A reader writes: what, exactly, is a hook check?
It’s a fair point. If you’ve roamed as far as page 87 in the hardcovered Puckstruck, you’ll have learned things about Frank Nighbor and Jack Walker and their hook-checking exploits that you never knew before without having been provided on the page with an actual definition of the lost, lamented art.
“The passage about the hook check drove me crazy!” read the e-mail that came in from Kingston this week. Steven Heighton was perplexed. “I mean, what IS a hook check? You never say. I wanted to try it out in my game today . . .
“I suspect the omission was deliberate; you’re playing on the poignancy of an aspect of the game being utterly lost. The omission is in fact Borgesian, or Nabokovian (two other writers who never wrote about hockey.) Aesthetically, your strategy is sound, but on the level of pure athletic curiosity, I still want to know.”
Much as I like Borgesian — okay, I like Nabokovian, too — the truth is that the lack of a definition is one more oversight of mine. The hook-check file in my office is filled with hook-check facts and info; some of it just never got into the book.
In Let’s Play Hockey: How You Can Be A Hockey Star (1957), Lynn Patrick and Leo Monahan suggest that players be versed in five important checks. In order, they’re the hook, the poke, the sweep, the stick lift, and the body.
It consists of a defender going down on one knee, extending his stick flat on the ice and hooking the puck away from the carrier. When properly executed the hook check is a pretty play to watch and a hook-check artist will come up with the puck nearly every time.
That’s the point of the hook: to secure the puck. That’s where it’s distinct from the poke and the sweep, which are disruptive rather than possessive: doesn’t matter where the puck goes so long as it’s not on your opponent’s stick.
The sweep and the hook are often confused, with the terms used interchangeably, as if they were one in the same check. This was the case even in earlier hockey eras when they were regularly deployed. But while the motions of sweep and hook (as illustrated below) are similar, they are wholly different checks.
The hook requires surgical skill and, if executed properly, yields the puck.
The sweep is a blunt instrument, a tool of disarray. “It is,” as Patrick and Monahan write, “a sweeping slap at the puck to jar it loose.”
The sweep, like the poke, takes technique; the hook is an art. Go ahead, try it. Also in the file I find the following cautionary tale from 1923. Harry Hellman was a substitute right winger for the Ottawa Senators. The team was preparing for a Stanley Cup semi-final in Vancouver when:
… Hellman suffered a serious flesh wound in the face during practice. In hook-checking [teammate and master hook-checker Frank] Nighbor, he lost his balance and fell on Nighbor’s skate, cutting open his cheek and injuring his nose. Hellman is in St. Paul’s Hospital here, and it will be impossible for him to play again this season.