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Where have checking from behind calls gone?

Marian Hossa #81 of the Chicago Blackhawks celebrates scoring the game-winning goal against the Nashville Predators in Game Five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the United Center on April 24, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Predators 5-4 in overtime. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Jonathan Daniel/2010 Getty Images

Below is Marian Hossa's dangerous hit from Saturday, one that went without a suspension. Scott Burnside from ESPN has worked up enough outrage over that for the both of us, so I'll move on to another related complaint.

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Hossa's hit on Dan Hamhuis, like the one Alex Ovechkin put on Brian Campbell earlier this season, was deemed a five-minute major for boarding by officials, which is flat out the wrong call.

It's a hit from behind, plain and simple.

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Here are the two penalties from the rulebook:

42.1 Boarding - A boarding penalty shall be imposed on any player or goalkeeper who checks an opponent in such a manner that causes the opponent to be thrown violently in the boards. The severity of the penalty, based upon the degree of violence of the impact with the boards, shall be at the discretion of the Referee.

44.1 Checking from Behind - A check from behind is a check delivered on a player who is not aware of the impending hit, therefore unable to protect or defend himself, and contact is made on the back part of the body. When a player intentionally turns his body to create contact with his back, no penalty shall be assessed.

In instances where the hit fits both categories, the call is supposed to be checking from behind, as that call is more serious and supersedes a boarding play. The issue is that, if an official calls checking from behind, it's an automatic major and game misconduct, and they appear unwilling to make that call on star players given it could impact the outcome of the game.

Looking over the regular-season stats for the past eight seasons, there's a trend there with checking from behind calls falling over time. From 2001-02 to 2005-06, there were 38 checking from behind calls, an average of nearly 10 per season. In the four years since then, there have been only 12 made total -- an average of three per season.

Boarding majors, meanwhile, hit a high for that period this season, with 26 called. (The season average has been about 15.)

Now, I don't have video of every single one of those hits, and it very well could be that boarding was the right call on many of them, but to my eye, what's happened is checking from behind is almost never being called. It wasn't on Ovechkin and again on Hossa, two nearly identical plays where the rule should have applied.

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Checking from behind has essentially become a fringe call, one hardly ever made. The past eight seasons, it's been called less than clipping, playing with a broken stick and other rarely committed offences.

That's a horrible precedent to set, as if you lessen the punishment for hits from behind, their frequency could increase -- and injuries from those types of hits can be severe. In fact, we're lucky we've never seen anyone at the NHL level paralyzed given the speed and size of players continues to increase.

That's why the penalty exists in the first place, at every level of hockey, and not calling it as written lets players -- even the stars -- get away with a play they shouldn't. Nevermind a suspension: Hossa should have been tossed from that game, no questions asked.

Checking from behind penalties:

2001-02: 7 2002-03: 10 2003-04: 13 2005-06: 8 2006-07: 1 2007-08: 3 2008-09: 3 2009-10: 5

UPDATE My thanks to a reader who points out that the NCAA clarified its rules a few years back to ensure that hits from behind were called as such and not boarding or charging. I think the same is warranted in the NHL -- although it will likely only come after a severe injury.

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About the Author
Hockey Reporter

James joined The Globe as an editor and reporter in the sports department in 2005 and now covers the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs. More

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