Checking up on the Rules


Photo by Erin Cuddy

Holy Cross varsity ice hockey finishes their last game of the season against St. John’s. Holy Cross lost the championship game 4-1, but still gathered around to sing the Alma Mater on the ice.

 In recent years Holy Cross has welcomed ice hockey as an official winter sport option to all students. As a community dedicated to uplifting and empowering young women, it can be challenging to emphasize these values when the sports may not always reflect those values.

For men’s and women’s ice hockey the rules of physicality differ with more lenient penalties and rules for men. Addressing the inequalities in women’s sports has become a forefront issue in current culture, and ice hockey is a prime example over the debate of inequality versus differences.

The main difference in the sports is the allowance of body checking.

 In accordance to the National Hockey Handbook, body checking is when “a Player checks an opponent who is in possession of the puck, by using their hip or body from the front, diagonally from the front or straight from the side. Legitimate body checking must be done for the purpose of separating the opponent from the puck, only with the trunk of the body (hips and shoulders) and must be above the opponent’s knees and at or below the shoulders.” 

This is a legal motion in men’s hockey; however, if played in women’s hockey it is declared an illegal check and may obtain a two-minute minor penalty. 

 In regards to women’s hockey, “If two players are in pursuit of the puck, they are reasonably allowed to push and lean into each other provided that ‘possession of the puck’ remains the sole object of the two players,” written by the National Hockey Handbook. 

Junior Clare Martin has played varsity Ice Hockey as a goalie at Holy Cross for the last three years, and also plays on the club ice hockey team, Pride.

“Checking isn’t necessarily an inequality in women’s and men’s sports, definitely just a difference in the game,” Martin stated. “Since hockey in general is a contact sport, women are still allowed to use body contact just not check the opponent. It can be irritating at times since you can’t fully hit someone in order to gain possession.”

Martin explained that “hockey is a contact sport,” and so the question of health and safety are forefront issues in the debate of body checking.

“I don’t know why men will be able to [check] and women couldn’t, but I think that there’s definitely the potential for an injury,” Holy Cross Athletic Trainer Lindsey Yates admitted.

 Yates and Martin agreed that because of the absence of such physical contact, women are able to better display their more tactile skills. 

“I think this rule has allowed women’s hockey to almost be smarter in a way,” and led to “rely[ing] on our skills like skating and stickhandling,” Martin explained.

Yates also warns that allowing body checking in women’s ice hockey might be a difficult change.

“Tough because it’s been without checking for so long like, getting used to it would probably be a little tough and maybe initially harmful,” Yates explained.

Coach Michael Massaro holds the perspective from both sides as a hockey player in a men’s league and coach of the Holy Cross Ice Hockey team.

“Girl’s hockey does not ban physical contact,” Massaro reiterated. “What you can’t do is check your opponent, but what you can do is position your body in a way that puts yourself in between the puck and the puck carrier.” 

 Inspired through his experience and opinion Massaro shared that there are alternatives.

 “Checking in its traditional sense is a little bit, how should you say, for show,” he explained. “It is a method to be used to separate the player from the puck, however there are many ways to do that don’t involve an actual hip check or an open ice hit, or something more.”

Holy Cross gives female athletes the unique opportunity to partake in sports to the full extent that they are meant to be played and appreciated. 

“In some ways [checking] would make the game of women’s hockey more exciting for outside viewers, but at the same time it makes it a much safer and more thought-out game,” Martin wisely stated.