Even Roller Derby Has a Rule About Hits to the Head

Boston Bruins v Pittsburgh Penguins

In the IIHF, a hit to the head will result in at least 12 minutes in penalties, and as much as a match penalty. But, you being the good hockey fans you are already knew that, right? In the NHL, no such rule exists. How is that possible when so many other full contact sports explicitly forbid it?

In the NFL, a player receives a 15 yard penalty for a hit to the head of an opponent.  In rugby, a player may only tackle another player at or below the waist. The National Lacrosse League limits checking to below the shoulders and above the waist. Even roller derby, a women’s sport that has all the bodychecking that women’s hockey SHOULD have, gets pretty specific about where you can hit another player.

Contact between opponents is limited to legal blocking zones and legal target zones.
5.2.1 Legal Target Zones—a skater may be hit in the following locations: The arms and hands The chest, front and side of the torso The hips The upper thigh (including the inner portion) The mid thigh
5.2.2 Illegal Target Zones—for safety reasons, a skater must not be hit in the following
locations: Anywhere above the shoulders On the back of the torso, back of the booty or back of the thigh Below the mid-thigh
5.2.3 Legal Blocking Zones—apply to the body parts of the skater performing a block.
Skaters may initiate contact with the following parts of the body: The arm from the shoulder to the elbow The torso The hips and booty The mid and upper thigh
5.2.4 Illegal Blocking Zones—apply to the body parts of the skater performing a block. Elbows, see Section 6.2 for restrictions on use. Forearms/Hands, see Section 6.3 for restrictions on use. The head may not be used to block. Below the mid thigh

(from the official WFTDA rulebook, available at wftda.com/rules. For the more visual learners, here’s a diagram.)

That is one hell of a long list of ways to to hit another derby skater. Does the NHL need all this? No, but it does help illustrate how little attention they give this issue while others go to great lengths to prevent it.

If so many other sports have these kinds of rules in place to protect their participants, then why can’t the NHL? Without this sort of protection in place, the league is (rightfully) ridiculed after every single one of these incidents as fans wonder aloud if any punishment will be served.

The NHL needs to wake up and make it clear that hits to the head will not be tolerated, intentional or not. The argument floating around that only certain hits to the head deserve suspensions is a crock. Just like high sticking, intent shouldn’t be a factor. If you hit a guy in the head, you sit. End of discussion.

Oh, by the way, the WFTDA earns extra credit for using the term “booty” in their official rules. Any rule the NHL enacts that includes the term “booty” will most likely be nicknamed The Rob Blake Rule.

Oh, and one more thing, if your city has a roller derby league, go see a bout. As a hockey fan, you’ll probably love every minute of it.


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  • http://www.guminmyhair.wordpress.com/ Kel

    I cannot believe that there is not a rule in hockey about hitting on the head. That's just completely irresponsible of the NHL to allow players that kind of latitude when hitting. What kind of challenge does a sport pose when all sorts of hits (including ones to the head) are legal? It's unsafe, plain and simple.

    I played roller derby for three years and the hitting/blocking zone is very limited. Some may read that and think that just makes the sport all the more boring. On the contrary, the game is just as dynamic and exciting when hitting to the head, face and knees results in a penalty.

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  • http://rockymountainrollergirls.com/ PaRappa

    “Just like high sticking, intent shouldn’t be a factor.”
    This was probably my favorite line of the whole article. As a referee (roller derby), I can tell you that we have it pounded into our heads that intent is something that can almost never be judged. Yes, there are certain obvious exceptions where intent is clearly detectable (for instance, swearing at officials). However, we are referees, not mind readers. In fact, there is even a WFTDA rule that states, “If the referee is in a position where “intent” must be inferred but is not clear, she/he should assume legal intent.” (9.3.3, for us rules geeks.)
    All athletes, derby and hockey players included, are and should always be held responsible for the legality of their actions. If you don't know how to handle a hockey stick and you hook an opponent, you get a penalty. If a girl in derby can't skate very well and sprawls in a way that trips an opponent, she gets a penalty. Some of us refs call this the “don't suck at your sport” principle.
    You'll notice that none of the WFTDA rules you posted said anything about intent, just which blocking zones are legal and which are not. This is exactly what the NHL should do too. Just make head shots illegal. God only knows our hockey players need their teeth protected.

    PS: This was my second favorite quote: “A women’s sport that has all the bodychecking that women’s hockey SHOULD have.” Amen.

  • Parts

    You can't compare different sports. The rules are fine, the problem is that we're watching an entire generation of players who have never had to worry about paying for their actions. If guys had to answer to guys like Tony Twist, Bob Probert or Dave Semenko they wouldn't be so quick to take cheap shots. The rules are there, take a look at rule 21-Match Penalties, “A match penalty shall be imposed on any player who deliberately injures an opponent in any manner”. Rules like the ones in the IIHF and QMJHL can result in players who get away with skating with their heads down. Sure they might not get hurt from getting hit in the head, but they sure do get hurt by their heads hitting the ice when destroyed by a defenseman they never saw.
    Ditch the instigator rule.
    Enforce rule 21.
    Keep your head up and respect your opponent.
    I think in derby they call it “don't be a douchebag”.

    • http://www.hockeyism.com voteforgrant

      I would say this in one of the instances where you HAVE to compare sports. NHL hockey was the only one I saw while researching that did not have a specific rule banning hits to the head.

      The big problem with Rule 21 is with how vague it is. Usually an intent to injure is only used in more extreme cases (which I am just fine with). When you have a specific rule banning a hit to the head, you have a better chance of holding everyone accountable. Right now, what you see with the NHL's discipline committee is a very reactionary way of dealing with the problem. If a hit to the head happens, it get's looked at and *maybe* a player will be punished.

      Yes, there will be players that will exploit the rule to their advantage. This happens with MOST rules. If a player is willing to risk injury to gain some sort of edge, I'm perfectly fine with the consequences. That's what sports is all about.

  • Parts

    Oh! I almost forgot…I agree with one thing….it's a crime that checking isn't allowed in womens hockey!