Women’s Hockey: Let Them Body Check

The subject of women’s hockey has been in the news a lot. Especially, with the cutting of the University of North Dakota women’s team. There’s been a lot of emotions on both sides of the debate.

Over the course of the past few months, I’ve seen a few inaccurate things written about women’s hockey on social media and fan message boards that need to be corrected.

One of the topics that have garnered a lot of discussions, is that there’s no checking or body contact in women’s hockey. Frankly, That’s not entirely true. Have you have watched UND and UMN in women’s hockey? There’s definitely body contact during those epic series.

Yesterday, Redwing77 and I briefly chatted about this via text. We’re both for letting the women check in college and International play.

I talked about this subject back in 2015. Unlike men’s college hockey, body checking is technically isn’t allowed in women’s hockey. Blatant, obvious checks are rewarded with a two-minute minor penalty for body checking.

However, it’s incorrect to say that there isn’t hitting or checking in women’s college hockey. In fact, it’s re-occurring misconception about women’s hockey. Again, while it’s illegal to hit an opposition player in the open ice, body contact “is” allowed or overlooked along the boards.

It’s not uncommon to see an opposing player rub out the puck carrier next to the boards. Scrums along the boards involve physically contact. While there’s incidental contact that goes unpunished. No one is going to get steamrolled or rocked without getting punished.

Moreover, during the past couple of seasons, I have noticed that the on-ice officials in women’s division I college hockey have let the players play more 5V5 hockey and let more of the incidental body contact go.

One of the biggest line brawls that I’ve seen in women’s hockey was a Pre-Olympic game at the Ralph between USA and Canada.  The brawl in question was a result of a heavy check into the end boards. Check out the video below.  Who says that there isn’t any fighting in women’s hockey?


Why Not Let Them Check?

So, why don’t we allow women to body check in hockey? That’s a good question. I think if you asked the women they’d be for it. In fact, there used to be checking in women’s IIHF hockey until they did away with in 1990.

According to Andrew Podnieks, “The North American teams had a size advantage that was so intimidating that it likely would harm rather than encourage the development of the women’s game worldwide. So, they did away with checking in women’s international hockey.”

Some of the women’s players aren’t shy about letting their feelings known on the matter.

“Bring it on,” said former U.S. defenseman Angela Ruggiero told the Globe and Mail. “I’d freaking love to hit. You don’t know how frustrating it is. Players’ heads are down all the time and all I can do is poke-check.”

In the past, UND women’s assistant coach Peter Elander has said that not allowing women to check might be keeping the sport from gaining more fans. I think there are many that would agree with him.

“I just think it’s so old-fashioned to say ‘Girls can do this, but they can’t do that,’ ” says Elander, whose team plays Canada tonight in a Hockey Canada Cup semi-final. “Women are doing the full Ironman [triathlon] So what’s this about women not being able to do what men can?” (Globe and Mail)

Now, don’t assume that not allowing hitting in women’s hockey is making the game safer. Because it’s not. If they’re not learning to check, they’re also not being taught how to receive a body check even though there is plenty of physicality in girl’s and women’s hockey.

Nobody is quite sure yet why women experience more concussions; there are only some theories and ongoing research. But as of right now, in ice hockey, the concussion rate is higher for women than for men, even with the no-hitting rule. (Erin Morris, Watch this Hockey)

This week, I’ve been watching the Women’s World Championship. In the first game between the USA and Canada, there was a fair amount of body contact during puck battles. I thought it was an exciting, fast paced game. I recommend checking out some of the World Championship games taking place in Plymouth, Michigan.

According to the International Ice Hockey Federation, the world governing body that conducts the Olympic tournament, ”body checking” is not permitted in the women’s game, although ”body contact” is allowed. In body contact there is ”intent to play the puck first,” and incidental collisions are legal. In body checking, there is ”intent to physically play the body first,” and deliberate collisions are forbidden.

Finally, before we start slamming women’s hockey and the players. Take a second look. Attend a game. It’s pretty good hockey. Whether there’s body checking or not, women’s hockey is good hockey. The sport is only going to get better in the future.

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