Bodychecking in women’s hockey?

point counterpoint

point

It’s a terrible thing, really.

A forward cuts through the offensive zone with dashing speed, dangling the puck ahead of her in Crosby-like fashion. The defender nervously glides backwards as her executioner toys with her fate. She attempts to kindly direct the opposing player away from the net—no contact—just persuasion.

The forward is done teasing—she makes her move and slips past the defender. One last heroic effort—the stick check. The defender takes one desperate jab and finds nothing but the emptiness of opportunity missed. Goal—I cringe at the thought.

In my experiences as a male—a 22-year veteran—I have learned two valuable lessons. The first is that women are tough. The second is that hockey is, too. Combining the two should be seamless.

After all, if women are as tough as I have personally experienced them to be, then why are they told to play a physical sport like hockey with the passiveness of a Care Bear?

Yes, women’s hockey can be exciting. Canada should be incredibly proud the outstanding talent our women’s hockey programs have produced. But why do we shelter them? Why do they need to be protected from the ugly—but real—world of contact hockey?

Body checking is a fundamental part of the game. It’s as much a part of hockey as toothless grins and mullets. No, it doesn’t always make for exciting hockey, but at least it creates a challenging defensive answer to otherwise unbridled offensive chances. Let’s be honest: stick checks aren’t effective, and without body checking, players must resort to obstruction.

Sometimes women’s hockey is incredibly entertaining to watch—unfortunately, it can also be about as engaging as a minor-atom house-league game.

A couple of skilfully placed checks would help spice things up. Checking creates a more authentic, effective, and entertaining style of women’s hockey.

Arguing that keeping contact out of women’s hockey preserves the finer skills of the game sugar-coats the real issue. Women have been taught to play hockey without contact because for some reason the old-fashioned idea that women must remain “feminine” still resonates in our culture—just leave all the manly physical stuff to the boys. What a chauvinistic curse.

Female hockey players are tough enough to handle body contact—there can be no debating that. By keeping checking out of women’s hockey officials are perpetuating a dangerous stereotype of femininity as unimposing and passive. It’s a slap in the face to women players in a sport that has come so far.

--Dan Robson

counterpoint

The most exciting hockey game I’ve ever watched was the final contest in the 2000 women’s world championships, held in Mississauga’s cement box of a Hershey Centre.

It was Canada v. USA, as it nearly always is in international women’s hockey, but despite the inevitability of the match-up, the game was still dramatic and fast-paced.

The Canadians battled back from a 2-0 hole thanks to two third-period goals from star Jayna Hefford, and went on to win the whole shebang in OT.

There were brilliant passes, beautiful rushes and some really slick skating. The players were mixing it up in the corners, blocking shots to spare or save their goalies and using their bodies in quiet but efficient manners to rub out the opposition.

Do you notice anything missing in that list of great hockey moments? No huge hits, you say?

Nope. Not a one. And I didn’t miss them at all.

Women’s hockey—where body-checking is illegal—is great hockey. There’s a lot more room for speed and skill when the players don’t have to worry about getting flattened by a behemoth as they come across the red line.

Female players still have to be aware of their positioning, of course, and they have to know how to use their bodies effectively. I could argue that they’re able to use their bodies even more effectively than most male players, since it takes more skill to fully block another player without simply crushing them than it does to execute a sloppy bodycheck, but I won’t, since I’m not suicidal.

I’m not saying hitting doesn’t require skill or talent—it does. Good hits do, anyway. But it takes an equal amount of effort to be an effective defender if you don’t have the last-ditch option of throwing your body at your opponent. You have to be fast, hyper-aware and skilled, and that’s what makes women’s hockey exciting.

The arguments about injury prevention are some other obvious reasons why the women’s game doesn’t need checking. Without the opportunities for extreme violence that accompany hitting, and all that can go wrong in a poorly-executed check, you get fewer injuries and, on average, longer careers.

I don’t think I’ve ever done this before, but I’m going to use Don Cherry to back up my argument. Cherry was at that championship game I mentioned above, sitting in a box behind my seat, and he was totally into it. He’s a big supporter of women’s hockey. If Don Cherry can get behind it, so can you. Hitting doesn’t make hockey exciting. Great plays and great players do. And women’s hockey has both of those in spades.

--Megan Grittani-Livingston

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