Two skaters who use competitive contact for position as they skate to a loose puck are within their rights to do so, unless one uses his stick, arm, or skates to obstruct his opponent’s ability to skate to the puck.

Officials are expected to strictly enforce all of the unacceptable body checking actions above with the understanding that the onus to deliver a legal body check is 100% on the player delivering the check.


Another part of this initiative is to eliminate the unsportsmanlike behavior of banging the boards with sticks, or other objects as a means to celebrate the “big” hit. This is not a rule change! The spirit and intent of this rule is to eliminate unsportsmanlike behavior that is designed to “taunt” or “intimidate” an opponent through the celebration of an unnecessary or illegal body check. Simply banging the stick, or other object, against the boards while on the player’s bench is not a penalty. However, it is deemed to be unsportsmanlike conduct and should be penalized when done as a means of escalating dangerous and/or unnecessary physical play where there is no intent to legally gain possession of the puck. You can read the entire interpretation and the proper procedure for enforcement of this rule here.  

Coaches are being instructed to teach proper competitive contact and body checking skills while players are being informed they will be held accountable for playing the game within the rules. Officials must do our part as outlined above in order for a successful culture change to take place.   It is not going to happen overnight, but with renewed emphasis on proper skills and strict enforcement, the game will continue to prosper in a safer and more skilled environment for the current players and future generations.