Checks from behind not the sole responsibility of the NHL

Checks from behind not the sole responsibility of the NHL

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    The NHL season is only a few weeks old and people are calling for the end to checking from behind, and with good merit.

    It seems every year about this time, the NHL has to hand out suspensions to players who make a horrible decision to finish their checks when the opponent is in a most vulnerable position.

    People come out of the woodwork calling for the NHL to stop this nonsense and get it removed from the game.

    And it should be removed from the game. The NHL bears some responsibility for helping to remove it, but it doesn’t rest solely on the shoulders of the NHL. It needs to start with the youngsters.

    Having played the game at a fairly competitive level, coached at several different levels, including both adult and youth hockey, I see it this way…

    There is no respect among the players, and until there is respect, the checking from behind, head checks and slew-footing will remain.

    And they start young.

    When I first started playing hockey at age 6, checking was part of the game. You were taught that the purpose of delivering a body check was simply to remove your opponent from the puck.

    We were taught how to deliver a check with proper angling and how to receive a check, using the boards as an absorption tool and bracing yourself properly so you didn’t get hurt.

    You weren’t rewarded or encouraged to put your opponent into the first row of seats. You were simply asked to use your body in the corner to take the puck away.

    It’s quite an easy task, really.

    However, over the years, something changed. The kids want to make the big hit, and I believe it has a direct link to some board of directors back in the seventies deciding that kids shouldn’t have body contact until they were peewee age.

    In effect, any kid under 13 was not allowed to have body contact in a minor hockey game.

    I believe it all started there. I’ll explain why.

    At the age of five, most kids are on a somewhat level playing field, size-wise. Yes, there are exceptions, but for the most part, the kids are relatively the same size. Teaching them how to check and be checked at that age makes the most sense. At that time, you can also instill in them the respect for the game and the opponent, that will plant the seed they will carry for the rest of their hockey careers.

    However, at the age of 13, several other variables come into play. For one thing, the body size of 13-year-olds ranges from tiny to humongous, virtually assuring that the smaller kids will be afraid to go into the corners. The other variable here is hormones. Teenage boys want to be tough, and teaching them to bodycheck when the hormones are raging is like playing russian roullette with your hockey team. At that point, you begin to think, “wow, if I could have coached this kid as a 5-year-old, this would have been absorbed so much more willingly.”

    The powers that be have seen the results of this and a couple years ago, decided to allow body contact in travel or rep hockey at the Atom age, which heads it back in the right direction, but not totally, in my opinion.

    Today, if you were to ask most coaches if they teach their kids how to check and receive a check properly, they would probably tell you no.

    No, instead they spend their time working on skill drills and system set-ups, and forget one of the most important aspects of the game, the bodycheck.

    If we really want to start to see a decline in headchecking and checking from behind, then we need to start from the bottom up, and instill in our kids the respect they need for each other, and teach them how to take the body for the purpose of getting the puck, and not encourage them to put someone through the boards.

    In 20 years of coaching, I’ve seen it every season. Kids running other kids and the coaches, players and fans all roaring with delight. Head-checking in minor hockey has become an epidemic. They don’t use their shoulders anymore.

    Hockey Canada spends thousands of dollars per year on coaching clinics and seminars, but, other than putting a “Stop” sign on the backs of the jerseys, they have really done nothing to change the mind-set that leads to the checks from behind in the first place.

    Start at the bottom, then maybe in 15 years, the NHL will finally be free of the nasty hits that are putting guys out of the game.

    Alec Brownscombe is the founder of MapleLeafsHotStove.com, where he has written daily about the Leafs since September of 2008. He was also the editor of the 2009-12 Maple Leafs Annuals. You can contact him at [email protected]

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