Why Are Ice Hockey Players Allowed to Fight?

Heated arguments and fights are very common during sports. While it is not a welcoming course of action in many sports, ice hockey fighting is an established tradition in North America and is followed for a long time by both amateur and professional players. 

During the National Hockey League 2016-2017 season, out of 1230 games, 372 fights were noticed, which comes to an average of 0.3 fights per game. However, fighting in hockey has been banned outside the NHL.

Such fights are usually taken up by enforcers or goons typically experienced in fights than hockey. Moreover, such battles are governed by complex unwritten hockey fighting rules that coaches, players, and officials refer to as the ‘code.’ 

A hockey fight typically begins when a player hits the star player of their opponent’s team or a bad blood player of a previous fight. The most prominent hockey league or the National Hockey League has set some fighting in hockey rules to control the fighting situation. For instance, the players are not allowed to take their helmets out before the fight. If they do so, they will be charged a minor penalty and a major penalty. 

The rule book also says that the referee will pause the play once a fight starts and let the party fight out. Once it is all over, the players can again hit the ice. In the end, it is the referee’s call to determine the instigator i.e., the fight initiator, and the aggressor i.e. the fight winner who needs to be penalized. 

Fighting in Ice Hockey and its History

why is fighting allowed in hockey

Let’s look back at fighting in hockey through a historical lens. It takes us back to 1900 when the incidents of such fights were reported. Early hockey was known as extreme sports, so much so that incidents of even death during the game emerged. During the starting years of hockey, i.e., in 1900, 2 deaths were reported in 3 years. 

In 1922, the NHL or National Hockey League Integrated Rule 56 in their official rule book, which governed the nature of fisticuffs as an official term of the play. 

Depending on the severeness of the fight or misconduct, the penalty can be minor, major or misconduct. There is a dedicated section for fighting hockey rules in the NHL rule book under Rule 47. It says that a penalty will be imposed for fighting. A player who has instigated the fight will be subjected to a minor penalty, and a major penalty is imposed in case of 10 minutes of misconduct.  Also, rule number 528 highlights the fact a player engaging in fisticuffs will be subjected to a penalty

Because of these penalties, incidents of hockey fighting were relatively less between the 1920s to 1960s. However, later in the 70s and 80s, fighting in hockey somewhat became popular, resulting in at least one fight per game. Now, it has been one fight per three games in the modern era.  Some opine that such fights would fade away gradually. However, let’s delve into some reasons behind the fights. 

Reasons Behind the Allowance of Fighting in Ice Hockey

hockey fighting rules

Do you often wonder why is fighting allowed in hockey? Well, the simple answer to the question is that it adds an extra element of excitement and entertainment to the game that no other sports league offers. More reasons are to continue the tradition, the necessity to intimidate opponents, and simply because of the physical nature of hockey. Let’s look at it in more depth: 


Fighting has been one side of the coin in hockey since the old times. The incidents of brawls and fisticuffs were very common during the 1970s. Although the number of incidents decreased, aggression, rage, and the on-field arguments continued to be a part of this, something that even the fans have become accustomed to witnessing on the ground.  

Protecting the game

There is a code already set to control fighting in ice hockey. It is an unwritten hockey fighting rule understood by all players where if someone crosses the line, players are expected to back it up with their fists. In the end, everything boils down to protecting your teammate or intimidating your opposition from taking physical liberties.  

Fan appeal

You may find it grotesque, but the aggression and fight during the ice hockey game make the fan love this game even more. 

Preventing damage

If you have played hockey before, you can figure out how much it will hurt if you get hit by the hockey stick. As painful as fist fighting in hockey may sound, what will hurt more, a punch to the face or a stick?

Hockey is a fast, physical sport. So, the temper of players can run hot, which will make them find situations to get their frustration out. Thus, to avoid the damage done by the stick when carrying hockey fighting, fists are allowed.  

Arguments For and Against Fighting in Ice Hockey

The debate about fighting in ice hockey is non-ending. Some are in favor, while others are against this tradition. Let’s look at them. 

Arguments in Favor

  • Players’ Accountability

Fighting in hockey enables the teams to hold players accountable for their actions. For instance, if a player of the opposing team tries to hit your team’s star player, you are free to send an enforcer to fight the player who started the initial hit. Since the players are already aware of the repercussions, the cases of cheap shots decrease. 

  • An Old Tradition

As discussed above, fighting is like a tradition that is being continued for years now. It has been almost 100 years since Rule 56 of the official rule book allows hockey fighting but with consequences. So, it is believed that after being in the book for so long, changing the rules now will interfere with the essence of the game largely. 

  • Entertainment Factor

It will be misleading if we say people do not love watching hockey fights. In fact, some people go just to witness the big hits and fights. So, in a way, fights increase the entertainment value of the game. So, one key reason why fighting is allowed in hockey is attracting huge crowds to the game. 

Argument Against Fighting

  • Setting bad example

Fighting in hockey by professional players sets a bad example for youth hockey players and even on the lovers of the sports. Even though fighting is banned for young hockey players, they may try to imitate their professionals and end up getting seriously hurt. 

  • Players getting injured

There is always a chance of getting severe injuries resulting in mental health problems, concussions, and sometimes death. 

  • Encouraging Violence

No doubt, those who promote fighting in hockey are glorifying violence. This is not ideal for any level of hockey players but especially for youth players who are in the learning stage. 


Fighting in hockey is something that bursts emotions in the hearts of fans across the nation. There are many things to like about what hockey fighting brings to the game and how deeply it has become a part of it. 

No doubt, fighting in hockey is a source of criticism but is also a key attraction as some fans mainly come to just to see the fights. So, it seems that fighting would remain a key aspect of hockey.