I covered in my e-book Fundamentals of Hockey: Checking, the proper techniques to angle and check your opponent. I explained every style and type of check and when to deploy them during a game situation. In the beginning of the book, I touched on something I strongly disagree with; USA Hockey moving checking from the PeeWee level to the Bantam level.
I thought maybe I was a little radical in my approach to this, but after speaking with a very knowledgeable coach yesterday, someone who has been coaching in the Junior A ranks for years now, I determined that there are more people out there who feel the same way I do.
I feel that in the sport of hockey the transition from PeeWee to Bantam is the hardest transition to make. Most people would naturally think that the transition from Bantam to high school/midget would be more difficult due to the age and maturity range. I do want to make a point, when I speak of the hardest transition, I am talking in term of youth hockey. Obviously as the pool of talent funnels upward, the step from College to Pro is more difficult than Junior to College.
The thing about the Bantam level is that this is the age and experience level when most players make a name for themselves. A player that scored a bunch of goals in Mites and Squirts may fizzle out by the time they reach Bantam. On the other hand a player who rarely found themselves on the scoresheet, finally matures and grows into their skill set becoming one of the better players on the team.
With this natural transition at this age, in the past, most players still continued to play hockey as the skills of the game in their entirety were likely presented to them. Come Bantam you start seeing the players who are willing to work hard to improve all facets of the game. They are responsible for learning systems and Hockey IQ, while doing off ice-training and preparing themselves to be a factor at the next level.
With the recent change in checking standards, you now find sub 100 pound players who are too worried about their 200 pound opponents to care about systems, their skill set or Hockey IQ. They are mostly worried about not getting killed. Its natural in human psychology to think this way. Well wait a minute, the two players in the example above don’t magically get bigger or smaller by allowing checking earlier on, so what is your point?
The point is that two years prior, when both players are first year PeeWees, the gap between body composition was more likely to be less than when they are Bantams. The same sub 100 pound player will be getting checked, but may feel more comfortable getting hit by a 150 pound player. By the time they move up to Bantams, the smaller player is more used to it not as hesitant to make plays or go into areas where they may get hit.
Growing up we called it ‘pulling the chute.’ You would see a player a skating down the ice and as soon as the big body got next to them an invisible chute came out of their back, much like a drag car, causing them to slow up and avoid contact. Most of these players eventually got their clocks cleaned anyways and this act would stop. The player would learn to take the hit and make the play.
On the flip side of this equation, the bigger player was also susceptible to getting laid out as well. A proper check from a 100 pound player into a 150 pound player can be devastating. Remember that old saying, ‘the bigger they are the harder they fall’? That definitely stands true. What this teaches the bigger players is that they are just as vulnerable to getting hit and need to be prepared to take a hit. They cannot rely solely on their physical presence to be an effective player, they have to build skill also.
Thanks to USA Hockey, we now have coaches at the Bantam level struggling to get smaller players to engage in the game, bigger players to play the entire game instead of one aspect and ultimately losing out on kids participating in hockey. I am pretty sure that is not what they intended to do, but they have gravely altered the sport of hockey in the wrong direction.
My solution would be to allow proper angling of players and ‘rubbing out’ along the boards at the Squirt level. 90% of checking is angling and since checking is a vital part of our sport, angling, or a basic skill in checking should be taught along with the other basic skills.
In Peewee checking should be introduced. By this time players have had two years of angling and slight body contact. They can sense the pressure on them by their opponents and will learn to not leave themselves vulnerable by turning their backs or skating away from the boards.
By the time the player reaches Bantam they should have a full complement of skill including giving and receiving a check. They will not be so worried about the kid that weighs 100 pounds more than them because they will understand angling and have already experienced body contact. On top of that, they will have built a skill set around stickhandling and skating in which they will be able to elude their opponent.
It sounds pretty logical in my opinion, but unfortunately, logic does not always work when you have a group of people with their own intentions and willing to alter the nature of an entire sport.