4 Nations Cup: Body-checking, for now, a moot point in the women’s game

Team Canada power forward Natalie Spooner smiles and chuckles about the thought of full body contact in women’s hockey, if it ever were to be allowed.

But she may be an exception to the rule.

“I’m a big person, so I don’t mind,” says the 5-foot-10, 180-pound Spooner, chuckling. “There are some smaller girls out there, but who knows? It would be a bit of a transition if body checking were to come in, (but) I’m good either way.”

Canada forward Natalie Spooner and United States defence Mikaela Gardner battle for the puck in the boards during the second period of 2018 Four Nations Cup preliminary game in Saskatoon on Wednesday, November 7, 2018. 

It’s not much of an issue these days. Some body contact is already allowed in the women’s game along the boards and in scrums, but the consensus among 4 Nations Cup participants is to keep the women’s game like it is.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

“I mean, (bodychecking) is there in a way,” says Team Canada’s captain, Marie-Philip Poulin.

“Along the boards it can get physical, but I think if we go open-ice, we’ll get away from the women’s game and take away from what we bring: The skill, the hockey sense and everything. We want to keep growing the game in that sense.”

Team USA forward Brianna Decker doesn’t see a need for change.

“I like the way it is now,” Decker says. “They let us get away with a decent amount (of body contact). It’s a physical game — that’s what is fun about women’s hockey. They still let a lot of that go, but I don’t have too much of an opinion on it, to be honest.”

Canada defence Halli Krzyzaniak knocks United States forward Brianna Decker to the ice during third period of 2018 Four Nations Cup preliminary game in Saskatoon on Wednesday, November 7, 2018. The United States defeated Canada 2-1.

Bob Corkum, head coach of the United States squad and a former NHLer, doesn’t want to see full out hitting, but admits he likes a little bit of physicality to the game.

“There’s plenty of bumping and grinding that goes on out there,” he says. “There’s certainly plenty of strength going on out there and people leaning on each other and I think it’s great for the game and a great way to play.”

Team Canada forward Rebecca Johnston says she really didn’t face a lot of bodychecking growing up, just a little bit when she played boys’ hockey. Yet, the women’s game is far from innocent, and not purely finesse.

“It is pretty physical, as you can tell watching,” says Johnston. “I’m so used to the way it’s played now. It’s already rough enough that I don’t think we need (full body-contact).”

Team Sweden forward Emma Nordin, all 5-foot-6 and 163 pounds of her, doesn’t seem to mind mixing it up.

“I like when we’re allowed to play a little tougher because I think it’s a positive thing for us,” she says. “But it’s a hard transition to begin to have that kind of (full contact bodychecking) game right now. But I like when we’re allowed to play a little physical.”

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Sweden’s head coach, Ylva Martinsen, doesn’t think women’s hockey should shift its direction.

“We need to stick to women’s hockey and that kind of branding of the sport,” Martinsen says. “People watching hockey like the women’s style and I think it also depends on the referees, how much they will allow in the body contact. I think one of the best parts of hockey is when you go tight on your opponent. It’s a lot of feelings (and emotion). You can play tough but fair. I think we have a good balance.”

Team Canada head coach Perry Pearn doesn’t think full-out body checking is coming in any time soon.

“But, if you watch the real good female games, there’s lots of contact and it’s heavy contact,” says Pearn.

“If you look at the speed of the athlete and the physical preparedness of them, it’s a battle out there. Just by taking the body away with a finished check is enough to be effective. I think if you look at the pro game and the bodycheck part of the pro game in the men’s has become a little bit less and less. It’s not the big hit anymore. It’s being able to get body position and ride people out and that’s exactly what happens in the female game.”

The last word goes to former Team Canada head coach Melody Davidson, now head scout for the national women’s team.

“The game is fine the way it is and I think if you follow the men’s game, their game is more like our game than ever,” says Davidson.

“I think the body checking point is moot anymore. Saskatchewan fans and anybody who’ll see the (medal) games this weekend will see that our game is very similar to the men’s now and I think you’ll see the men’s game go even closer to where our game is now with the concussion awareness, head shots and all of that.”

dzary@postmedia.com

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