Outside of a goal, there is no play in hockey that will send a crowd into a climactic frenzy more than a bone-breaking, leg-loosening, concussion-causing hit. Nor is there any play in hockey that can change the tide of a game without ever stopping the flow more than a good hit.
“You stand above (the player you hit) and taunt him and rub it in his face,” Michigan defenseman Mike Komisarek said. “A big hit can change the tide of the game and give your team a big boost. It get guys on the bench excited and can be just as important as scoring a big goal.”
If delivered when a team is struggling, tired or lacking momentum, a strong check can provide a boost. In addition, hits can also free up pucks and create turnovers leading to odd- man rushes and scoring opportunities.
Along with the immediate effects of a hit, there are long-term consequences. Knowing that a 200-pound forward or defenseman is looking to pancake you against the glass is enough to make any player take a second look over his shoulder. This threat is even enough to make Komisarek, Michigan’s version of World’s Strongest Man Champion Magnus Ver Magnusson, fear the effects of not keeping his head up and receiving a blow.
“I know when I go back for the puck and I think I am going to be hit, I hesitate a little bit and take that extra look over my shoulder to make sure that I make the play quick enough,” Komisarek said.
These clobberings can force a team’s best player to make a play quicker, which can force him out of his comfort zone.
This makes it a necessity to have a team’s best players also be some of its biggest. Despite Michigan forward Mike Cammalleri’s diminutive height, he weighs one pound more than fellow junior Jed Ortmeyer, who is often the first Wolverine to level an opponent.
The physical exhaustion from continued hard checking can quickly wear a team down, especially late in the season, creating opportunities for the other team. This elevates the importance of finishing checks and riding a man out of a play.
But regardless of how hard or often a team is hitting its opponent, those checks won’t matter if players are out of position, something that can happen when players are looking for a big hit or are