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When an ice-hockey team has too many players on the ice, it is given a "Too Many Men on the Ice" penalty. The rules recognize that this is not the fault of any individual player, and so assign a penalty to the team. However, a specific player is required to sit in the penalty box while the team is shorthanded for two minutes. It is not the player who is most to blame for the penalty, as the penalized team gets to choose which player goes to the box.

So, why is a team forced to take a specific player out of the action? Why couldn't it just play four skaters until the penalty is over without anyone actually sitting in the box?

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If nobody would be sitting in the penalty box, the team would need to wait until the first whistle after the penalty time expiry and only then send the complete five-men squad, as it would be impossible to ensure the correct time otherwise. In that case, you can easily imagine the shorthanded team being unable to stop the play legally for very long time.

With the currently valid rules, at the exact moment the penalty time expires, the player goes to the ice to help his teammates (governed by the penalty-box attendant opening the gate for him):

i. Penalties are said to have expired at the exact time of the penalty on the scoreclock plus the length of the penalty. For instance, if a minor penalty is called at 4:58, it expires at 2:58. If a major penalty is assessed at 13:05, it expires at 8:05, whether or not the skater steps on the ice at that exact second.

(Rule 102 – Penalties on the Scoreclock)

The same logic applies when a player is assessed a minor and misconduct penalty at the same time: Generally, a player with a misconduct penalty waits in the penalty box until the next stoppage of play (his team is not short-handed during those 10 minutes of his penalty, it’s just that he personally is not allowed to play). But when the player receives a minor penalty as well, another player needs to sit in the penalty box to be able to return after two minutes (while the penalized player stays in the box to serve the whole misconduct penalty).

[i. …] For coincident minor penalties and misconduct penalties, the skater is allowed to return to the ice only at the first whistle after the penalty time has been served.

ii. Only penalties displayed on the scoreclock allow a team to gain extra skaters during game action when they expire. Penalties not displayed on the scoreclock include coincident minors or majors, misconducts, game misconducts, and coincident match penalties.

[…]

v. In the case of misconduct penalties, the skater is allowed to return to the ice only after the first whistle after the expiration of his penalty.

(Rule 102 – Penalties on the Scoreclock)

i. When a skater is assessed a minor and misconduct penalty at the same time, the penalized team must immediately put an additional skater in the penalty box to serve the minor penalty. No substitution of this skater is allowed in on-ice manpower. At the expiration of that penalty, the teammate may leave the penalty box but the skater who committed the infractions must remain in the penalty box to serve the misconduct penalty.

(Rule 108 – Duration of Penalties/Minor and Misconduct)

(Also, note that there are more infractions penalized by a bench minor penalty other than just Too Many Men, even though this is probably the most common; another example is a penalty for a second violation of faceoff procedures at the same faceoff.)

(All citations from the IIHF Official Rule Book 2014–18.)

  • 1
    Could you add a reference to the rules of ice hockey to this answer? It would turn an excellent answer into a brilliant one. – TrueDub May 31 '16 at 8:54

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