What is body checking in hockey?

In the thrilling game of hockey, body checking is a tactic that people love to see. But questions surround it as well – what is an illegal check? or what is the significance of it in a game?

What is body checking in hockey? Body checking is a method where a player uses their body to challenge an opponent, with the aim of regaining puck possession. Legal body checks are shoulder-to-shoulder or shoulder-to-body when the opponent has control of the puck. 

There is more to body checking than the above definition, as it has a massive impact on the outcome of a game. Let’s figure out the role of body checking in the game. 

Key Takeaways
Understanding Body CheckingBody checking is a tactic to regain puck possession or halt opponent’s advance, involving physical prowess and tactical understanding.
Significance in Game DynamicsBody checking influences game dynamics, player positions, disrupts offensive momentum, and can control game tempo.
Legal vs Illegal Body ChecksMastering legality, understanding the difference between various checks like shoulder, open ice, and hip checks, and avoiding dangerous plays is crucial.
Introduction Age and MethodTypically introduced around age 13-14, with a structured educational approach focusing on correct techniques, ethics, and continuous reinforcement.

The Significance of Body Checking

Body checking is an integral aspect of hockey that goes beyond mere physical contact. Its significance lies in its ability to influence the game’s dynamics, player positions, and the overall flow of play. 

Here are some key facets that underline the importance of body checking:

  1. Defensive Strategy:
    • Body checking is a crucial defensive tactic. Checking is ultimately about disrupting the opposing team to create turnovers, and regain puck possession. In addition, it also physically wears opponents out.
  2. Physical Deterrent:
    • The threat of a body check acts as a deterrent, making opposing players more cautious and potentially altering their gameplay. It introduces a level of physicality that demands respect, awareness, and anticipation from all players on the ice.
  3. Game Tempo Control:
    • By executing body checks, a team can control the game’s tempo. It can slow down a fast-paced opposition, create stoppages, or even speed up the game by creating quick turnover opportunities.
  4. Team Morale and Crowd Engagement:
    • A successful body check can boost team morale and engage the crowd. A huge hit can energize the team and the spectators, creating a ripple effect that might influence the game’s outcome.
What is body checkin in hockey?

When not to body check: 

There are times when not to body check because it causes the player to get out of position. 

For instance, one of the most spectacular types of body checks to see is an open ice one where a defenseman will flatten a forward coming in with the puck. 

However, while this type can be visually engaging, they come with a caveat. Even a well executed one can leave the defensemen out of position, potentially leading to odd-man rushes and scoring opportunities for the opposition. Watch for it. It happens. 

Types of Body Checks and Their Legality

Body checking is a skill with various types employed based on the situation on the ice. 

Here’s an expanded breakdown of the legal and illegal checks you will see:

  1. Shoulder Checks Along the Boards:
    • The most common type of body check, executed by driving the shoulder into an opponent along the boards to either separate them from the puck or halt their progress. 
  2. Open Ice Shoulder Checks:
    • Executed in open ice, these checks involve a player using their shoulder to hit the opponent’s body or should. It requires precise timing to ensure legality and effectiveness – the opponent must have the puck not before or after they have possession . 
  3. Hip Checks:
    • Though legal, hip checks have become rare in modern hockey. They involve a player bending down and leading with the hip into the opponent. The decline in their usage can be attributed to the difficulty in execution and the increased risk of injured knees to opponents. 
  4. Illegal Body Checks:
    • Checks from Behind: Highly dangerous and frowned upon, these checks can result in serious injuries and are penalized severely. Especially if it involves hitting a player into the boards. 
    • Checks to the Head: With a growing understanding of concussion risks, checks targeting the head are strictly penalized by the NHL and other leagues. They can lead to major penalties, misconducts, and suspensions as the hockey community strives to eliminate these dangerous plays.

The landscape of body checking is constantly evolving with the deeper understanding of player safety and the continuous adaptation of game rules. Mastering the legal and effective forms of body checking while avoiding dangerous and penalizable actions is crucial for every aspiring hockey player.

Understanding the penalties associated with incorrect body checking can provide a clearer picture of its legality.

Defensive Use of Body Checking

The Strategic Role of Defensive Body Checks

Defensive body checking serves as a vital tool in a team’s defensive arsenal. Here are key points on how players utilize body checking to fortify their defense:

  1. Separation and Disruption: Effective body checking can separate an opponent from the puck, disrupting their play and gaining control for the defending team.
  2. Intimidation and Momentum Shifts: Physically imposing defenders can intimidate opponents, making them think twice before entering high-contact areas, and swing the game’s momentum in their favor.
  3. Positional Advantages: By executing well-timed checks, players can force turnovers and create breakout opportunities, transitioning from defense to offense rapidly.

Remember: Defensive body checking is about more than just physicality; it’s about strategic, calculated plays that make the opposition wary and hesitant.

Offensive Use of Body Checking

Utilizing Body Checks in Offensive Play

While often associated with defense, body checking can play a significant role in an offensive context:

  1. Creating Space and Chances: A well-executed body check can provide teammates with the open space necessary to make plays and shoot at the goal.
  2. Protecting the Puck: Offensive players can use body checking to maintain puck possession and shield against defensive pressure.
  3. Energy and Confidence Boost: Assertive body checks can boost a team’s energy and confidence, contributing to a more aggressive and effective offensive strategy.
A classic hip check in hockey
Source – A Classic Hip Check

Showcasing Offensive Body Check Techniques

An illustration of offensive body checking techniques:

  • Example: Matthew Tkachuk’s Forceful Offensive Check: Tkachuk, a forward renowned for his offensive skill, also employees a check where he reverse hits the defensemen coming towards him causing them to be unbalanced which gives him time to then make a play.
  • Skillful Puck Protection: Learn from how players like Sidney Crosby use their body to shield the puck while driving towards the net.

When Should Body Checking be Introduced?

The introduction of body checking is a pivotal milestone in a hockey player’s development journey. It really is an added layer that players and fans enjoy, and it is a skill to both give and receive a check. 

The right age and method of introduction can significantly impact a player’s growth and understanding of the game’s physical aspect.

  1. Age and Skill Level Appropriateness:
    • The appropriate age to introduce body checking often depends on the league and regional rules. However, it’s typically introduced as players transition from youth to more competitive leagues, often around the age of 13 or 14. This transition comes with an understanding that players at this age have developed a certain level of physical maturity and spatial awareness.
  2. Educational Approach:
    • Introducing body checking should be a structured educational experience. It should start with a thorough explanation of what body checking is, the rules governing it, and the correct techniques to execute and receive body checks. Players should be taught not just the mechanics but also the ethics of body checking, including the importance of sportsmanship and the intention behind body checking—to regain puck possession, not to injure opponents.
  3. Gradual Introduction and Continuous Education:
    • The introduction of body checking should be gradual and continually reinforced through training and in-game experiences. Initial training should focus on the correct techniques, followed by controlled drills and eventually, real-game scenarios under close supervision. 


We hope you enjoyed the walkthrough of body checking. It is a great part of the game when done properly and is safe when executed well.

Brush up on the basic rules of hockey to further refine your understanding of body checking.

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