By Evan Midford, Website & Social Media Coordinator

Hockey season is in full swing, and the players are ecstatic to be back on the ice playing games again. All of the enthusiasm of returning to play might drive athletes to lose sight of potential injuries and how to avoid them. Dr. Gail Sawa, a physician at the Sport Manitoba Clinic, explained the most common injuries that come from hockey. They include concussions, shoulder dislocation and separations (in body contact levels), and high ankle sprains.

Dr. Sawa emphasizes hockey athletes being aware of these injuries and having insightful techniques and tactics on how to prevent them.


Ensuring Athletes Have Proper Techniques for Giving/Receiving Body Checks

Giving Body Checks

There tends to be a widespread misunderstanding that checking begins at a specific age or age division. Hockey Canada provides a four-step checking process that starts the moment a young athlete gets onto the ice.

  • Position and Angling
  • Stick Check
  • Contact Confidence and Body Contact
  • Body Checks

Body-checking is the progression’s fourth and final step. The shift from non-contact to contact hockey can be difficult for young players, but the adjustment will be much easier if coaches can adequately establish the groundwork.

Hockey Canada defines a body check as physical contact induced primarily by the checker’s movement. That movement can, and frequently does, differ from that of the puck carrier. The checker’s body is used to stop the puck carrier’s attacking movement and/or to remove the puck from the puck carrier. The ability to effectively master the first three steps in the checking sequence is required for body checking. To begin with, the checker must be a powerful skater with exceptional balance on their skates.

Hockey Canada – Body Checking Drills 


Receiving Body Checks

It is essential to position yourself the best you can to avoid concussions or shoulder dislocations and separations when receiving a check in hockey. Place yourself in the following stance: 

  • Make sure your feet are just over shoulder-width apart, knees bent, head and chest up to create sturdiness. Often, you see athletes getting into a narrow position with their feet together and their shoulders shrugging inwards. The narrow positioning causes you to be off-balance and give you no stability while getting checked. 
  • Get your feet and shoulders parallel to the boards. You do not want your shoulders or feet facing the boards; that will result in getting hit from behind and your face going in first. 
  • Try to absorb the impact along the upper thigh and hip. It’s going to be a lot easier on your body taking it there rather than on your shoulder. When you lean in with your shoulder, this is how injuries can occur. 
  • Get nice and close to the boards as you are getting checked. You do not want to be one or two feet away as this can result in falling at an awkward angle, which can cause concussions, shoulder/back injuries, etc. When you are close, the player checking you will bounce off.

Hockey Share provides an excellent breakdown video of each step when receiving body checks.

(Photo credit: Susan Judge, 2019 Canada Games)

Approved and Well-Fitting Equipment

To stay safe in the high pace and physical contact game of hockey, adequate equipment is an absolute must.

Before you begin playing, the most crucial decision you should make is to obtain correctly fitting and comfortable equipment. You put yourself in a high-risk position of injury if the equipment is not properly fitted.

When considering hockey equipment, Ontario Minor Hockey Association has put forward three significant considerations that should be made:

  • That the equipment is in good working order
  • That it has been adequately maintained over its lifetime
  • That it fits well – ‘Hand-me-downs’ are a terrific way to save money, but make sure to inspect the goods thoroughly before wearing them.

For equipment requirements and a proper fitting chart, click here

Hockey Canada – Equipment Fitting Video

Hockey Canada – Safety for All Handbook

(Photo Source: OMHA)


Skating Technique

Believe it or not, the most critical hockey skill is skating. Being a solid and sturdy skater involves continued edge work and power skating practice both on and off the ice. Constantly performing movements to help strengthen your legs and ankles will avoid high ankle sprains or other injuries. 


Forward Stride

Keep in mind the following tips when performing forward skating: 

  • Keep your knees bent. Your knees should be over your toes so you cannot see them. Your shoulders and back should be straight, and your head should be up. 
  • Push one foot at a time, putting your whole weight into each stride. While one foot pushes, the other glides. Push perpendicular to (directly against) the inside edge with your push, not behind you but to the side.
  • Extend the leg until it locks (full extension), then quickly and fully return it to the “arrow tip” position to begin each stride from under your body for maximum force.
  • At all times during the stride, keep your feet very close to the ice. At the end of your stride, don’t kick your foot up in the air.
  • Only use your top hand on the stick so you may swing your arms forward and backward like you would when running.

