Checking refers to any defensive techniques aimed at separating the puck from an offensive player who is currently in possession. There are several different types of checks in hockey. The two main categories of checking are body and stick checks.
Body checking refers to any type of check that is initiated through contact with the body. Body checking is highly regulated at all levels of hockey because body checking is the root cause of most hockey related injuries. Most youth hockey leagues do not allow body checking. However, body checking is allowed in leagues from high school to the professional level, and is a vital part of the game.
Hockey players cannot be afraid to be physical. Physicality can be the reason teams win games. At experienced levels of hockey, every good defense will have players that are exceptional at body checking. Body checks can change the momentum of the game. First, fans love a great hit and they will upload loudly, raising team morale and energy. Moreover, an exceptional body check will cause a turnover. A quick change in possession can lead to tremendous scoring chances. Below is a list of legal body checks:
Shoulder checking is the most common form of a body check. Shoulder checking is when a player leads with their shoulder when initiating contact with the offensive player. These types of hits can be quite vicious when they occur on open ice. Shoulder checks tend to happen when two opposing players are skating side by side. The defensive player will lean in with their shoulder to try and knock the offensive player off balance.
Shoulder checks can also be used as a recovery tactic to stop an offensive player from skating past a defender. The defensive player can nudge a player with their shoulder while the offensive player is skating by them. Although, players must tuck their elbows in when shoulder checking or the check will be ruled a penalty.
Hip checking occurs when a defensive player is skating backwards and forcefully thrusts their hip into an oncoming offensive player. Hip checks are harder to achieve because it is difficult for a defender to remain balanced. Hip checks usually occur along the boards when offensive players are pinched between the defender and the wall. Hip checks are considered a penalty when a defender aims to low. This will be called a clipping penalty by the referee.
Stick checking refers to any attempt by a defender to separate the puck from an offensive player using a stick. Stick checks may not have the intimidation factor that body checks have, but stick checks can be more effective in a defense of strategy. Stick checks allow a defender to keep space between themselves and the offensive player. Defenders have to be quick and nibble in order to create a successful stick check. Types of stick checking include:
Poke checking is when a defenseman uses their stick to jab at the puck controlled by the offensive player. Poke checks mostly occur when the defensive player is skating backwards and the offense is attacking. It is key for the defensive player to keep their stick tucked on their hip when attempting a poke check. This position generates the most force and control.
A sweep check is when a defender sweeps their stick across the ice in a broad motion to try and swipe the puck away from a defender. Sweep checks are impossible to execute in a head on battle because the defender will most likely trip the offensive player, resulting in a penalty. That is why sweep checks are often used by forwards who are approaching an offensive player at an angle. Sweep checks are also utilized to force a defender out of position. The sweeping motion of this type of stick check blocks passing lanes, hindering an offense's chances of scoring.
A lift check is when the defender purposefully lifts the stick of an offensive player off the ice in a quick motion to steal the puck from underneath. This technique is hard to pull off so it is usually conducted by a defender as a surprise. Lift checks mostly occur when the defender is trailing behind the offensive player. Lift checks can also be effective when two opposing players are chasing after a puck. The player who arrives a tad later may lift their opponent's stick and steal the puck away.
The press check is when a defenseman presses their stick down upon an offensive player's stick to disrupt their range of motion and steal the puck away. This technique is exactly opposite a lift check and occurs mostly in front of the net. When a player is approaching the goal, it is vitally important for the defense to limit their range of movement. Press checks enable the defense to slow down the offensive player and hinder their chance of scoring.
Illegal checks are types of hits that are banned from hockey leagues and result in serious penalties for the offender. Any form of body checking is illegal if a player does not have possession of the puck. Also, any hit above the shoulders or to the head will automatically be considered a penalty. Types of illegal checking include:
Cross-checking is when a defender holds their stick with both hands and uses the stick to hit the offensive player. Cross-checks are extremely illegal and can cause serious injury. A player can in no way use their stick to hit another player.
Boarding occurs when a defender excessively shoves a defenseless player into the boards. This type of hit usually results in a player's head being slammed into the boards. Since a defenseless player cannot prepare for impact, boarding can lead to major penalties.
Charging is when a defender gears up for a hit by taking three or more strides, or when a defender leaves their feet when hitting another player. Charging will be called when a player's intent to hit is to purposefully cause harm.
Tripping is when a defender uses their stick or any part of their body to purposeful cause an offensive player to lose balance. Tripping results in an automatic penalty, since serious injuries can occur when players are tripped skating at full speed. Most often, tripping penalties occur during break-aways when a defenseman is trailing behind a player with the puck. A defender will purposefully trip the offensive player to limit a one-on-one scoring opportunity with the goalie.
Hooking is when a defensive player uses their stick to tug at the offensive player and gain a positional advantage. Hooking is considered illegal and may result in varying levels of penalties. A penalty for hooking may also be called if a defender uses their hand to pull on the body or jersey of an offensive player. Hooking destroys the flow of a hockey game because a player's movement becomes severely limited.
Coaches must always stress the importance of safety when it comes to body checking. Body checking requires proper balance and stick placement. Players must learn how to skate backwards before they are ready to learn body checking techniques. However, it is vitally important to teach hockey players at a young age to keep their head on a swivel to be prepared for oncoming defenders.
Body checking is only allowed when an offensive player is in possession of the puck. Hitting a player who does not have the puck will result in a penalty. Defenders can still annoy offensive players without the puck by rubbing them or brushing against them. Also, a defender is allowed to hold their position or 'box out' an offensive player. This will hinder the ability of the offensive player to move around.