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Deflections: Hockey Oxymorons and Other Word Plays

The very first thing I said to the parents - after “Hello, how are you?” - was, "there is no hitting in hockey. Baseball? Yes. Football? Sure. Boxing? Definitely." 

And that’s how the body checking clinic began. I could only hope the coaches both grasped the message and were ready to employ the right terminology.

Because in teaching this game, communicating the right message is everything.

So what’s wrong with the word “hit”? It has an aggressive even violent connotation. Teams that count or track hits get caught up in an over-used and needless “statisticization” of the game. More importantly, they give players tacit approval to mount attacks on the body. The more “hits” the better is the message. To a teenager (since body checking is now for bantams and older), this can be open season.

A body check has a purpose and if done correctly often includes not much more than rubbing out an opponent. A hit, however, seems to have as its objective the termination of an opponent’s ability to remain on his feet regardless of whether or not the “hitter” did it legally or strategically well.

Here’s another beauty that causes everyone no end of needless fuss: power play. Actually, the French Canadian language does it right by calling it “avantage numerique” or numerical advantage. It’s always struck (not hit) me as comical to hear parents scream from the stands when the opposition gets a penalty, “Power Play! Let’s get some goals!” Then when their team has trouble scoring, they shout again, “It’s a power play! Set it up!”

Set it up? Really? You mean these 10 year olds have spent so many hours practising man advantage alignments and one-timer plays that a goal is a foregone conclusion? The fact is the team has an extra player for a short bit and thus a little more space. It might be more accurate to call it a spatial advantage.

And finally we come to competitive novice/mite/tyke. In other words, wherever you are, the 7-8 year olds. There’s recreational or house league - but then there’s elite. It’s called competitive because elite would probably be deemed too, well, elitist and we can’t have that.

It has all the accoutrements of elite hockey though, and the kids aren’t yet out of primary school. They read kids books, not even juvenile fiction; find “One Direction” a gas; probably believe in Santa Claus, a little bit; are just learning to play an instrument; aren’t allowed to take the bus alone; still have to use a car seat; think Will Ferrell is the world’s best actor; and may not be able to tie their own skates. But they are “competitive” players.

Another time, we’ll look at “minor hockey” and “common sense.”


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