Phaneuf rescues open-ice check

Senators forward Stephane Da Costa takes a huge open-ice hit from Maple Leafs defenceman Dion...

Senators forward Stephane Da Costa takes a huge open-ice hit from Maple Leafs defenceman Dion Phaneuf at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ont., Oct. 8, 2011. (FRED THORNHILL/Reuters)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:34 PM ET

TRENTON, ONT. - For Dion Phaneuf, completing a crushing body check is a "hit-and-miss" proposition.

Time it right, and you'll be on SportsCentre.

Time it wrong, and you'll be featured on the next reel of sports bloopers.

Asked what is the key to making an effective open-ice bodycheck, Phaneuf broke it down to one key element.

"Timing," he said. "It's all about timing.

"You have to know when it's not there. When it isn't, you have to back off. You can't commit yourself.

"Like I said, timing is the key. You have to know where and when."

Phaneuf said a clean, crushing check to an opponent can change the momentum of a game.

"I've been doing it for a while now and I can tell you this — a big hit feels great," he said. "It can really lift a team. It's like scoring a big goal.

"The most important thing is to never target a guy's head."

Phaneuf's crushing blow to Sens rookie Stephane Da Costa during the second period of Toronto’s 6-5 victory on Saturday was the type of hit that was a Scott Stevens trademark during his trek into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

It is also becoming a lost art form, one only a handful of NHL players such as Phaneuf can still pull off.

Make no mistake. Delivering an open-ice bodycheck like that is a skill. It is also a part of the game, even if some observers feel it is too violent.

"I'll make a hit like that any day," Phaneuf said during the Leafs three-day team-building stint in Trenton, Ont.

During Saturday's Coach's Corner, Don Cherry complained that the NHL's crackdown on headshots and blind side hits would take open-ice bodychecks out of the game. According to the controversial broadcaster, the days of the Stevens hits were over.

Less than 30 minutes later, Phaneuf proved him wrong. When Da Costa went back to the Sens bench, he pointed at the trainers and seemed to say "My fault."

After the game, Sens coach Paul MacLean said the hit was clean and should be expected from Phaneuf.

After all, it's a skill very few players still have.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/zeisberger


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