Body check­ing de­bate touch and go

The Compass - - SPORTS - Ni­cholas Mercer

Billy likes to carry the puck a bit when play­ing a game of hockey.

It is his favourite part of the game, ac­tu­ally. On this day, af­ter pick­ing up the puck in his own end, Billy is wheel­ing.

A head and shoul­der fake frees up some space as he heads into the neu­tral zone at break­neck speed. A toe drag mo­ments later Billy loses another de­fender and then the lights go out.

Billy has just been steam­rolled by one of the op­po­si­tion’s de­fence­men and lays prone at cen­tre ice. The de­fence­men’s el­bow con­nects di­rectly with Billy’s chin. It’s a pin­point kill­shot that draws cheers from the d-man’s bench, oohs from the crowd and has Billy’s team­mates see­ing red.

Af­ter be­ing helped off the ice and taken to a lo­cal hos­pi­tal, Billy is di­ag­nosed with hav­ing suf­fered a con­cus­sion. The next cou­ple of weeks are filled with headaches, an aver­sion to bright lights, a lack of con­cen­tra­tion and he can’t re­mem­ber the mo­ments be­fore or af­ter the big hit.

Billy is a first-year ban­tam mi­nor hockey player and now he’s ques­tion­ing whether he wants to con­tinue with the game he loves. All his friends play hockey and it’d feel weird if he didn’t suit up ev­ery win­ter, but he re­ally doesn’t want to go through with that again.

In the end, Billy steps away from the game. At 14-years-old, he’s giv­ing up hockey.

Per­haps this isn’t the ex­act sce­nario that led to Hockey NL’s de­ci­sion to strip body check­ing from the ban­tam and mid­get di­vi­sions out­side of games played amongst A di­vi­sion teams, high school hockey or the AAA and ma­jor mid­get lev­els, but I be­lieve some­thing sim­i­lar was in the con­ver­sa­tion.

Since the sport’s gov­ern­ing body in this province dropped body check­ing from hockey, there has been plenty of out­cry on both sides on the is­sue. Those in favour say it means more young ath­letes will not be turn­ing away from the game at a cer­tain age, while oth­ers say it cuts at the soul of game and changes the very essence of it. They say that with­out hit­ting, hockey isn’t hockey.

To that I’d say, hockey is about putting the puck in your op­po­nent’s net. Whether there is con­tact or not, that re­ally doesn’t change.

How­ever, this is about the ben­e­fits or non-ben­e­fits of re­mov­ing body check­ing from the game of hockey.

It is about get­ting a game of com­pet­i­tive hockey for play­ers who may not be the most com­fort­able play­ing with full con­tact. They have a right to the game just as much as the next guy.

Player shouldn’t have to worry about com­ing through the mid­dle with the puck and get­ting their head taken off with a high el­bow or shoul­der. Most times, it’s not be­cause they have their head down, ei­ther.

It is be­cause the player on the other team is look­ing for the big hit but ends up head hunt­ing in the process.

I will say this. There are play­ers who will strug­gle to adapt to the new rules. Those play­ers rely on body check­ing to be ef­fec­tive; their games are built around it.

Too many times at dif­fer­ent lev­els, play­ers tend to lose sight of what the point of body check­ing is.

Too many times at dif­fer­ent lev­els, play­ers tend to lose sight of what the point of body check­ing is. It isn’t to take the head off your op­po­nent; it is to sep­a­rate the man from the puck.

To be frank, you can still use your body to get in be­tween the two but you’re go­ing to have to use an­gles and body po­si­tion to do it. De­fend­ers will have to think more. No longer is it the bone headed “see man, hit man.”

It is a com­plete shame that some play­ers are go­ing to have to re-learn the game at such an ad­vanced level, but if it gets head­hunters out of the game, it’s a good thing.

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