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From the NHL rulebook:

61.1 Slashing - Slashing is the act of a player swinging his stick at an opponent, whether contact is made or not. Non-aggressive stick contact to the pant or front of the shin pads, should not be penalized as slashing. Any forceful or powerful chop with the stick on an opponent’s body, the opponent’s stick, or on or near the opponent’s hands that, in the judgment of the Referee, is not an attempt to play the puck, shall be penalized as slashing.

From my interpretations of the rule above, slashing seems somewhat subjective - it depends on whether the referee feels that a player was attempting to play the puck.

Assuming that a player is playing the puck, will hockey referees ignore any contact to an opponent, even if the chop is aggressive or forceful? How much does the rule's intent to reduce injury risk affect these types of calls?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Please note I do not referee in any league. I haven't seen many referee's for hockey here yet so I will attempt to answer from the viewpoint of a player and fan of the game. I will of course bow out my answer to someone who does do this.

The NHL has been making attempts to reduce risk and injury to players so to answer the last part I'd say it makes a huge impact on the call. Using your stick to touch an opponent's body is in general a "no-no" in hockey. Sticks can be extremely dangerous when going at the speeds hockey can reach and even when standing still you can accidentally get a stick caught somewhere in between the protective pads and cause serious injury.

Will they ignore all contact to an opponent? I would say if a player's stick makes contact with the opponent whether forceful or not and whether or not they meant to play the puck they will generally get called for slashing or possibly hooking. Even if the puck was the intended target of play but the player hits the opponent it would still generally be considered a penalty. The end result of the play is what is considered, not the good intentions of the play. The only safe time a player's stick could make contact with the opponent's stick without directly playing the puck would be if a player is attempting to lift his/her opponent's stick. Other times there is not much good reason for your stick to be anywhere but near the puck or underneath the opponent's stick if they are attempting to play the puck.

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To expand "The Jug's" answer, enforcement of the rule depends greatly on the league. The NHL specifically during the playoffs instructs their referee to relax their enforcement of most rules.

In the High School and College game these types of rules are enforced more stringently. The difference can be profound, in an NHL game if

"a player swings his stick at an opponent, and no contact is made."

There will almost never be a call, however the same act performed in a high school game will be called with much higher regularity.

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I've played hockey (nowhere near professionally) and the basic rules are: your stick is to play the puck, your skates are for propulsion, and your body is to maintain position. Any attempt to use these things for other than their intended purpose is a penalty.

Specifically for slashing, most cases are pretty obvious. Where it isn't is where NHL refs earn their salaries. The two decisions, as clearly laid out in the rules, are "was it aggressive stick-to-body contact" and "was it an attempt to play the puck"? If the ref says "yes" to the first and "no" to the second, it's a slash. These two decisions are a judgement call, which will invariably take into account a number of factors, but typically refs follow the "if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, quacks like a duck, it's a duck" mentality. If it looked like a legitimate attempt to play the puck and didn't break any other rules (like high-sticking), it's generally OK; players' skates and the front of their shins are VERY well-padded for a number of obvious reasons including incidental stick impact, and typically the ref will let it play. If it looked like a deliberate attempt to hinder or injure the opponent, that's a slash.

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I thought I'd weigh in from a ref's point of view.

I've been a ref for 7 years, and have two years of experience in the Danish Top League, as well as a few international games.

You're all right in saying that slashing is one of the more subjective penalties: It all comes down to the way the ref sees it. If a player is trying to poke the puck, or knock it off the other players stick, 99% of the time it won't be a penalty. But when it turns aggressive (arms, upper body, poorly padded areas, skates), or excessive (he's already tried 4-5 times and hasn't even been close) he's no longer attempting to play the puck, but rather hindering the opponents play and stride - And that's when the arm goes up.

You're also correct that it's enforced differently from league to league, and tournament to tournament. That's also why you'll see a lot more penalties at the World Championships than in the NHL.

Usually the rules are more stringent in non-pro and junior-leagues in order to both protect players and make self control a part of their hockey DNA. If they learn, early on, that they should use their body instead of their stick it'll produce a much cleaner and better game of hockey.

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+1, thanks for sharing your insights as an on-ice official. –  JW8 Aug 27 '12 at 17:00

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