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What Constitutes A Dirty Play in Hockey?

Photo Credit: scoutingtherefs.com

“That’s a dirty hit!” I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen this tweeted by hockey fans these past few days. The frustrating part about this for me is most of the hits that are being talked about weren’t dirty. Meanwhile, the ones that actually were have not been spoken about by many people, especially the offending team’s fans. This is not an area where bias should cloud judgment. I strongly believe that if you’re going to call one out, you need to call them all out. Dirty plays need to be eliminated from the game, period. It does not matter if it’s your team throwing them. If anything, you should want to call those out more, as it’s a horrible look for the team. I always call out dirty hits by the Bruins as well as dirty hits by other teams.

But anyway, rant over. That’s not what this article is about. Not every play that (unfortunately) ends in possible injury is dirty. Because I’m seeing so many clean hits get called dirty, I thought I’d define what should and should not be called a dirty play, and provide some examples. 

From Behind into the Boards

Hits from behind are often dirty, no matter where they are on the ice. However, hits from behind into the boards are the worst ones, and they’re always dirty. This is particularly true when they’re just a few feet from them so the player whacks their head on the boards as they go down. They are most dangerous in hockey in my opinion. They regularly concuss players, and they can even break necks. All players know this, and more often than not, these hits are avoidable. So there’s really no excuse to throw them.

Whenever someone tries to argue with me on this, I bring up Travis Roy. For those who don’t know, Travis Roy had a very promising career ahead of him, but just 11 seconds into his first college hockey game at Boston University, he fell into the boards and broke his neck, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. Freak things like this happen because of a simple fall. So to intentionally hit someone into the boards like that is just inexcusable. 

Headshots and Blindside Hits

General head hits are also incredibly dangerous. They’re a very good way to concuss players. We’ve seen numerous careers end this way, including former Bruin Marc Savard’s. There’s no excuse for them. They’re almost always avoidable, and if they aren’t, you should at least let up as much as possible. Every player knows they’re dirty, yet they still happen. That needs to change. Concussions are no joke. The long-term effects of them are debilitating and devastating (just ask Marc Savard). So anything that can be done to eliminate them should be, and this is a very simple thing to avoid doing. Headshots have absolutely no place in hockey.

Another type of dirty hit is a blindsided one. Again, think of Matt Cooke’s hit on Marc Savard. Savard had no idea he was coming, and so he could do nothing to protect himself. That’s when players get injured on open ice hits because you’re taught how to protect yourself if you see it coming. You don’t get that opportunity if you don’t see it coming. So, we often see those hits end in awkward falls and injuries. Like all the others, these are almost always avoidable. If you see that a player isn’t paying attention, you don’t go light them up. If nothing else, it’s a respect thing.

Clipping and Knee-to-Knee

Clipping is when a player intentionally hits an opponent at or below the knee. See this hit by Brad Marchand on Sami Salo for an example. These hits, when intentional, are incredibly dirty. It’s a good way to make a guy blow out his knee, or fall in an awkward way and injure himself in some other fashion. It’s really just a cheap, dirty thing to do, and there’s no reason for it.

Knee-to-knee hits are self-explanatory. It’s exactly what the name says. Check out this video to see some examples of these hits. Like clipping, it’s a good way to make a guy blow out his knee. This one is less likely to make a player fall in an awkward way and injure something out than clipping is, but it still happens. There’s never a reason to intentionally do this. Again, like clipping, it’s just a really cheap and dirty thing to do. It shows an intent to injure, which is horrible.

Slew Foots

Last but not least, we have the slew foot. A slew foot is when a player intentionally drags an opponent’s foot from behind. Check out this video to see examples of slew foots in the NHL. This is a sneaky play and extremely dirty. Most of the time, the victim will fall to the ice in an awkward fashion and/or whack their heads off the ice. It’s a play guys get injured on a lot. These are always avoidable, as it’s always intentional. They’re completely unnecessary, dirty, and dangerous.

I’m Sure I’m Forgetting Some

In short, there’s a lot of ways a hockey hit can be dirty. The most common ones are hits from behind into the boards or head hits. Both of these things have to be out of the game. But, they’re certainly not the only ones that happen, as you can see. Despite this not being an exhaustive list, hopefully this helps. Hits can be hard, and unfortunately, they can also end in injury, without them being dirty. A hit only becomes dirty if it’s something against the rules. 

As a general rule of thumb, if it’s not something the NHL’s Department of Player Safety has looked at and punished in the past, it isn’t dirty. Hockey is such a fast, physical game that unfortunate things happen even as a result of seemingly harmless or otherwise clean plays. So, let’s stop calling every play that ends in at least a possible injury dirty, ok?

-Lydia Murray (@lydia_murray12)

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