As Ryan progressed through youth hockey the last few years, there was always one overriding concern for us: checking.
About this our worries were no different from any other parent. We just wanted to make sure our son was safe. Given that Ryan got a late start playing the game, the concerns was that he tended to skate with his head down when he had the puck, making him vulnerable to big hits.
At his current (bantam) level, the game is full-contact, with bodychecking allowed all over the ice. Thankfully, we had a couple things working in our favor. One, rather than playing in a traditional bantam league, Ryan ended up in a mixed-age middle school league where contact was either outlawed or limited to along the boards. Open-ice hits are the most dangerous, and they were not allowed in his first “checking” league.
Ryan is also tall for his age, which gives him some natural protection. But his own determination to get both stronger and to improve his hockey skills is the other factor that eased our fears about bodychecking. All Ryan’s pushups, pullups, dips, situps and crunches have burned off most of his baby fat and left him with an upper-body that his fast becoming defined with lean muscle. And it turns out that hundreds of hours spent stickhandling — whether waiting in line for his turn at a drill at practice, in the backyard (even on a frigid day), or in the basement while he watches hockey — have greatly improved his skill in this area.
The result is a kid who is physically stronger and can carry the puck up the ice with his head up while still maintaining control of the puck.
This spring is the first time he is playing in a league that allows bodychecking all over the ice. I’ll admit I cringed while watching Ryan take part in hitting drills in practice. But he dished out a few good hits and absorbed some as well and realized he was fine. Like many of the kids, he was tentative about contact in the first game. He took one check, bounced right up and got back in the play. By the second game he was much more aggressive. He actually looked to finish checks when forechecking in the offensive zone, and delivered a few clean, solid hits while still taking one or two himself.
It was just as I had hoped — that once he had a chance to give and take a few hits, his nervousness about it would dissipate and he might even realize physical contact can be fun, and is one of the things that attracts people to the sport
In the third game, Ryan finally had his moment to “drop” somebody. He delivered a hard, clean check on the puck-carrier, knocking him off his feet. Kids on Ryan’s team talk about “dropping” each other all the time and Ryan was wondering when he would finally be able to say he had done it, too.
This morning, we were talking about that game.
“I really wish I scored a goal,” he said.
“Don’t worry about it,” I told him. “You did your part. You played well.”
“That’s OK,” he said. “Scoring is not my role. My role is to drop people.”
Yeah, I think he’s going to be just fine.