There are many variables at play when it comes to how one can use their stick to counter the efforts of an offensive player. One could look at whether the stick is extended out in front of the defending player or off to one side or the other. One could look at whether the stick is rotated so the forehand or the backhand side of the blade is facing up. In different contexts any of these may lead to useful distinctions that can be used to define the type of stick check being used and that could then lead to possible coaching points to help players match the right type of stick check to the right situation.
However, I have a specific sort of distinction in mind that is most useful for our purposes in this discussion. That distinction is related to what the defender is trying to accomplish with their stick check. Are they trying to disrupt or eliminate the attacker’s control of the puck? Or are they trying to limit the attacker’s options and push them to areas of the ice that are favorable for the defense?
Its hard to be sure in a photo, but I see this as a steering stick check.
When a defender is intent on challenging the attacker’s puck control, I see that as an “aggressive” stick check. When a defender is limiting the attacker’s options and access to certain areas of the ice, I would call that a “steering” stick check.
Generally, an aggressive stick check involves the defender propelling their blade rapidly toward the puck with the aim of impacting the puck or the opponent’s stick. Steering stick checks will typically also involve the defender moving their stick and blade in the direction of the puck in a gradual and under-control manner, but the primary intent is to use the stick shaft as an obstacle positioned between the attacker and areas of the ice that the defender wants to deny the attacker. Of course the attacker will be moving and will move the puck, so a steering stick check must adapt to this. With steering stick checks, most of the movement of the defender’s stick will typically be done in order to adjust to attacker actions as opposed to any aggressive motions toward the puck.
In last week’s post, I made the case that slip under moves' main purpose is to enable dodging of stick checks. Whether just by considering the name, or by imagining the uses that I have described, which of the two types of stick check seems most natural to “be dodged”?
The way I see it, we most naturally think about dodging things that are moving “aggressively” toward us. So, it seems most reasonable to think about moving the puck and your stick out of the way of an aggressive stick check that is moving in rapidly to disrupt your puck control as a "dodge".
Dodging incoming pointy objects is a useful concept in areas other than hockey as well!
However, in most cases, steering stick checks, do gradually close down and into the area where the attacker is possessing the puck or at least into a position where their stick can interfere with the attacker's if they don’t do something the avoid either of those outcomes. This just happens slower than it does with more aggressive stick checks.
So, it is indeed a much nicer fit with how we usually think about dodging something to think about dodging an aggressive stick check, but we can see that the concept applies for either type. We can leverage slip unders or other ways of avoiding stick checks to give ourselves the best chance to keep possession regardless of the type of stick check we encounter.
Another twist on this difference is that aggressive stick checks are often accompanied by some sort of body movement by the defender that puts them off balance. If a player lunges forward in order to get their stick into the vicinity of where another player is handling the puck, they had better get a piece of the puck or at least disrupt the attacker’s stick because their body mass will be going the wrong way as the attacker prepares to go around them.
On the other hand, going against the grain on a steering stick check can be similarly disruptive to the defense because, from a psychological standpoint, the defender had expected that they had removed your access to some portion of the ice with that “steering” effect. If you can dodge a steering stick check in this way you can put the defender, and the rest of their team, on the back foot as we discussed in this post.
Salmon: Nature's champion of going against the grain (against the current)
And this “against the grain” concept is a useful way to think about ways of dodging stick checks. If you gain skill at dodging stick checks against the grain you acquire another tool in your hockey toolbox for creating offense. We’ll consider those ways along with other ways of dodging stick checks in the next post.