This past summer, USA Hockey ratified the Declaration of Player Safety, Fair Play and Respect, which aims to change the culture around body-checking and competitive contact at all levels, while clearly defining what is acceptable and unacceptable.
The days of big, intimidating hits are over, paving the way for skill, speed, puck possession and creativity.
“Checking went from separating the player from the puck to gaining possession of the puck,” said Guy Gosselin, a two-time U.S. Olympian and current regional manager for USA Hockey’s American Development Model.
Hockey is not a no-touch sport—not by a long shot. But it must happen safely and smartly.
Here are some of Gosselin’s tips.
When checking, use the trunk of your body—hips and shoulders—to make contact. Do not use your hands, forearms, elbows or stick. Do not make contact above the shoulders or below the knees.
Contact must be made straight or diagonally from the front of the puck carrier or straight from the side—never from behind.
Start with the idea of “stick on puck,” Gosselin said. Keep your stick on the ice or below your knees.
Do not hit vulnerable or defenseless players who are unaware that a check is coming or unprepared for it. Do not check a player who is engaged with another player.
The idea of “finishing your check” along the boards is no longer acceptable. Same goes for vicious, open-ice hits. Those can put you in the penalty box, just as hits to the head, hits from behind and late hits can.
Even if they’re not penalized, they can take you out of the play.
“If you’re sitting in the box that’s a losing proposition,” Gosselin said. “If you take yourself out of the play, that’s not good either.”
Players who are getting checked need to be safe, too. That starts by being aware of your position on the ice. Knowing what’s coming at you will make you a more confident player.
“Have vision on the ice when you’re going in for a puck or going back for a puck,” Gosselin said. “Take a look at where you are and have that awareness as you’re creating space. Keep yourself safe and protect the puck.”
Maintaining an “athletic position” with your ankles flexed, knees bent, hips down, chest up and head up will improve your stability on the ice and make it more difficult to be checked off the puck
Learn to take away puck carriers’ ice by steering or directing them away from the middle of the ice and to areas where they run out of time and space. Also be aware of gaps between you and the puck carrier. In these cases, skating and speed are just as important as physical strength. And remember: stick on puck and stick in the passing lanes will create turnovers.
“Take the proper angle to take the puck away,” Gosselin said. “A poor angle will give the puck carrier more options.”