Checking 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.
A common misconception is that the skill of checking begins at a certain age or age category of play. As with all skills, checking is a progression that begins the first time a young player steps on the ice. Each step builds upon the previous step and brings the hockey player that much closer to being able to give and receive body checks competently and confidently.
The topic of body checking has been in the game since its inception but was recently highlighted after it was changed to be introduced to the Bantam age division from Peewee in 2013-14. There have been debates about what age is appropriate to start learning body checking skills and if it should be limited to specific classifications.
“At the end of the day, the decisions were all made on research-based information. There have been a lot of studies over the years on injuries that happen as of a cause of a division or an age group where body checking was allowed,” said Corey McNabb, Senior Manager of Player Development with Hockey Canada. “When you look at the research from various medical professionals and a variety of different studies, the decision to move it into Bantam was done based on the research that showed that there was less likelihood of injuries moving into that category than there was keeping it in the Peewee division.”
Moving the introduction of body checking from Peewee to Bantam gives players an extra two years to learn, develop and refine their core hockey skills. Adding body checking into the mix takes away from time and focus of this skill development.
For those who were concerned about building a team based on size over skill, the trend towards faster, more-skilled players in the NHL today does not mean that the body checking aspect of the game is being diminished.
“A lot of the top-skilled guys right now in the league, they all compete and they all check the other players, but it’s more now on angling and body position and use of the stick than it is just the physical body check.”
It’s important to remember that body contact is different from body checking. Players who are smart with their positioning and have strong on-ice awareness can combine puck-handling skills with defensive play.
“Having your stick to be in close proximity to the puck carrier’s stick means you’re also taking away passing lanes, you’re focusing on the puck to try to get it back. If you can get it back without taking yourself out of position then you’re a better situation to go on offence.”