Cracking Down on Cross Checking

Cross Checking
Boston Bruins Jake DeBrusk cross checking New York Islanders Scott Mayfield on May 31, 2021. There was no call on the ice. Getty Images

The Reason

One of the big headlines entering this season was the NHL’s for cracking down on cross checking. Cross checking is a player using the shaft of the stick with both hands to forcefully check an opponent. It is easy to call when the stick is parallel to the ice while contacting another player. Being more aggressive on penalty calls for certain actions is nothing new. Recently in the 2017-18 season the League was stricter on slashing along with faceoff violations. It is done in the hopes of increasing player safety. Many injuries could happen from a bad cross check.

Cross checking is one of many calls that is up to a referee’s discretion. In response to the crack down, the NHL released the following statement. “Cross-checking, like many penalties, is a judgment made by an official and is not black and white. No two plays are exactly the same and many factors, including placement of the stick, elimination through force, and player embellishment are considered when judging cross-checking.” A few players and their managers spoke out last year about non-calls on plays that put players in danger. The following is from Jeff Jackson who represents a hand full of NHL stars;

The Crack Down

It is easy for the league to issue a statement on how they plan to enforce stricter calls on cross checking. However it is up to the referee’s on the ice to make the difficult decisions. Over previous seasons we had seen the minor call hovering around 4% of minor calls from 2018-2020. Between those two season 14,803 minors were called, and 673 of those were cross checking minors. Looking at the years before COVID changed play sets a nice baseline. To the credit of the NHL and their men on the ice, it is clear they are cracking down on cross checking. This young season has seen 1,590 minor calls and 159 of these were cross checking. Meaning that 8.15% of minors called are cross checking now. (Numbers pulled from games before 11/25/2021)

As this is just the start of the season we could see this percentage creep higher. However it is important to note that the goal of this crack down should be to end up with a lower percentage because players practice getting this bad habit out of their game. But credit earned and given to the NHL; they recognized a problem and have implemented a good way of resolving it.

Going Forward

Players need to work on using their body more than their sticks to enforce dominance on the ice. I can understand, having something in your hands means you inherently want to whack people with it. We’ve all done it with the cardboard tube from wrapping paper. However a hockey stick is slightly different. Obviously the league would love to keep all players safe and have zero injuries but that is impossible in a game like hockey. This crack down should lead to better things and cleaner overall play on the ice. Most importantly though the NHL needs to stick to their guns on this. They’ve had the automatic fine and making the penalty a major if a cross check results in injury, but that wasn’t good enough. Keep up the calls and keep protecting the players.

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