Fraser: How do you determine when a check is a charge?

Kerry Fraser
5/14/2011 3:15:41 AM
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Got a question on rule clarification, comments on rule enforcements or some memorable NHL stories? Kerry Fraser wants to answer your emails at cmonref@tsn.ca!


Hi Kerry,

I've always wondered about the interpretation from the referee's point of view of assessing Rule 42, a charging penalty.  To me, the definition of a charge seems a bit ambiguous in the rulebook:

"42.1 Charging - A minor or major penalty shall be imposed on a player who skates or jumps into, or charges an opponent in any manner. Charging shall mean the actions of a player who, as a result of distance traveled, shall violently check an opponent in any manner. A 'charge' may be the result of a check into the boards, into the goal frame or in open ice."

How do you determine that a check is 'violent' enough to be a charge? When is the 'distance traveled' the deciding factor in calling a charging penalty? Who determines that a player took to many strides before checking an opponent? (The strides thing especially bothers me, because you can argue that a player has always taken a certain number of strides in order be in motion, otherwise they would be standing still!)

Daniel Konderski, Grande Prairie, Alberta

(Please accept my apology for the late posting of this question.  I was away from home all day picking up our youngest daughter at University in Maryland. Kara is the “baby” of our seven children. Yes refs have families too. I am fortunate to be married to ‘St. Kathleen.' None the less, I deserve two minutes for delay of blog.)

Daniel, welcome to our world of ambiguity. You are absolutely correct in your assessment.

When I signed my first contract with the NHL in 1973 the distance traveled relative to “charging” was spelled out as anything beyond “3 strides”.  Since, as you pointed out, the player has to skate to get there (distance traveled) the standard evolved to allow the player to make a solid body check through a reasonable distance traveled so long as he glided the last few feet prior to contact.  We permitted players to skate hard for 15-20 feet to deliver a body check as long as they didn't continue to “run” (stride) those last few feet.  Contact was most often delivered to the center mass of an opponent with the intention of separating the man from the puck and not the head from his shoulders as we often see today. Two of the greatest checkers that I ever saw were Craig Ramsay (Buffalo Sabres & now coach of Atlanta Thrashers) and Bob Gainey (Montreal Canadiens). Both of them perfected the art of angling players and made body contact for the purpose of gaining puck possession; which most often they achieved.  Their protégés that followed were Guy Carbonneau and currently, John Madden.

When the “New NHL” arrived after the lockout season and more speed was generated through the neutral zone, including quicker puck movement, there was a fear expressed in some camps that body checking and physicality would decline. Due to all the penalties that were being called through the obstruction learning curve for little touches that previously would have been let go, players became reluctant to risk playing a more physical style which they felt might land them in the penalty box for sure. 

While we have ultimately seen that not to be the case, the referees at the time were encouraged not to restrict or penalize players for what were deemed to be “good hockey hits” (that was the first time I heard it). This included hits with a distance travelled that exceeded previous standards. As players dipped their toes in the water to check the temperature and see what they could get away with, they quickly found out that they couldn't put their stick parallel to a non puck carriers body through the neutral zone but a long distance run at an opponent was within the referees' tolerance level.

With the greater distance traveled, increased velocity was generated and therefore increased “violence” of contact resulted. When late, high finishes of checks to the head of unsuspecting players occurred some game misconduct penalties assessed were rescinded.  (Two game misconducts I assessed for direct blows to the head were rescinded and deemed “good hockey hits”. In both cases the players were knocked out, carried from the ice and suffered concussions.) The message to the officiating fraternity was that these types of hits were legal so don't call them. 

If you recall, following the blind side hit on Marc Savard by Matt Cooke, it was stated publicly by Colin Campbell that there was no rule in the book to cover the hit at that time. Actually, I thought of three; charging (due to late hit), elbowing (because that's what hit Savard in the head) and a match penalty for deliberate attempt to injure!

With each decision came a new yardstick as we continued to see more of the “train wreck” hits on Sports Centre. 

It is not often that you see a player gliding into his opponent to deliver a check anymore. Think of most of Jordan Tootoo's thunderous, freight train checks or Steve Downie's charge at Ben Lovejoy if you need a point of reference.

Generally speaking this is the accepted standard of today.  Most often we see players travel an excessive distance combined with a continuation of speed (feet moving) due to a lack of restraining (obstruction) to make the hit.   Checkers often accelerate into their intended targets at impact. These are the BIG hits that can render both players incapacitated--flat on the ice.  Any time that a player leaves his feet to deliver a hard check, “charging” can and should be called. 

The culture of checking has changed so that most players hit “up” on their opponent as opposed to making contact with the center of body mass (midsection/chest or even shoulder).  The reason I say check “up” is because just prior to impact a checkers ankles stiffen, legs straighten through the knees, upper torso and hands moves in an upward motion followed by a vault or elevation high to their opponent. (High often means head area.) This occurs in all areas of the ice and not just in the so called “hitting zone.”

Daniel, you asked me how to determine if a check is “violent” enough to be a charge? To be honest with you, it's too ambiguous to answer. 

Steve Downie (Photo: Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)


(Photo: Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)
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