As a lot of you may be starting to realize, hockey is evolving and changing. I say it all the time, and that is because I had an up-close experience seeing the game change so drastically over the past ten years! The coaches and players that have been able to adapt to the style of hockey you see today still have jobs, and have been able to leap past people who were unable to stay up to date. Outside of fighting decreasing dramatically, I believe the biggest difference is how players check their opponents in today’s game. In this article I will debate one of the biggest topics in youth hockey … CHECKING!
Hockey players are faster, quicker, and shiftier than ever before. The great Muhammad Ali stated, “Your hands can’t hit what your eyes can’t see!” Same thing goes for hockey — you can’t check/finish a player that you cannot skate with. Former New Jersey Devils defenseman Scott Stevens made a living lining people up in open ice or along the boards. Next time you watch an NHL game, I want you to count how many open ice hits there are. My guess is you can count them on one hand. What you will see, though, is players angling opposing players into a more confined area along the boards and rubbing them out to retrieve the puck.
What is the objective in hockey? Last time I checked, it was to outscore your opponent. So why would we check with any other reason besides trying to separate the opposing player from the puck? Hockey is a physical game, and one must be willing to compete to the fullest. But, if you are trying to hurt other people, you are in the wrong sport. The biggest asset a player can possess in hockey today is the ability to skate.
Look no further than the most dynamic player in the world right now, Connor McDavid. I would hate to be an opposing player or coach trying to figure out how to stop him. In fact, I don’t believe he can be stopped! The only approach is to contain him! The only way this can be done is by angling him and reducing the amount of space he has available. If you can limit his space, it negates his biggest weapons: speed and agility. You must check with your feet against McDavid and limit his time and space.
Hockey is a game of time and space. On offense, you are looking to create more time and space. On defense, you are looking to take way opposing team’s time and space. Average players become good players with more time and space. Good players become great players with more. Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby and other elite players become human highlight reels! Good luck trying to line an elite player up; they will make you look silly. You must angle them with your feet! Why would we teach anything different at the youth level?
Checking with your feet requires a player to understand how to take proper angles to push opposing player into bad areas of the ice (the boards, or other defenders). In the middle of the ice, a player can go either direction, making it almost impossible to separate a player from puck. Another big part of checking with your feet is to use your speed to close the gap on an opposing player. Once the gap has been closed, the final step is to move your feet through the body contact to create the separation of the puck from opposing player.
In today’s hockey, players are very shifty and possess unbelievable strong cores/legs. If you try and hit a player high, they will put you on your butt! Players doing the checking must look the player in the chest, have great knee bend and finish the player through the chest. If the most important thing was to create separation between the attacking player and the puck, where should the defending player’s stick be? On the ice? How about stick on puck?
You defend and check properly with three things in hockey:
- Skating, Angling, CHECKING WITH YOUR FEET!
- STICK ON PUCK!
- CREATING SEPARATION by going through opposing players chest
Now that we have discussed how to properly check and why, let’s dive into what it looks like to properly take a check. If an opposing player is trying to angle you and take away your time and space, should you just concede as the puck carrier? I would recommend trying to find a way to get back to the middle or drive them wide and cut in! Do not just let the defending player skate you into bad areas of the ice. If a player has you lined up on boards, you can use your edge work to slip away or bend your legs and use your core to reverse hit him.
The worst place to be, often referred to as a No Man’s Land, is two feet off the boards when the defending player can drive you hard into the boards and the impact becomes greater. If you learn how to use the boards properly, the boards can help lessen the blow! The same principles to delivering a proper check can also be use on the flipped side. Move your feet and have good knee bend to create a lower center of gravity. I tried to hit a lot of smaller guys in my career where I went in feet not moving, standing straight up. The next thing I know, the small “water bug” forward is attacking the net and I’m on my butt in the corner!
As I will talk about in my next article, if you can skate, you can play in today’s game…period! Size is only a weapon if you know how to use it and you can skate. Smaller players that play the game with an edge and rely on good skating/edge work will be just fine! Look at Calgary Flames left winger Jonathan Gaudreau. The man know as “Johnny Hockey” is 5’9”, 165 lbs. soaking wet! When is the last time you saw him get blown up? He has scored time and again at every single level — from the USHL, to NCAA, and now the NHL!
Checking and hitting is not this evil thing! It only has become bad with bone heads hitting players up high and in the head. Proper checking habits on both ends (giving and receiving) need to be taught well before bantams, in my opinion. Someone tell me why we are not teaching angling, checking with your feet, and stick on puck at U8 and squirts!
Too many players are afraid of checking, in my opinion. If you play the game of hockey afraid, it does not go well. Hockey, in my opinion, requires more confidence/borderline cockiness than any other sport because of how fast it has become and how many mistakes are made in a game. Let’s not keep giving checking this black mark; let’s give these players the confidence they need to play this game properly. This starts with teaching the right fundamentals from the very beginning and not creating “bad habits”!
Find out more about Bryce’s Hockey Academy and upcoming schools through his website.