Ban on bodychecking splits female players

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia --- As a 5-foot-4 defenseman who values her safety, Carla MacLeod has strong opinions about the oldest debate in women's hockey: Would this smooth sport be even better if brutish bodychecking was legal?

"Do we really need to see girls crushing each other?" the smallish Canadian defenseman asked. "I really like my teeth, and I think one day in a wedding photo, having no scars would be a bonus."

The ban on bodychecking is the sole significant rule difference between the women's game and the men's version, yet it's a glaring absence for hockey fans who are used to the demolition derbies that happen regularly on the glass in the NHL, the minors and major juniors.

Women's hockey players still are allowed to make contact with each other, and it happens regularly along the boards and in the corners. But open-ice hits and thunderous checks into the glass can be penalized with a two-minute minor for bodychecking, leaving the game's most physical defensemen and forecheckers constantly watching their step.

So could this game use a hit? Most players and coaches say no, but the idea has been debated for two decades, ever since world hockey's governing organization decided to hold its international women's tournaments without checking.

"I'd love to hit," said Angela Ruggiero, the 5-foot-9 U.S. defenseman who once played in a men's minor league. "I think I'd completely dominate on the ice if I could. I grew up playing boys' hockey, and I completely love that aspect of the game, but some players wouldn't thrive in that. Our game is a beautiful game the way it is."

Many players say they wouldn't mind taking hits and that the chief problem with the bodychecking ban is the maddening inconsistency it causes in officiating. Most players don't know what's allowed and what's punishable from game to game -- and referee to referee.

Those discrepancies have been obvious even at the Olympic tournament. The German referee who called China's preliminary-round game against Finland sent the Chinese to the box repeatedly for a string of fairly minor touches, while the Canadian ref in charge of China's game against Russia two nights later allowed all sorts of slashing, cross-checking and body contact, particularly along the boards.


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