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.

***

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

Comments (6)

  1. Any opinion on the difference between how the NHL vs NCAA calls boarding/CFB. Is CFB a necessary rule at upper levels? Seems like boarding covers the issue.

    At youth levels I think its important to distinguish the rule and create a safe environment.

    I could be very wrong but I’ve never seen CFB called in the NHL, is it in the book? And does it happen less frequently in the NHL? Respect/responsibility issue?

    • Boarding is a penalty for checking or pushing a defenseless player violently into the boards. Checking from behind is the making contact with the back of a player who is not aware the hit is coming, and it should be applied no matter how bad the hit is.

      Essentially a CFB penalty can be applied to any hit, no matter how strong, while boarding should be called in a hard, dangerous play.

  2. I think Brown is fine here, to be honest. Kaleta isn’t off the boards exactly, and he really does turn his back to Brown. At 1:01, you can see Kaleta coming into the boards with his left shoulder, looking over his right briefly, so he must have seen Brown coming, and then he turns towards the boards to push the puck off the boards forward. He puts himself in the position to receive the hit, turning himself like that. Brown obviously could’ve opted not to hit him, but I think in that situation, Kaleta made himself vulnerable and, like the Leafs fans will say, he is trying to use his numbers as a shield.

  3. Yep for sure. Kaleta is a real piece of work. That guy would never let up on anyone and he see’s Brown coming and turns his back to him. Boarding penalty, sure, dirty hit? Barely, Kaleta is a moron and is going to get himself hurt playing like that. Don’t ues your numbers as a shield unless you want to taste some glass.

  4. Even Lindy Ruff agreed it wasn’t a dirty hit by Brown and more of a turn by Kaleta. Here’s an excerpt from the associated press:

    “The NHL has made hits from behind a point of emphasis in recent years, but Ruff didn’t think Brown’s hit was dirty.

    “I thought he was sideways,” Ruff said. “Some of the obligation is on the player (being hit). He wasn’t defenceless. It’s a tough area. It wasn’t a blatant run a guy from behind.”

  5. turning or not turning- whatever – kaleta’s hurt because he was looking down. nhl network takes 5 minutes every hour telling kids to play heads up hockey, this is just as good a psa as any

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