The SDHL, a professional women’s hockey league in Sweden, has announced a pilot program introducing bodychecking for next season. The program will also extend to Sweden’s second-tier women’s league, Damettan.
Open ice hits will not be allowed, however, body checking along the boards will be legal.
“We have allowed more physical play in SDHL the last four seasons with good results,” said Morgan Johansson, project manager for Project Zero Vision in the SDHL’s statement via Google Translate. “It is difficult to say without facts on the table that more physical play means fewer concussions, but now we have that basis. It feels incredibly exciting that Swedish ice hockey can be pioneers in introducing tackles in women's hockey.”
Johansson’s Project Zero Vision was started in 2018-2019 aiming to prevent concussions in Swedish hockey. Since the program’s inception and more physical play was permitted in the SDHL, concussions have decreased by 75% among women’s hockey players in the country.
In North American women’s hockey, body contact has been allowed throughout the game’s history. Body checking was a regular part of women’s hockey in North America prior to the 1987 World Women’s Hockey Tournament. At that event, the disparity in talent levels between nations caused organizers to remove body checking. Over the following years, body contact became the norm within women’s hockey, while body checking was outlawed.
Despite the removal of body checking from that 1987 tournament, Sweden’s hockey bodies see the introduction of body checking as a way to bridge the gap between Sweden’s world success, and that of nations like Canada, the USA, and Finland.
“By allowing tackles in hockey on the women's side, Swedish ice hockey wants to take a step to get closer to the top nations internationally,” the statement said.
“I think it's about a natural competition in the game. With the puck, you should, with your eyes up, protect it and yourself to gain time and surface offensively,” said Ulf Lundberg, the head of Sweden’s women’s national program via Google Translate. “Without the puck, you want to minimize time and space to retake the puck as quickly as possible. We coaches have long been training in "blade against puck - body against body" and I think that this change will benefit the creative game because there are higher demands on action speed.”
The pilot program will be reevaluated throughout the 2022-2023 season. Last year, Luleå won the SDHL title defeating Brynäs in front of a sellout crowd of 7,765 fans. The SDHL is one of the top European leagues for Olympians. In the championship game between Luleå and Brynäs, 20 Olympians from Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Czechia competed.