Open ice hits tend to be more difficult than finishing a check against the boards. The other player has more space to escape in open ice, increasing the odds that the hitter misses. Often, a strong open ice hit is the result of a player skating with their head down or momentarily losing awareness of other skaters. The top open ice hits in the NHL sends players flying, sometimes head over heels onto the rink.
Scott Stevens was the most feared open ice hitter of his time, defending his blue line against all opposition. Even noted tough guys like Tie Domi had to keep their heads up while traversing the trolley tracks. Part of Steven’s defensive genius was reading the play, putting himself in the right place at the right time to accelerate into an open ice hit.
Alex Ovechkin’s one of the most skilled scorers in the NHL, but he’s also one of the hardest-hitting power forwards in the league. He doesn’t hesitate when he sees an opportunity to contribute physical play. This hit on Chad LaRose shows the importance of speed and agility when hitting on the open ice. LaRose sees the hit last moment and dodges, but Ovechkin’s able to shift his momentum to lower the boom on Chad.
Kasparaitis was the equivalent of human sandpaper in the NHL, grinding the other team down whenever an opportunity arose. Darius made his name by patrolling the blue line with little mercy, forcing the other team to pay attention to his position at all times. Mariusz Czerkawski dropped his guard for a brief moment, allowing Kasparaitis to gain the upper hand.
Jaime Benn’s a bit taller and heavier than Taylor Hall, an advantage that’s erased when Hall lined Benn up with a finely executed hip check. One of the most difficult type of hits to pull off well, hip checks leverage a lower center of gravity to force the other player’s momentum to shift. Hall crouches slightly before leaning into Benn’s hip, causing Jamie to careen horizontally into the ice.
Dmitry Orlov is a blue line leader for the Washington Capitals, helping the Caps to a President’s Trophy in 2016-17. Orlov leaned his hip into Matt Duchene as the speedy forward tried to move the puck away from the boards. The Colorado sniper flipped head-over-heels, creating one of the most spectacular examples of a hip check. A solid open ice hitting defenseman often has superior positioning, just like Orlov, who stops on a dime to scoop Matt overhead.