For a video breakdown of forward strides, click here.


Backward Stride

Keep in mind the following tips when performing backward skating: 

  • Again, bend your knees deeply enough to cover your toes.
  • Your back should be straight, your head is up, and your eyes are looking forward.
  • Begin each push from the centre of your body.
  • Turn the pushing foot’s heel out by pivoting it.
  • Push one foot at a time, putting your entire weight behind each thrust.
  • Drive the pushing foot to the side to full extension, forming a “half-moon (C)” in the ice while gliding back on the other foot.
  • Don’t swivel your hips; keep them straight.

For a video breakdown of backward strides, click here

(Source: Ice Forum)


Plyometric Training

Dr. Sawa recommends plyometric training to assist in preventing knee injuries and high ankle sprains. Plyometric training, often known as jump training, consists of strength-building exercises requiring muscles to produce maximum force in the shortest time. Plyometrics also aid in injury prevention by teaching your muscles how to absorb shock.

Plyometric exercises involve lengthening/decelerating (eccentric) muscular contractions to aid in developing explosive power for sports. This movement is common in hockey players because of their explosive starts and stops, quick changes of direction, and awkward falls. 

Sport Manitoba Performance offers a high-performance hockey program for Manitobans. This program is entirely customizable and can include but is not limited to fitness assessments, customized training programs, on-ice skills and conditioning, and more. Within the program, Sport Manitoba Performance’s certified trainers will incorporate plyometric exercises in each training session. 

Sport Manitoba Performance’s Hockey Program


​​Lower Body Plyometric Progressions for Hockey

An athlete should perform the lowest level until they master the movement and can perform 3-4 sets of 4-5 repetitions before moving onto the next level. This can take anywhere from 2-4 weeks. As a general rule, plyometric exercises are to be done with the intent of being as explosive as possible. Therefore, longer rest periods are required between work sets to promote high-quality movement versus fatiguing movements.


Linear Horizontal Progression

The focus here is on pushing the ground down and back into the ground to propel yourself forward while using a full arm swing to help produce forward momentum. 

Level 1Snap Down to Broad Jump 

Level 2Low Lateral Hurdle Hop to Broad Jump 

Level 3Double Broad Jump 

Level 4 Triple Broad Jump 


Lateral Horizontal Progression

The focus here is on pushing laterally into the ground to get a blend of height and lateral distance.

Level 1Snap Down to Lateral Skaters Bound 

Level 2 Lateral Skaters Bound One Directional 

Level 3 Lateral Skaters Bound Alternating

Level 4 Reactive Skaters Bound


Vertical Power Progression

The focus here is on exploding off the ground as if you were a rocket ship taking off into the air whether on a 2 foot jump or a single leg hop.

Level 1Squat Hold to Box Jump

Level 2Snap Down to Vertical Jump

Level 3Depth Drop to 5 Hurdle Jumps

Level 4Repeat Reactive Vertical Jumps

For further information on plyometric training, click here to see Sport Manitoba Performance break it down in detail. 


New and Used Equipment Resources

Many places in Manitoba offer a variety of reliable new and used equipment. 

  • Play-It-Again Sports – Sells quality used and new sports and fitness gear. They also buy used equipment from you, which is a great option when you outgrow things. There are two different locations in Manitoba:
    • Winnipeg North – 1375 McPhillips Unit 8, Winnipeg, MB
    • Winnipeg South – 730 St. Anne’s Road Unit U, Winnipeg, MB
  • Kijiji – Hockey Equipment – Has a wide variety of used children, youth, teens, and adult equipment. However, it is vital to ensure that everything fits appropriately and that helmets are not expired or damaged when purchasing used equipment. 


For more information regarding injury prevention, contact Sport Manitoba Clinic or Sport Manitoba Performance:

Sport Manitoba Clinic



Sport Manitoba Performance