Without checking, hockey just wouldn’t be the same

I spent last weekend watching my little brother compete in a hockey tournament at various arenas around the metro area.
I came away with two distinct observations. First, concession stand food is the same everywhere. And second — a generation after I started playing the game — political correctness and mothers in minivans are in distinct danger of ruining a game I love.
I played hockey for 13 years. While I played, I coached younger teams, but never in an age group where checking was allowed. And watching two teams of kids follow the puck with their eyes glued to the ice, I started to wonder what these kids’ coaches were telling them.
I nearly yelled myself hoarse during four games last weekend, screaming for one of the 12-year-old enforcers to step up and hit somebody. I was rewarded with some hellacious hits by my younger brother, and a lot of scowls from the mothers in the stands.
My little brother’s team was clearly outclassed. They had never played together before, and because of a lack of numbers during tryouts, took every player who came to the rink.
That said, they still had opportunities to make all of their games closer than they were.
In the wake of the Marty McSorley incident, and another accident where a player was blinded by an errant stick, the P.C. crowd is out in full force calling for an end to fighting, and in some cases, checking in hockey.
That, my friends, is idiotic. It’s like trying to fix a cold with a bandage.
Without sanitizing a game I think is amazing, hockey is a sport of math and science. Players attack the offensive zone, trying to spread the defense out to attack a weaker area. It’s like chess, only it’s played careening at high speed on thin metal blades.
And there is a fundamental difference between the concept of checking and the despicable act propagated by a washed-up hack like McSorley.
Checking is the act of physically separating a player from his control of the puck. It’s not for drunken fans to “ooh” at, (although they do). It’s not to knock another player out of the game, but it sure as hell can.
When a player drives another into the boards at one end of the ice, most fans take note and watch wherever the puck happens to end up. But by finishing his check, that player has changed the numbers in the equation should the puck enter his defensive zone.
And as any hockey fan knows, the difference between a 2-on-1 and a 2-on-2 rush is like the difference between Jennifer Aniston and Jenny Jones.
Which brings me to women, and, more importantly, women’s hockey.
The U’s women’s hockey team is the national champions. The Gophers are an exciting team to watch, and no one would question that they are some of the best athletes on campus. And there is plenty of contact during their games.
I just don’t understand why they won’t let these women hit. I, for one, wouldn’t tell them they couldn’t. And I’m a little surprised they aren’t offended that they can’t.
Anti-fighting-and-checking forces have held up women’s hockey as a shining example that hockey doesn’t need “excessive” contact.
They say it makes for a more exciting game. It’s a rule that favors offense and skill, showcasing the best the sport has to offer.
It makes a great sport the ice capades with sticks.
Growing up, I was always taught to finish a check. Being from a hick town in South Dakota, we all did what we were told. But as I grew older I realized why checking was integral to the game.
Hockey is the one sport where a team can overcome a lack in talent and size through sheer work effort. It really doesn’t matter how many AAA, 60-goal scoring machines you’ve got on your pee-wee club. If every time your players pick up the puck and turn around they see the wrong-colored helmet smashing in to theirs, you’re going to get beat.
That’s the beauty of the game. The whole can become greater than the sum of its parts — but only if you let them hit.
From what I’ve seen of women’s hockey, they won’t have much trouble changing over to a full-contact format. I think most of them would relish it.
And then, for the love of God, somebody start working with these pee wees. If no one can convince 12-year-old boys to slam violently into each other, the end is truly nigh.

Josh Linehan covers tennis and welcomes comments at [email protected]