Checking in ice hockey is any one of a number of defensive techniques. It is usually not a penalty. There are many different techniques of body checking. The most common is side checking, driving the shoulder, upper arm and hip, equally into the opponent to separate them from the puck. Using the body to knock an opponent against the boards or to the ice. This is often referred to as simply checking or hitting and is only permitted on an opponent with possession of the puck. Body checking can be penalized when performed recklessly.
Charging, hitting from behind and boarding are examples of illegal hits. Charging occurs when a player takes three or more strides going into the check, and sometimes includes leaving the feet to deliver the hit. Boarding is when a check violently throws a player into the boards.
Due to their dangerous nature and increased likelihood of causing serious injury, these hits can have penalties ranging from a minor two-minute penalty to a major and game misconduct, along with a $100 fine in the NHL. In women's ice hockey, any body checking is a penalty and is also usually not allowed in amateur leagues or leagues with young children.
Beginning in the 2011-2012 season, USA hockey moved the age of legal body checking from 12U to 14U. The discussion of this rule change began with a look into Peewee (12U) and Squirt (10U) levels of hockey. Through observation, it was clear that Squirts skate more aggressive and try to play in the correct manner.
Peewees in similar situations would either let the opponent get the puck first so they can check them or hold back so they don’t get hit themselves. Injury wasn’t an initial concern but with the research being done today it was brought into the discussion. Research shows that the 11 year old brain has not developed skills to anticipate. As a result, Peewees acquire injuries four times more in checking vs. non-checking hockey.