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Checking in ice hockey is any one of a number of defensive techniques, aimed at disrupting an opponent with possession of the puck, or separating them from the puck entirely. It is usually not a penalty.
There are various types of checking:
Charging, hitting from behind and boarding are examples of illegal hits. Charging occurs when a player takes three or more strides going into the check, and sometimes includes leaving the feet to deliver the hit. Boarding is when a check violently throws a defenseless player into the boards. Due to their dangerous nature and increased likelihood of causing serious injury, these hits can have penalties ranging from a minor two-minute penalty to a major and game misconduct, along with a $100 fine in the NHL. In women's ice hockey, any body checking is a penalty and is also not allowed in leagues with young children. Men's amateur leagues typically allow checking unless stipulated otherwise in league rules. Some intramural university leagues do not permit body checking, in order to avoid injury and incidents of fighting. "Leaning" against opponents is an alternative to body checking but can be penalized for holding if abused. Many studies have been done regarding injuries in hockey that have caused stricter rule enforcement in the past few years. There have been increases in number of concussions and other serious injuries that brought about these changes.
Beginning in the 2011–12 season, USA Hockey moved the age of legal body checking from 12U to 14U. The discussion of this rule change began with a look into Peewee (12U) and Squirt (10U) levels of hockey. Through observation, it was clear that Squirts skate more aggressively and try to play in the correct manner. Peewees in similar situations would either let the opponent get the puck first so they can check them or hold back so they don’t get hit themselves. Injury wasn’t an initial concern but with the research being done today it was brought into the discussion. Research shows that the 11 year old brain has not developed skills to anticipate. As a result, Peewees acquire injuries four times more in checking vs. non-checking hockey.
For the 2005–06 season, the NHL instituted stricter enforcement of many checking violations that in previous seasons would not have been penalized. The intent of the new standard of enforcement was to fundamentally alter the way ice hockey is played, rewarding speed and agility over brute strength, as well as increasing opportunities for scoring and minimizing stoppage of play. However, it is unclear how expanding the definition of a penalty will minimize the stoppage of play, as penalty calls entail play stoppage. One explanation may be that more clearly defined rules gives players more distinct boundaries on penalties, resulting in fewer penalties. The intended result is a faster-paced game with generally higher scores than in previous years.