Why is Fighting Allowed in Ice Hockey But Not Other Sports

Fighting is more accepted and allowed in hockey because it allows the sport to police itself and the penalties are not severe. The fast-paced and physical nature of the sport, as well as its history, also contribute to why fighting is penalized less intensely.

Going to a hockey game is an exciting experience and seeing everything from goals, to big hits, to massive dekes can be a ton of fun. However, few things get fans out of their seats and cheering like a good old-fashioned hockey fight.

But why is fighting allowed in hockey, but fighting in other sports results in an immediate ejection, and often a suspension? Keep reading to learn more about not only that, but also the history of fighting in hockey and the rules for fighting in the NHL.

Key Takeaways

  • Fighting is generally more accepted in hockey because it allows players to police the game, as opposed to referees taking that role on. It is a pressure relief that prevents bigger blowups from occurring. The penalties are also much less severe.
  • It has been a part of hockey for a very long time and likely came about due to the fact that the lack of rules when the game was first created encouraged physical play. The fast-paced nature of the sport and its intensity also contribute.
  • There are several additional rules around fighting in hockey that include rules for instigating fights, being the third man in, fighting off the playing surface, and more.

Reasons Fighting is More Accepted in Hockey Than Other Sports

First of all, while players are allowed to fight in some cases in hockey, it certainly is not encouraged as there are penalties for fighting. It is regulated in the rule book and if you partake in a fight, you are penalized and forced off the ice to serve a 5-minute major penalty.

This is much different than the penalties/rules for fighting in other sports, as most of them will have a player ejected and potentially suspended for fighting an opponent. Because of these lighter penalties for fighting, more players are willing to do it than they are in other sports.

Another main reason that fighting is more accepted in hockey is that it lets the game police itself, instead of the refs. Remember, this is an intense and fast-paced contact game with little breaks, which is different from most other sports out there.

Intensity and aggression can build throughout the game, and fighting can be seen as a pressure relief.

If there were no outlet like fighting for players to settle arguments and blow off steam, more dangerous situations or events could develop, such as players cheapshotting more often. As a result, the presence of hockey fights can also help to reduce injuries.

Another reason is that fighting in hockey is consensual. Both players willingly do it, and no one needs to fight if they don’t want to. If a player attempts to fight another player who clearly doesn’t want to fight, they will be penalized more severely.

The History of Fighting in the NHL

Fighting has been a part of hockey since the beginning of the sport well over 100 years ago. There are a number of theories about why it started, and it is impossible to know the exact reason.

The most common theory is that the lack of rules in the original sport encouraged physical play and intimidation. Another potential reason for the integration of fighting is because many lacrosse players made the switch to ice hockey, and were accustomed to an aggressive sport.

Fighting first became regulated formally in the NHL rulebook in 1922, and this was when players started to receive a 5-minute major penalty for fighting. While star players during the early days of hockey often fought for themselves, later years saw teams bring on enforcers to protect stars.

Some big names and stars still drop the gloves from time to time, but it is much more common to have enforcers fight.

In the last few years, fighting has become much less common, and most players and teams put a greater emphasis on the offensive abilities of hockey like passing, skating, and scoring, than the defensive side that includes hitting and fighting.

I don’t know if it will ever be fully removed from the game, but it is certainly happening much less often and there are far fewer enforcers at the NHL level than there used to be.

Rules for Fighting in the NHL

As mentioned earlier, there are many rules around fighting. Currently, it is regulated in Rule 46 of the NHL rule book. Refs are given a lot of freedom when it comes to penalizing fights and deciding what sort of actions are deemed as a fight.

While fighting is often clear, there are certain situations where it is up to the ref to decide whether the skirmish is considered a fight, or something less severe like roughing or unsportsmanlike conduct.

Also, there can be different degrees of responsibility in a fight (such as one player being the aggressor), so the NHL gives refs a lot of wiggle room to assess penalties as they see fit.

In addition to the main rules about fighting, there are also some additional restrictions and guidelines that players need to abide by. For example, any player instigating a fight may be penalized harshly, as will any player who is the “third man in” in an altercation.

There are also unwritten rules that fighters generally abide by. This includes not sucker punching opponents, stopping the punches when a player goes down, fighting players of your own size, and being willing to answer for your actions if you lay a questionable hit.


Here are a few frequently asked questions about fighting in ice hockey, as well as their answers.

Is fighting allowed outside the NHL?

It is rare, but there are some cases when hockey fights do occur outside of the NHL. Most leagues, including youth leagues and the NCAA, have incredibly serious penalties for fighting, so very few players do it.

However some leagues, such as the OHL and WHL still allow for fighting, as the rules are similar to those of the NHL.

When do refs step in to stop a fight?

In most cases, a ref will step in to stop a fight once one player clearly wins, the two wrestle themselves down to the ice, or the players tire out and are clearly done fighting.

Why do players fight in hockey?

Normally, players will fight to defend a teammate, intimidate opponents, or introduce some energy and excitement for the rest of their team.

Final Thoughts

Fighting in hockey has long been a part of the game, though we are certainly seeing less of it now than in the past. However, it continues to be more accepted in hockey than any other sport, and I hope that this guide helped you understand why.

Do you think fighting still has a place in hockey, or do you think it should be banned/penalized heavier? Let me know in a comment below.

About Kale
Being from Canada, hockey is essentially a way of life. I instantly fell in love with the game since I was being put on skates. From playing as a child (and the occasional street hockey game with friends today) to being a fan for over 20 years, I’m here to share my knowledge and passion for hockey. Email: kale@hockeyhow.com

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