What’s that old joke, “I went to a hockey game and a boxing match broke out”. Professional hockey walks a fine line between glamorizing the physical aspects of the game while trying to discourage any belief that hockey is violent and dangerous.
The truth is that hockey is a full contact sport and has been that way since the inaugural face off on some frozen outdoor pond oh so many moons ago. The beauty of the game is its combination of finesse and physicality. That in order to play and succeed at hockey you not only have to be a talented player but also have to have the courage and fortitude to withstand the more rugged parts of the game. You have to sacrifice your body and endure a little pain in order to score or prevent that goal.
There are three essential factors in hockey that make it more prone then other sports to plays that question the gentlemanly nature of good wholesome competition. First, hockey is played on an enclosed surface. If a football player is fearful of a hard tackle he can drop to a knee or be chased out of bounds to safety. In hockey you are stuck between a rock and hard place, the rock being a mean, rough forechecker and the hard place being, the unforgiving boards and glass. Second, the game is played with full-on body checking with every player being fair game, save for the goalies. Whenever you are on the ice and the puck is in your possession or immediate vicinity, you are a target to be body checked. There is fighting for position in basketball but they are restricted in the methods they can use to gain that position where it is more of leaning on another player or shoving him off balance. In hockey it’s a full force blow. Third, hockey is played with a weapon. All athletes experience anger and frustration throughout their career, but only hockey gives each players a stick that can be used to inflict pain on an opponent.
The NHL has done a lot over the years to make hockey safer for the players by enacting harsh punishments for certain plays, including lengthy suspensions, but even still the game has a black mark on it when some of the following maneuver’s are employed.
As much as hockey provides methods for players to physically punish the opposition and yet over the years many different players have used the following tactics to exact revenge and cross an important line.
Here are the top 10 dirtiest plays we see in hockey.
10. Two Handed Slash
A purely hockey expression, the old “two hander” is familiar to every hockey player who has been the victim of this dirty play. With 10 skaters flying around the ice at one time, there are many sticks flailing about so guys will have to run into a stick here or there, but you know it’s not incidental contact when you feel the shaft of a players stick come down on your forearm, between where your elbow pad lets up and the cuff of your glove doesn’t reach. A two hander breaks bones by turning a hockey stick into an ax trying to chop your arm off.
This play is legal in basketball and to some it may seem like a reasonable method to create free space for a teammate to make a play uncontested. Many players in the past relied on their teammates to run a little interference by picking an opposing player. The illegality of the pick is another aspect of hockey that differentiates it from basketball that allows for the pick or football that allows bigger players to block for smaller players. A pick is in direct defiance of the interference penalty in hockey.
8. Can Opener
In the post lockout era of the NHL the once famous “can opener” has been outlawed. Many young fans may be scratching their heads not even being familiar with the term. The name describes how a defenceman would put his stick between a forward’s legs and then lift the stick. Obviously this would be uncomfortable for the forward, which was only half the benefit for the defenseman because on top of making the forward uncomfortable the defenceman was able to keep a forward within close range to limit there time and space. Also the defenceman could influence where the forward could move and also push them off balance. For a time it was a preferred tactic by many of the league’s top rearguards until it was prudently made illegal.
This play is viewed with such disdain and punished severely with possible suspensions that it is rarely seen. In some famous hockey movies from the 1970’s and 80’s the characters portrayed hockey players routinely using their sticks as weapons, but the unwritten code of hockey prohibits such use. It is for all of these reasons that spearing another player like a medieval knight in a jousting match is one of hockey’s dirtiest plays.
6. Running the Goalie
This move is particularly sensitive because the goalie is seen as such a valuable member of any team and they are players in a vulnerable positioning, generally stationary and not able to properly protect against a quickly approaching opponent with bad intentions. Goalies are focused on stopping the puck so they are often injured in collisions because they don’t brace for the impact like a player would, helping to absorb the blow. This play becomes murky when goalies race out to play the puck and leave the relative safety of their blue crease. In situations like that the play is not only looked at independently but also the reputation of the player accused of running the goalie is taken into account. This questionable play is policed by the possibility of retaliation on your own goaltender if you decide to run the other team’s netminder.
This is another play that arises because of the speed of the game, but is none the less seen as dangerous. When a player makes up his mind to land a body check, they tuck their shoulder in and lean into their target. The problem is the targeted player will intuitively try and dodge the body check and when that happens the natural instinct for the body checker is to still try and find a way to make contact. These natural tendencies lead the body checker to extend arms and legs out and when that happens there is the potential for knee on knee contact at a high rate of speed, risking serious injury.
4. Slew Foot
This move has been a recent evolution of the game among its dirtier players. It is hockey’s version of the sweep kick, but a little more subtle. As a player moves into a check or gain position, they engage in what seems like perfectly legal contact (shoulder to shoulder) but they position their body so that they can sweep their own foot against the back of a competitors foot pushing their leg forward as their upper body pushes the top half of the player back. The victimized player is violently thrown to the ice, falling backwards with the risk of hitting their head.
3. Sucker Punch
A sucker punch is not exclusive to hockey but like in many other sports and everyday life, a sucker punch is reviled. The name itself is an insult to the perpetrator, claiming they are sneaky and unwillingly to fight fair. Hockey has seen its fair share of some terrible sucker punches that have ended players careers. The most infamous may have been Todd Bertuzzi’s sucker punch from behind on Steve Moore. Moore never played another NHL game after that, having to deal with the head injuries he sustained from the play.
2. Leaving your feet
This is another play that has seem to have been born in the modern day NHL. Players today when trying to land a big body check, almost jump at the opposing player, exploding into their target’s head with their shoulder. With the increasing awareness and danger associated with concussions and head injuries any play that places a players head in danger is immediately suspect. The evolution of leaving your feet may have coincided with the lack of use of the hip check which if used against a player leaving his feet would send him head over toes onto the ice. Also with the discrepancy in players’ sizes, a smaller player may feel the need to jump to hit a much bigger player. Back in the days when you didn’t see many players well over six feet tall, everyone was around the same height and you could land a good body check with your feet firmly planted. Now a play with a standing 5-foot-7 going to hit a 6-foot-5 player is a hefty challenge.
1. Hit from Behind
This play has been unacceptable for many years. Minor hockey associations have put in place programs where little stop signs are placed on the top of the back of players sweaters, all in an effort to teach young players how dangerous a hit from behind is. Hitting another player from behind is the essence of taking advantage of a player in a vulnerable position. With the speed that players can generate today if they hit an opponent from behind, they can do serious damage to their back, neck and head. Players can become paralyzed from this play if they are hit from behind into the boards. Because of the serious and permanent nature of the injuries that can be sustained from this type of play it has made no.1 on our list.
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