Body checking debate touch and go
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.