June 04, 2013

Attitude Towards Bodychecking Needs To Change

Round three promised to be two battles of epic showdowns. But so far, as can often be the case in the third round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, it's more of a tale of epic let-downs.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have completely come unglued against the dastardly Boston Bruins. In the west the defending champion Los Angeles Kings find themselves in quite the hole against the high flying Chicago Blackhawks.

I wanted to highlight a couple of bodychecking incidents from each series, and demonstrate how our attitudes towards the tactic need to change.

Brown on Keith

Across many highlight packages from game 2 of the Los Angeles Kings/Chicago Blackhawks series was this big hit by Dustin Brown on Duncan Keith:

I could only find the NBC feed on this hit, which is unfortunate because of what was said on the TSN broadcast. Colour commentator Ray Ferraro said "Brown wasn't looking for the puck there. He was looking for Duncan Keith."

And that is exactly what is wrong with bodychecking nowadays. And for many years now. Bodychecking has become about the rock 'em, sock 'em highlight reel obliterating hit and far too infrequently about taking the puck away from the puck carrier.

Brown showed no attempt whatsoever to take control of the puck. What should be a charging penalty is as dangerous as it is, unfortunately, celebrated and accepted in our game now  Ferraro did not say what he said to be critical of Brown's intentions. In a roundabout sort of way, he was applauding Brown.

Years ago guys would rub players out while trying to take the puck away with their sticks. That was many years ago now. Nowadays if you just rub a player out, you are considered to be soft.  It's been a long transition, but nowadays everybody is looking for teeth rattling hit that ends up on SportsCenter, and maybe the hospital.

And I guess that's all fine and dandy at the NHL level. Let these guys battle to the death, all for our entertainment. But the problem is the kids are watching SportsCenter. And the kids minor hockey coaches. In their minds they all want to be like their heroes on television. And as a result that has been how bodychecking has been taught for years and years. Kids emulate their heroes, but they should not be encouraged play this way.

Cooke on McQuaid

The other controversial bodycheck I want to highlight was Matt Cooke's hit from behind on Boston's Adam McQuaid. Yes, I know - Matt Cooke is public enemy number one when it comes to controversial hits. But watch the video a couple of times over, paying special attention to what McQuaid sees:

You will note that a couple of seconds before McQuaid is crunched into the boards, he looks directly over his shoulder. There is no way he could not have seen Matt Cooke right on his tail and committed to a bodycheck. Cooke had every intention and expectation of a shoulder to should hit. But then McQuaid turns his back to Cooke.

This video should be shown to all young defensemen. McQuaid put himself in high and unnecessary danger by turning his back to a player who he knows has already committed to the hit. It is a high paced sport and there's not much Cooke could have done to let up. The defenseman should always be taught to absorb the hit properly, shoulder to shoulder.

When it comes to teaching youth hockey players how to bodycheck, we need to somehow eliminate the NHL model from the minor hockey game - specifically bantam and midget levels. How you do that I do not know. It is almost impossible. But we need to make sure our youth are bodychecking for the right reasons and are properly trained to defend themselves.

The Big Question

I guess the grandest question here is how to change our culture towards bodychecking?

Does it start at the grassroots level, and one day a generation of players will lead the change? Hockey Canada, for example, has done a lot of good with their STOP program (Safety Towards Other Players) in regards to hitting from behind. Maybe they need to expand their program to all aspects of the physical game?

Does the NHL, with it's all encompassing influence on every level of hockey, have a responsibility to lead the change from the top?

And what role do we the fans have in all of this?


Josh said...

"Dastardly" doesn't seem a fair term to describe the Bruins. Cohesive, mysteriously underrated, skilled, mentally tough and damn good all fit the bill a lot better.

Dan said...

usa hockey is also doing a lot with their 'heads up hockey' program