The Swedish Women's Hockey League (SDHL) will allow bodychecking next season, although it remains banned by the International Ice Hockey Federation for women's games.
The SDHL announced on Friday that it is implementing a pilot program for the 2022-23 season, allowing certain types of hits, such as along the boards. One check that remains prohibited is a "north-south" open-ice hit.
"We have tried to pursue the checking issue before at IIHF but have not been heard. It feels inspiring that we now make a decision for our own league and not only pave the way for Swedish women's hockey but for the entire women's hockey world," Gizela Ahlgren Bloom, the sports manager for the SDHL, said in a statement. "A large majority of the players have also been positive about testing this, so we think this will turn out well and that even more people will want to go to the arenas and watch really entertaining hockey."
The SDHL said it made this decision with the Zero Vision project that has aimed to prevent concussions in Swedish hockey. According to the league, the past four seasons have seen an increase in physical play but the incidence of concussions has decreased by 75%. It cites better on-ice awareness and changes to how players interact physically on the ice as factors.
"In recent seasons, we have introduced more physical play with the ambition of being able to open up for checking in SDHL," Ahlgren Bloom said.
The IIHF has banned checking in women's hockey since around 1992. Any player who delivers a check to an opponent in an IIHF-sanctioned game can be given a minor, major or match penalty. There is body contact allowed in pursuit of the puck, but players are prohibited from using the board to "make contact with an opponent to eliminate her from the play, push her into the boards, or pin her along the boards. All of these actions indicate an absence of interest in gaining possession of the puck."
Swedish women's national team coach Ulf Lundberg told Swedish broadcaster SVT that allowing hitting in the SDHL will make for tougher players in international games. "International games are tough, and to be closer to the level of other countries, we need to get more toughness in the game. I think we get more creativity in the game," he said.
David Bergman, head of officiating in the SDHL, said legalized checking will make it easier for referees to officiate games.
The pilot program will also be implemented in Damettan, Sweden's second-tier women's hockey league.