Swinging past defender, Montreal's Henri Richard displays one of best methods of getting closer to the opponents' cage. While controlling puck with stick in left hand, Richard fends off defenseman. "As you can see," he says, "I am leaning on the guy and holding him away with my right hand. The only thing I have to watch out for is the referee; if he sees that I am holding the guy's stick I will get a penalty. I don't use too much force to fend my opponent off. Generally, he will try to grab me or trip me, which is just fine because he gets a penalty called against him! The guy is pretty helpless. Puck control is no problem for me at this point because I am getting up speed and the puck stays close to my stick. Once I am completely past him, I put both my hands on my stick."
There are many naughty boys in the National Hockey League. Big, beefy, naughty boys whose function it is to stop the attack by using their sticks, their bodies, their everything. It is the defenseman's job to get between the puck carrier and the goal. He tries to drive the man away from the goal, throwing him off balance and upsetting his control. Because they try so hard, the defensemen often break the liberal rules of hockey; year in and year out they are near the top of the penalty lists. At the right, the defenseman (light shirt) is throwing his shoulder into the puck carrier along the boards, causing him to lose control of the puck. This is legal. But if the defender violently rides the man into the boards a penalty may be called against him.
Checking with the stick upsets the pattern of the opponents' attack and, ideally, turns what has been a defensive situation into the beginning of your own attack. When using the stick check to steal the puck, the defensive man may not slash (swing his stick at an opponent), spear (stab the opponent with the point of the stick blade while the stick is being carried with one hand or both hands) or trip deliberately (left). These result in penalties. The well-executed stick check is one which enables the defender to move in on the attacker and steal the puck cleanly so that it may lead to a quick break down the ice. There are four basic varieties of stick check used by the defense (below).
Deliberate trip using the blade of stick will bring two-minute penalty to tripper.
Stick Lift is accomplished by raising the opponent's slick, then stealing free puck.
Poke Check jars outside of opponent's stick to make him lose control of puck.
Hook Check demands that defenseman drop to one knee, swing stick flat on ice.
Sweep Check is made from long range while skating, with full length of the stick. Checker holds his stick at end, keeps it low and tries to get inside of the puck carrier's stick.
Blocking an attacking opponent's shot is one of the hardest functions of the defender, for it requires his full agility and concentration. In a sense, the defenseman is the handmaiden to the goalie, stopping shots and players from coming in unopposed to the goal. Of situations where a defenseman has to handle an attacker alone, Muzz Patrick, General Manager of the New York Rangers and once a superb defenseman himself, says, "The defenseman should back up slowly, look the puck carrier in the eyes and play the man. If the puck carrier shoots from the outside, the defenseman should not watch to see where the puck has gone. If the puck is in the net there is nothing he can do about it; if it isn't, he can prevent his man from picking up the rebound if he stays with him." In the cases illustrated, the defenseman is in front of the net, trying to stop the attacker from shooting on goal.