Players in hockey at all levels get hit, shoved, and pushed from behind frequently. When you’re chasing a puck and a player into the corner, it’s not remotely uncommon to give a guy a shove in the back, which assuming the players is aware of your presence, barely phases him. It’s a fight for body position, and they continue to battle like nothing happened.

Occasionally, a player isn’t aware the contact is coming and they go into the boards head-first, and we get to talking suspension. In other cases, a player is in too awkward a position to get their hands up to stop themselves from hitting the boards, or they get hit with more force than they expect, and they get smooshed into the dasher in some precarious position. It’s obviously very dangerous, and it happened to Patrick Kaleta last night courtesy Mike Brown:

Now, Leafs fans will say that Kaleta turned to use his numbers as a force field (“can’t hit me if my numbers are showing!”) and Sabres fans will say Brown should be locked in stocks in the city square, but we’re not here to argue that hit, we’re hear to discuss how and why these moments happen.

Yes, Brown followed through on a hit from behind when he shouldn’t have. But in that split second, maybe he thought Kaleta would turn to take the hit with his shoulder. Or maybe he didn’t have time to stop after his opponent turned. Or possibly, things just happen fast (not a cliché, a reality) and he found himself “locked in.”

I’ve written about the concept of “locked in” before, and Brown may have been an example of that. I explained:

That’s because in hockey, thinking too much can get you overly locked-in on something. You’re skating into the zone on a forecheck, and you know your coach wants you to play more physical – I’m going to hit that d-man, you think, even if it’s a few seconds lateI am getting this hit. Then that d-man immediately passes a puck in range of your stick, you miss it because you were obsessed with something else, and you’re still eight feet away skating at him like…oh shit, this is going to look weird if I carry on what do I do?

Whether it be a late hit or one on a player in a vulnerable position, committing to a play early can make it awfully tough to get out of that gear.

It doesn’t excuse away Brown’s action (err on the side of caution, after all), and maybe there should be supplemental discipline, I’m just saying: if Kaleta turns the other way, maybe it’s just a great check by Brown. If Kaleta doesn’t know he’s coming, maybe he snaps some vertebrae and Brown’s getting 30 games. As a player, it’s so, so hard to know how exactly the contact is going to go before it happens.

As I pointed out, hits from behind happen a lot but we don’t acknowledge that because they don’t always look bad. For example, take this play by Nikolai Kulemin on the Leafs’ first goal yesterday (watch the initial forecheck at the top of the screen):

The commentator Joe Bowen says “Kulemin, forces Leopold off the disc…” and follows up the goal with “What a play by Kulemin!” And hey, the Leafs scored, why not? But man, could the tone of that play ever have been different.

Jordan Leopold knows Kulemin is there, he can feel the pressure coming, so he’s braced. Kulemin shoves him in the back, hard, about four-five feet away from the boards. Because Leopold knows he’s there, he leaves with a minus instead of a neck brace. That could’ve been ug-leeeee.

The miscalculation so many players make is assuming their opponent knows they’re coming, because if they do know, you don’t want to lighten up on the pressure of your hit too much, or you’ll be the guy on your ass. Reverse-hits are flat embarrassing.

To be sure, some guys will do the courtesy yell – “On you,” “Head’s up,” or the simple one-hand-warning-slap-with-your-stick let’s someone know they have pressure, and are about to get hit.

Not all dangerous hits deserve the steam coming out of your ears, and sometimes we need to take a closer look at “clean” plays and not be so pumped about them. You rarely know the outcome before contact.

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Hearing at 10:45 today for Colin McDonald for this hit from behind/board today. Thas jus reckless.