Today’s 12U hockey player isn’t supposed to be executing NHL-worthy body checks during a game. They are, however, supposed to be comfortable with body contact during a puck battle.
With USA Hockey’s American Development Model, players are introduced to body contact at the 8U level and gradually familiarized with progressive amounts of it as they progress through each level of play.
At the 14U level, full body-checking becomes legal. But what about the 12U level? Where should a 12U player be in terms of comfort and skill with body contact?
“Let me start off by saying, we want the bumping and body-contact at 8U, and we want to begin teaching it there,” said USA Hockey ADM regional manager Guy Gosselin. “They’re in small-area games and cross-ice hockey, so there’s going to be age-appropriate body contact, and that’s when we start setting the foundation for effective body-contact and body-checking skills.
“At 10U, we’d like to see some mirroring, some tracking and some angling, and we recommend putting that type of training into practices. At 12U, we should have players confident enough and trained enough to have a very good understanding of a body check’s purpose and how to utilize their body and be efficient in taking the puck away from somebody or puck protection on their own, using their body the right way – stability and controlling the puck.
“It’s about gaining the puck, handling the puck and possessing the puck efficiently. We want them well-prepared. If coaches have done their job, by 12U, the angling skills and taking-away-ice skills should be there.”
It’s a skill you have to practice
As Gosselin points out, checking is a skill just like any other in hockey. Practice makes perfect, and players should practice body-checking well before it’s officially allowed in their games.
“You can’t just go out there and tell them to do it,” Gosselin said. “You have to practice. There’s a real art to it. Timing and angles and body position are a big part of this, and you need to do it over and over and over again. We’re focused on taking time and space away from that offensive player. Stick-on-puck, taking away their hands and angling them out and coming up with the puck. It will evolve as the player evolves, but they do have to practice those skills in order to achieve this.”
Body – and stick – positioning is key
Gosselin outlined what he is looking for in a player’s body positioning when making contact with an opponent.
“We want them to be in that athletic position, where they’re stable on the ice, with good flexion in the ankles and knees. The player should have his or her hip on hip – it’s just as important for the girls as it is for the boys. Chest up, shoulders square and head up.”
And a player’s stick position is crucial, as well – keeping it on the ice does more than just set them up for puck possession.
“If you keep your stick on the ice, your balance stays low, your center of gravity is good. When your stick comes up, your hips come up, and you lose that balance. You’re top heavy and you’re more likely to go down.”
Gosselin hopes that with proper practice and experience, players will know how to give and receive body contact in a safe fashion.
“Safety is a huge part of this,” the Gosselin said. “We emphasize creating an angle for yourself when you’re going toward the boards and into the corners; surround the puck. Taking a look back, checking over your shoulder to see what’s happening, what’s coming. That’s important. Puck retrieval is key, and unless you practice it, you’re going to have a tough time with it.
“We don’t want our kids going in directly linear to the boards, stopping and turning and exposing themselves. You have to understand what’s developing behind you, how much pressure you have, so, we would ultimately like to see a player going in and as quick as possible – under control – understanding where they need to move the puck quickly. The idea is to know where your teammates are, where the danger areas are, surround the puck and accelerate through the puck.”
For more information on the body-checking progression, read Checking the Right Way for Youth Hockey.