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Tips for safer body checking
By Shawn Killian

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When your child graduates to the peewee level and beyond, hockey takes on an entirely different attitude. Your non-hockey-playing friends begin to think of you as a bit strange, perhaps even barbaric. You appear to display admirable parenting skills and seem to be a loving, providing parent, then proceed to grant other young hockey players permission to crash into your child. As if to soften the anticipated blows, you dress your child (ren), the same children that are proudly displayed on your living room coffee table, in protective equipment then encourage them into battle. It is a little crazy.

Body contact is an element of hockey that we both love and hate. It is the same component that has a history of simultaneously gaining respect for hockey players while tarnishing the game’s image. Body contact and physical play are important parts of hockey, they always have been, and always will be.

The introduction of “checking” is rightfully an uncomfortable time for parents and players alike. It is a strange new world where, each year, thousands of young hockey players are injured, sometimes seriously. Many of these injuries can be prevented.

Successful body contact

Balance and confidence on the ice are huge components of hockey and the main ingredients to successful body contact. A player lacking these skills (which stem exclusively from skating proficiency) is at considerably higher risk of injury as well as becoming a detriment to your team by taking yourself out of the play.

The real problems with checking at any level stem from insufficient skating skills instruction and a violent image of checking.

The collective efforts to restructure hockey’s image by hockey leagues worldwide is beginning to pay off. Hockey is once again moving toward flow and skilled play. More and more seats in hockey venues are being filled by fans demanding finesse and endurance rather than blood-filled, overly aggressive play where the emphasis is on bone-crushing collisions.

There is a right and a wrong way to check. Developmental skating and body contact technique training can do a great deal to eliminate unnecessary injuries. We need to teach young players the fundamentals and philosophies of body contact, just as we do puck control and team play. Did you know that for every player who is injured receiving a body check, one is injured giving a body check? Here are a few body contact pointers:


Contact objective

The primary objective of body contact is to tie up your opponent and separate them from the puck, thus allowing your team to gain control of the puck. Here are four key points to safe and effective body contact.

Gauge and adjust your speed: At the time of contact, your speed should be equal to or slightly greater than that of your opponent. As “contact” speed increases, the likelihood of injury and the difficulty of quickly returning to the play also increase.

Angle your opponent: During a one-on-one situation near the boards, your angle of attack is critical. As you angle toward your opponent (decrease the space between you and the player), they should feel as if an octopus is closing in on them leaving no possibility of escape. Imagine placing pylons on the ice that directs your opponent into your trap. Create a path that forces your opponent right to you.

Avoid approaching and making contact head-on. You will take yourself out of the play and oftentimes out of the game due to an injury. “Locking onto your opponent” and telegraphing your exact course of travel will give your opponent several options to skate past you.

Contain your opponent: Once you have made contact, tie up your opponent, then play the puck if possible. A few helpful hints:

• Drive through using your legs with deep knee bend.

• Keep your hands down—at chest level to avoid penalties.

• Pin them to the boards—place your arm(s) and stick in front, one leg between their legs, and the other leg behind them.

• Do not waste energy trying to crush your opponent.

• Use your feet to kick the puck to a teammate.

Return to play: A check is not complete until you return to the play. We lose track of time and sight of the play during body contact. As you battle with an opponent, the game continues to be played behind you, so remember two things: One, if you get knocked down, get up immediately and return to the play. Two, if you give a great body check, “Don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back!” Never take yourself out of the play when playing the body.

Lastly, when receiving a check, think safety first. The “Danger Zone” is 2-4’ from the boards. If at all possible, get against the boards to decrease the threat of neck and back injury. Keep your hands free while using the boards for leverage. Lastly, practice using your feet to direct the puck to your stick, or to the stick of your teammate.

The best preparation is to ensure that you are as proficient on your skates as possible. Checking is 90% skating and balance, so a technically sound skater is less likely to be injured while giving or receiving a check. Good Luck!


Shawn Killian is the Director of Skills Development & Training for Planet Hockey.



This first appeared in the 03/1997 issue of Hockey Player Magazine®
© Copyright 1991-2003, Hockey Player® LLC and Hockey Player Magazine®
Posted: Oct 10, 2006, 09:57
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