In 2011, USA Hockey rocked the youth hockey world by delaying legal body-checking from Peewees (ages 11-12) until Bantams (13-14) for boys.
While most have accepted and embraced the change over time, there’s still one aspect about body contact and body-checking that hasn’t seem to have fully caught on: teaching and practicing the body contact skills progression, beginning as early as 8U.
“Just because you’re not using body-checking in your game now, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be learning how to properly use it for down the road,” clarifies Guy Gosselin, longtime regional manager for USA Hockey’s American Development Model. “There’s a mentality out there right now that because there’s no body-checking, everything from 12U down is no-touch hockey. That’s the furthest thing from the truth.
“Kids need to understand that you’re going to get bumped out there. From the moment you step on the ice, you’re going to get bumped. You’re well-equipped, you’re not going to get hurt, but there’s going to be physical contact all over the ice from the day you start playing. But it’s a progression, and so by the time you start getting into actual body-checking, it should be nothing new.”
Gosselin, a two-time U.S. Olympian who helped lead the development of Minnesota Hockey's body contact and checking clinics, explains the importance body contact and checking has in the game, and why it needs to be taught and practiced at every level.
Body Checking Is a Skill
Body-checking is often wrongfully associated with a player plowing another opponent into the boards.
“By definition, body-checking is about removing the player from the puck,” Gosselin said. “Especially in today’s game, it’s about gaining control or gaining possession of the puck. It’s not about separating players by blasting somebody. We can appreciate good, strong, clean hits later on, but we don’t’ go out of our way to absolutely lay somebody out anymore. That’s not part of the game today.”
Gosselin points to New York Islanders captain and Edina native Anders Lee as an example of big, strong-bodied players who use size and checking to complement their scoring skills.
“Guys like that are out there possessing the puck,” Gosselin said. “That’s what we do today. That’s the way the game is played, and that’s what we’re promoting.”
Another big reason body contact needs to be a coaching emphasis at all levels, including 8U? Confidence. Kids need to get comfortable with contact. They need to bump into each other and get used to playing in traffic. It will pay off as they continue their development.
“If you’re not confident and unsure of actually making a play, and we see this with even our 16, 17, 18 year olds who never properly were taught body contact before 14, they don’t have the confidence to close on a play,” explained Gosselin. “Where to close and when to engage could make the difference between making a national team or high school team. Teaching kids to have that confidence in themselves, especially when it comes to body-checking, is half the battle. It needs to begin right away.”
Body Contact and Checking Is a Progression
Skills like skating, stickhandling and shooting need to be developed. Body contact and checking is no different.
“You need to learn to skate forward before you can go backward, right?” Gosselin points out. “You need to learn the basics of body-checking at 8U just the same.”
It begins with learning stability, before moving on to learning and developing body angling, timing, tracking and steering. Then comes the rubbing and body bumping and contact before mixing in heavier force.
Practicing those methods at 8U, 10U, 12U and beyond are easily disguised within small-area games, cross-ice practices and stations that are already utilized.
“You don’t need to go out there and say you need to dedicate 20 percent of practice to working on body contact or body-checking,” said Gosselin. “Whether I’m doing offensive drills or defensive drills, you can twist it however you want, but most of those are already using body contact within them. You can go 2v2 below the goal line where there’s going to be contact being made; 4v4 where kids have to make decisions and control the puck while navigating through small areas and utilize their body properly. We can mix in some games and teach angling where it’s 1v1 and you have battles going to guard the gate.
“It’s all about learning through repetitions, and it’s all about the progression of teaching and training aggressive and smart hockey players. You don’t need to sit and do technical body contact, positioning, which most kids find boring anyway. You can disguise this into a drill and kids will learn it inadvertently.”
Body Contact Is at Every Level—Boys and Girls
Watch the elite level of play on the U.S. women’s national team, women’s college hockey, girls high school hockey or the NWHL champion Minnesota Whitecaps to see how “no body-checking” doesn’t mean no contact.
“There’s no question that girls need to be learning and practicing as much body-checking as the guys,” said Gosselin. “We’re not talking about no-touch hockey in women’s hockey. We’re talking about physical hockey. All hockey, the greater percentage of it, is non-full check. Practice it and you will understand its place in the game and how to utilize it to your advantage.”
Body contact is a key component of player safety, too. Boys and girls need to develop awareness, proper technique and timing to protect themselves and others on the ice as the game gets faster and faster.
Don’t wait until body-checking is legal. Prepare your players right away and put them in a position to reach their full potential.
“When we said no checking, we didn’t mean ever,” Gosselin said of the rule change made in 2011. “We meant teach it, practice it, prepare for it down the road. Develop in progression as you develop as a player. Don’t wait until it’s too late at 14 – you’re only hindering your development.”
Players (and coaches) interested in learning more are encouraged to check out one of Minnesota Hockey’s upcoming body contact and checking clinics.