From Behind the Bench: Body Contact 101


With the recent rash of illegal or questionable hits, I find it necessary for fans to understand what exactly is the protocol for initiating body contact, be it in the National Hockey League or the minor league level. While there are those of you who played hockey, or are involved in some way, shape or form, I think it’s important to understand the relative theory behind body checking in order to have an informed stance on the ongoing debate.

When introducing body checking, the first factor that a player must be taught is the target. Many assume that a body check can be targeted at any part of your opponent’s anatomy, but, of course, that’s just not the case. There are two primary areas where body contact is supposed to be targeted. In both cases, the checking player is instructed to hit inside his opponent’s field of vision, to allow the opponent to protect themselves.

1) The Classic “Body” Check – The name of this form of contact is just that a name. People normally use it as a generalized term for body checking, but it is really the basis for all upper-body contact.

When initiating a body check, there are two areas that can be targeted. When a check is to be thrown in mid-ice, a player is taught to aim for the middle of his opponent’s chest. Using either the ball of the shoulder or the point of the elbow, a defending player, who uses the proper technique, hit the player in the solar plexus, knocking the wind out of him. If the timing is off, then the glancing blow to either arm, depending on the side to which the body check is thrown, is enough to force the loss of puck possession to your opponent.

The second area that is targeted, but rarely contacted, is the middle arm area. This type of hit is normally thrown when a player is skating north-south along the boards. Hitting a player from the side in this case, again with the point of your shoulder or elbow, should get your opponent of balance and allow you the advantage required to get the puck.  When hard enough contact is made, your opponents will end up on his back-side.

2) The Hip Check – While it seems pretty self explanatory, the hip check is an art form. There are very few players in the NHL who can be considered master of this technique. The original master of the hip check was former Canadiens’ defenseman and assitant coach with the Minnesota Wild, Guy Lapointe. As a member of the “Big Three” in the late 70s, Lapointe often used the hip check to punish players trying to pass him along the half-wall. For the younger generation, recently-retired defenseman Rob Blake, who incidentally is part of the NHL’s new “Blue Ribbon” commitee looking into body contact infractions, was just as good, if not better, than Lapointe at using his hind parts as a battering ram.

Theoretically, that’s exactly what the hip check is. While the conventional battering ram was a term using to hit an opponent in the stomach with your head, the hip check’s intended target is the same, only you have you use your posterior. In targeting the stomach, you increase the percentage of make contact because your target is fairly large. As with the body check, a player’s mid-section is the largest area of the body available.

P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens recently threw a hip check at Boston Bruins’ forward Brad Marchant, for example. The majority of hockey people assumed that Subban was using his back to make a hit, but, in breaking it down you can see his rear-end made contact with Marchant before the impact forced him to straighten up. According to theory, it was a flawless “hip check”, thrown at mid-ice.

In other instances, where a player missed his intended target, the next area made contact with is the hip, hence the name. In this example, the force of contact normally throws an opponent of balance, separating him from the puck.

One thing, however, that is forgotten in the heat of battle, is the necessity to stop striding forwards when initiating contact. Failure to do so, according to the general rules of hockey, constitutes charging. The same rule interpretation can be applied when a player jumps when body checking.

The game of hockey is faster than ever, but wasn’t originally created with physics and genetics in mind. Players vary more in height and weight more than ever before. While the theory is cut and dry, the ability to properly hit someone is diminished by the factors mentioned above. Speed and size often account for hits that are deemed high or at high impact. The responsibility to make the right decision ultimately lies with the player who is attempting to hit.