Photo Credit: Tim Bates/OJHL Images
At the rink, it can take an extra moment to remember that what you see on the ice is not supposed to mimic an NHL game. When we watch our favourite teams play it’s easy to get wrapped up in the intensity of the fast paced, hard hitting action and a big bodycheck at centre ice can be a game-changer for the pros on the ice. However, at the minor hockey level, bodychecking isn’t legal until the U14 Representative level.
There’s a good reason for that. Players are still learning the fundamentals of the sport before they can be ready for bodychecking both physically and skill-wise. That being said, it doesn’t mean that the basics of body contact and preparation for bodychecking can’t be practiced along the way. This prepares them if they choose to take that path when they are ready.
Bodychecking is a critical skill in the game of hockey that when performed properly can create quality scoring opportunities or help a team regain control of the puck. Just like skating, puck control, passing and shooting there are key progressions to the skill of checking when taught effectively, can greatly enhance a player's enjoyment of the great game of hockey. Bodychecking and body contact are not interchangeable terms and mean two different actions on the ice. Let’s break down the differences.
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“Eight year olds are going to collide with each other, with the other team, with the net, it’s the nature of it,” said Ian Taylor, Executive Director on the Breakaway Podcast. “That part, having an awareness on the ice, the ability to skate, knowing your surroundings, these are all skills that have to be put into place before you have two players hitting each other.”
All players have the ability to learn the technical skills associated with bodychecking and become confident and comfortable in its execution. As players grow in the game with body contact, they will have an easier transition when bodychecking is introduced at the Minor Bantam Representative age category. Incidental contact is part of the game whereas the intent of bodychecking is to gain advantage through physical contact.
Think about the men’s league game at your local arena. Players are there because they love the sport of hockey, not bodychecking their opponents. A game without bodychecking is not less competitive. The focus for players when it comes to bodychecking should be to get control the puck instead of using it as an intimidation tactic. With the speed of the game changing, picking a player simply for size over skill is no longer the way to go.
Photo Credit: Tim Bates/OJHL Images
A bodycheck can be defined as body contact primarily caused by the movement of the checker. That movement can be, and often is, in a different direction than the puck carrier. The checker uses their body for the purpose of stopping the attacking progress of the puck carrier or to separate the carrier from the puck.
“One thing people have to remember is that body checking is a skill and as such it has to be treated like that as all the other skills in our game,” said Kevin Hamilton, Director of Hockey Development on the Breakaway Podcast. “Not necessarily a fundamental skill, it’s probably a more advanced skill. What we have to ensure is continuity in what our coaches are teaching our players. For example, the players that are entering U14 hockey, in that U13 year, their U13 coaches should be preparing them for that and not just having them introduced as soon as their U14 year begins. That forms part of the four-step progression of teaching.”
Regardless of age or level of hockey, the number one priority should always be player safety. Players wear the required equipment because it keeps them safe when they give or receive body contact or a bodycheck. Legal body contact occurs between skates who are in the vicinity of the puck. A bodycheck is intentional on an opponent who has control of the puck, with the focus on gaining possession. It should not be delivered to an opponent who is not in possession of the puck or is in an otherwise vulnerable position.