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Checking from Behind - Revisited

12/16/2012, 1:15pm CST
By Bill Berg

Proper enforcement of this rule may have unexpected consequences

Most of us saw this one coming. During the off-season the National Federation of High Schools (NFHS) strengthened the penalty for Checking from Behind.
The rule now reads:

Rule 6-7-1 states, “No player shall push, charge, cross-check or body-check an opponent from behind in open ice,” and a violation would result in a minor and misconduct penalty. Rule 6-7-2 also states, “Hitting from behind into the boards or goal frame is a flagrant violation,” and a violation calls for a game disqualification.
Dan Schuster, NFHS staff liaison to the Ice Hockey Rules Committee, said that player safety was the main factor in the rules change. “Because of the attention being given to dangerous play, the committee really took a hard look at the severity of injuries caused by these hits,” he said. “The reason behind the rule is more about addressing a change of culture in high school hockey, and players, coaches, officials and fans need to understand the consequences of these hits.”

I don't think that you will find anybody who would disagree with this ruling. Checking from behind is a terribly dangerous act and needs to be eliminated from hockey. All of the governing bodies, from USA Hockey to the NHL have been trying to do this, with varying degrees of emphasis and success, for many years.

The new wrinkle in this saga has to do with teams accumulating these penalties. The WIAA has a rule stating that a team with three or more Game Disqualification penalties is not eligible to play in the post-season tournament. As of December 10, there were already five teams with two checking from behind DQ’s. On December 6, the WIAA reinforced their position:

The growing number of Game Disqualification penalties has increased the risk of a team receiving three Game Disqualification penalties during the regular season and consequently being removed from the WIAA Tournament series per WIAA Ice Hockey Tournament Procedures.  The three Game Disqualification penalty rule remains in effect and will be enforced should a WIAA Ice Hockey varsity team be assessed three Game Disqualification penalties for any violation of NFHS rules.

Let’s keep in mind that this renewed focus on checking from behind was initiated after a a severe injury to Jack Jablonski in Minnesota last season. The Minnesota High School Hockey League petitioned the NFHS for permission to toughen the penalties for checking from behind. Their request was granted as a trial program, and adapted by the Federation for the 2012-13 season.  

Another thing to keep in mind is that Minnesota does not have a rule barring teams with three or more Game DQ’s from participating in the post-season tournament. When they implemented the rule they were penalizing the player severely, and the team for five minutes. When a referee in Minnesota calls that penalty, he knows exactly who pays that penalty, and for how long. When a Wisconsin referee calls this penalty, he may be penalizing a team a lot more than he originally intended.

Don’t get me wrong, if a team gets their third Game DQ and gets bumped from the tournament, I’m not going to blame the referee. I’m going to blame the three skaters who committed those penalties. But in the back of his head, every referee knows that on most penalties, he has options on what he can call. If he knows that a team already has two DQ’s, he may be more inclined to call cross-checking or roughing than checking from behind. So now, what have we actually accomplished? By emphasizing checking from behind, but keeping the three strikes and you’re out rule, we may actually get fewer checking from behind penalty calls.

The intent of the rule change is to “change the culture of high school hockey”. Well you don’t change a culture overnight. By requiring a Game DQ, but keeping the three strikes rule, you are putting entirely too much pressure on the referees. Their job is to make sure the game is played within the confines of the rule book, and to ensure a safe environment for all participants. They don’t want to be involved in determining who can and cannot participate in the tournament.

That's my opinion, and I'd like to hear yours. Use the comments box below, just keep it civil.

2012-13 NFHS Rule Changes

Here is the full text of the rule change.

NFHS Rule 6-7-2 Checking from Behind

Here is the WIAA letter to schools warning them about State Tournament eligibility.

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