Glossary: The Sin Bin

You no doubt know the sin bin as the penalty box, although USA Hockey seems to prefer penalty bench. Regardless of the lingo, you know what it’s for — it’s where players go when they get a penalty. But why does it seem as if some players get paroled early from the penalty box while others linger even after the time has run out? Several distinctions govern the amount of time a player spends doing penance for on-ice sins.

  • Minor/Bench Minor Penalty: A typical minor penalty is a 2-minute “releasable penalty,” meaning that if your team gets scored on, you go free.

  • Matching Penalties: For matching penalties, when your dance partner gets a timeout as well, both teams skate 5-on-5 and you are stuck in the box for the duration. Actually, you’re there for more than the duration—you have to wait for the first whistle after your time is up. If you don’t, you’ll get called for too many men on the ice and go right back in.

  • Major Penalty: Major penalties are non-releasable, meaning that no matter how many times the other team scores, you’re stuck.

  • Game Misconduct: This is like the “go directly to jail” Monopoly card. You skip the penalty box altogether and head for the locker room. You’re not coming back this game or the next — even to sit on the bench.


“But my player didn’t do anything. Why is he in the box?" You can end up serving time for the sins of others in a few situations:

  • The coach may assign you to the penalty box for bench penalties such as too many men on the ice or unsportsmanlike conduct by a coach.

  • If a teammate gets awarded a 2-plus-10, then you might serve the teammate’s 2-minute minor along with the offender and get released when time is up. The penalized player will serve another 10 minutes after your escape.


What else is there to know? You can learn all about penalties and the penalty box on pages 7–8, 14–17, and 31–42 of the Official Rules of Ice Hockey booklet available at www.usahockey.com (pdf).

See it in action: This video from April 16, 2010, shows a penalty box situation few players would want to tolerate.



Editor’s Note: Thank you to John Anton for this story.
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