Hockey Canada has removed body checking from all levels aged peewee and below.
The decision was no surprise locally.
“We knew it was coming down the pipe,” said Ridge Meadows Minor Hockey president Dan Herbranson.
While he would not have been opposed to keeping body checking at the peewee level, he said it is a decision he can support.
“From an injury/risk management standpoint, yes,” he said.
And, he said there is also a case to be made that the change will be helpful in development more skillful hockey players.
“You take out body contact, and the other skills – skating, puckhandling, shooting – all seem to improve, as players don’t need to worry about body checking.”
Bodychecking was removed from all levels of house league hockey in the Pacific Coast region last year.
“Bodychecking is part of the game of hockey, but how many of our players will go on to play college, junior or hockey above men’s rec league – it’s a very small percentage,” said Herbranson, who’s also a referee. “At least on the surface, it’ll make hockey safer.”
He noted that not all contact has been removed from the game. If a player angles an opposing puck carrier along the boards, and they are traveling in the same direction, he will be able to interpose his body to impede his progress and separate the player from the puck – commonly referred to as “rubbing out” a player.
However, deliberate mid-ice collisions will be gone.
There has been a great deal of research done about this topic. The Rick Hansen Institute, working with the group ThinkFirst, which works to reduce brain and spinal chord injuries, and the Canadian Paediatric Society, employed Angus Reid to poll hockey parents.
The survey, called Protecting Children and Youth, found:
• 79 per cent of fans support introducing bodychecking at age 15 or older;
• 67 per cent of hockey parents support introducing bodychecking at age 15 or older;
• 71 per cent of fans support the idea of having youth only play against others of the same age;
• 66 per cent of hockey parents support the idea of having youth only play against others of the same age.
“Youth under the age of 14 are especially vulnerable to brain trauma because their heads are larger as a proportion of body size, while the strength of supporting neck muscles are still developing and, thus, weaker than are those of more mature athletes. There is now compelling scientific evidence that children are at higher risk for head and neck injuries (ie. concussions, spinal cord injuries) when body checking is allowed,” said the Hansen foundation.
The same survey found that only 17 per cent of hockey parents felt that introducing bodychecking at a later age would hinder their child, while 26 per cent it would help.
Herbranson said Ridge Meadows Minor Hockey will be running pre-season clinics for players trying out for bantam rep teams, to get them ready for bodychecking – just as there have been clinics for pee wee rep players.
“We’ll be making sure players will be equipped to handle that [bodychecking)]” he said.
Hockey Canada held its 94th annual general meeting on Friday and Saturday in Charlottetown, PEI.
In addition to removing body checking from peewee levels and below, the 250 delegates of the meeting formed a working group to create a national checking and instructional resource program to support the progressive implementation of checking skills at the novice to pee wee levels to prepare for body checking at the bantam and midget levels.