This week, we're breaking down using the back stick. Let's deep dive into the rule that pretty much makes hockey, hockey, even if we don't know for sure why the rule was made in the first place!
Butting up against befuddling back sticks? We’ll break down the battle and beat your bewilderment. Let’s do this!
Hey friends! I’m Keely of FHumpires back with a hot take on one hockey rule. This week, it’s the rule that pretty much makes hockey, hockey, and no one really knows why.
Rule 9.5 – Playing the Ball with the Back Stick
Here’s the governing rule:
9.5 Players must not play the ball with the back of their stick.
Well, this is awkward. I set aside at least 2 minutes for this section… Okay, I’ll dust off the old Field and Pitch Specification section just to cover off what the back of the stick is:
2.6 The playing side of the stick is the entire side shown in figures 3 and 4 and the edges of that side.
Here’s figures 3 and 4:
So now we have a definition for the playing side of the stick, and an undefined term of what the back side of the stick is. Let’s just infer that 9.5 should actually read: Players can only play the ball with the playing side of the stick. That’s a lot of play.
What’s playing the ball? That’s at least a properly defined term for a field player:
Stopping, deflecting or moving the ball with the stick.
Fun fact: up until 2002, it was only illegal to play the ball intentionally with the back of the stick. The wording you see today has been in place since the 2004 edition. I mention this because the rule has been interpreted much more technically over the last decade, partially due to the advent of video referral, but also with the emergence of edge hitting on the forehand, which was made illegal due to its danger shortly after the skill became popularized, and the reverse, known by some as the tomahawk. If a player fails to execute the skill correctly and the normal parameters of advantage and no benefit gained apply, they should be penalized.
Back Sticks by Defenders
Let’s talk about the defensive side of the ball first.
Spotting fouls where a player intercepts a pass with the back side of their stick tend to be the easiest out of the lot. The toe pointing up when the stick is on the left side of the player is the cue you’re looking for. In the case of a shave tackle, where the defender comes in from behind and attempts to pull the ball back towards them with the inside edge of their stick hook, if the stick is at more than a 45-degree angle to the ground, the round side is definitely being used.
In each of these situations, the player may not have in their mind that they are absolutely going to use the back of their stick and try to get away with it. However, the use of their stick is within their control and if they are reckless as to their use of the skill of turning over their stick correctly and fail to do so in the act of receiving the ball or tackling a player in possession, that action breaks down the play and needs to be met with a team penalty upgrade, if available, and a card in most situations. It’s a big card if the impact on the play is serious, for example stopping an open player from receiving a pass inside the 23m as we saw in the first clip, stopping an attacker from entering the circle in the next clip, or stopping an attacker from taking a shot on goal, as in this final clip.
The outcome is that a big risk draws a big penalty.
Attackers Using the Back Stick
On the other side, players in possession of the ball can accidentally play the ball with the back of the stick when a reception isn’t clean and the ball dribbles over the top edge and down the other side.
Other risky times are when the player is using 3D skills. When the ball is in the air, there’s a risk of missing the ball with the playing side and deflecting it with the back of the stick, as we see in this example. When the contact is slight, you can argue that the player doesn’t gain an advantage from this fumbling, but in the era of video referral, a foul is more often going to be awarded, especially inside the circle when players are in close proximity to each other.
The Back Stick on a Reverse Edge Hit
Finally, the one we all know and love: the tomahawk hit. Whether used as a pass or a shot on goal, a reverse edge hit can be performed so quickly over a big range to motion that it’s very difficult to pick up. Here are some cues.
When the stick is rotated correctly in the player’s hands they can still end up using the round side if their stick strikes downwards into the turf first and bounces up slightly to in effect top the ball. You can often see detect this by a significant amount of spray coming off a water-based turf just prior to ball contact.
However, that’s not always conclusive, as we see in this clean goal.
Making Your Best Circumstantial Argument
Now, put that together with the trajectory of the ball and you’ve got a pretty good circumstantial argument. If the speed of the ball after contact doesn’t match the speed of the swing, i.e. a significant amount of pace is taken off it such that the ball loops in the air, that means the turf took the brunt of the swing and the ball was also hit down into the turf by the stick contacting the top side of the ball…with the back side of the stick.
Not A Breakdown
Last point: attackers break down their own play when they use the back of their sticks so there’s almost never a call for a personal penalty. Not scoring that goal is bad enough.
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Chau for now!
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