Should of learned to take a hit in peewee. #shouldof

Should of learned to take a hit in peewee. #shouldof

Over the weekend, Hockey Canada came to a fairly overdue decision about hitting in minor hockey:

Body-checking rule change approved at 2013 Hockey Canada Annual General Meeting

-A modification to playing rule 6.2b was approved, removing body-checking from Peewee levels and below within leagues governed by Hockey Canada, starting in 2013-14.

-In addition to this rule change, a work group has been directed to build a mandatory national checking and instructional resource program to support the progressive implementation of checking skills at the Novice to Peewee levels to better prepare players for body-checking at the Bantam and Midget level.

Don Cherry, naturally, slammed the decision as the “politically correct” way to go, shrugging off the reasoning for the decision that Ron MacLean provided. Cherry waxed with “I don’t understand” in response to number of reported injuries at the bantam levels in Québec, where peewee body-checking isn’t allowed, and Alberta, where it was allowed.

Generally, the opposition to this rule comes from the idea that teaching kids how to hit safely, with the intention of separating player from puck, is best taught in the early days of hockey. The data, though, shows otherwise. Try telling that to the legions of, er, people with dissenting opinions, found in the timelines and retweets of prominent hockey analyst Bob McKenzie and, to a lesser extend, Halifax Mooseheads reporter Willy Palov Saturday morning.

Some press clippings:

Hockey players who learn to bodycheck at a young age have the same risk of serious head and neck injuries as those who start checking later, a new study from the University of Alberta has found.

The study, published this month by the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicinein an early online release, adds to a growing body of research that counters the popular theory that children who learn to bodycheck sooner will learn to be more skilled at it, reducing their risk of injury as they advance through minor hockey.

That’s not new evidence, however. That’s from June of 2012, presumably too late to be on the docket for Hockey Canada’s 2012 Annual General Meeting. At the September kickoff event for Hockey Canada, executive director Bob Nicholson answered my questions on that topic by re-iterating the position of Hockey Canada at the time:

“We’re having good discussions on body checking. I go back to the key on this and we’ve been working on this for a number of years. Checking should be introduced as soon as they start, in that the first steps of checking are skating backwards, turning, containment, body contact. The issue becomes when do you go from contact to checking.”

Of course, Nicholson also admitted he hadn’t read the study, that there were just “so many different studies” out there, and evidently, that no evidence to the contrary would be able to convince him that kids can’t effectively learn how to check earlier.

It is an acquired skill. But much like skating, shooting, passing and the ability to put your jersey on without getting it caught on the back of the shoulder pads, there’s a wide gap in skill at younger ages. There were 74,501 peewee players registered in Canada in 2012-2013, and the difference in ability from the best one and the worst one is much wider than the difference in ability between the best NHLer and the 921st.

And… minor hockey in Canada has a problem. It’s difficult to find reliable registration numbers, but I did find that they went down from 2011 to 2012, and the cryptic language used at the kickoff event (over 550,000 registrants) possibly signalled another decline. It’s too expensive, it’s too dangerous, it’s too time-consuming. There are a number of good reasons for parents to put their kids in sports other than hockey.

(I’m told a lack of minority stars in the game makes hockey distant to certain immigrant families in Canada as well, but I can’t find the appropriate data to corroborate that. Anecdotal evidence at this point.)

Meanwhile, the Americans are catching up. A Toronto Star editorial in the summer suggested that USA Hockey rose to 500,579 registrants in 2010, falling just below Hockey Canada’s reported total (total players, no minor hockey) that year was 577,077, which isn’t much higher. The Americans have been cleaning up the world circuit at the junior ranks lately. Canada’s gold medal at the IIHF U-18s this season was somewhat of a surprise, and banked largely on the efforts of a hot goaltender, Philippe Desrosiers, in the final game, breaking a run of four consecutive wins by the Americans. Sweden had three consecutive silver medals.

USA Hockey banned body-checking for peewee-aged players two years ago.

Worse yet, Canada is no longer invincible at the World Junior Championships each season. Held without a gold medal since 2009, Canada managed to finish out of the medal tables this season despite the lockout freeing up two surefire NHLers in December. Indeed, Canada’s focus on toughness and hitting from the depth positions, rather than speed and skill, hurt the team’s ability to compete. We’re at the point now where Canada can no longer get away with icing anything less than the best available roster, or intimidate the opposition into submission.

I don’t think everything is solved by changing the age to start body-checking from 11 to 13, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. The idea is to continuously work to remove barriers for parents that prevent them from putting their kids through hockey. “Safety” is a big one. Canada’s three best players, Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews and Patrice Bergeron, have all sat out long stretches of games with concussions. The sight of Eric Staal on the ice at the World Championships howling in pain after Alex Edler hit him knee-on-knee wasn’t fun, nor is the constantly updating batch of videos produced by the NHL’s department of player safety.

Simply put, kids are finding other sports now, and hockey is competing with them. It doesn’t have the cultural stranglehold on Canada like it used to. We’re still producing a good number of elite players, but the growth of minor hockey has been stagnant and it needs to improve.

If the trade-off is that we’ll be turned into a nation of wimps because 12-year-olds aren’t going to be clocked in the face anymore, well, I’m willing to take the chance.

Comments (18)

  1. WELL THIS GUY NEVER PLAYED THE GAME. IF YOU CAN’T TAKE A HIT TO THE HEAD THEN YOUR BRAIN AND BONES ARE WEAK ANYWAY.

  2. I don’t disagree with this change. I did disagree about 5 or so years ago with it so my mindset has changed.

    What concerns me is the talk about “teaching kids how to take and give a hit”. They have been putting mouth service to this same thing for years yet not that much has been done.

    I am very concerned an unintended consequence of this will move the higher injury frequency to the bantam level where there is a much bigger discrepancy in height/weight of kids. Proper teaching will help mitigate this. But the CSA does not have the best history of following through properly on their plans.

    • USA hockey made this switch and also increased the amount of body contact from the mite age up. There is no checking but more body contact in angling, pushing, maintaining strong body position, etc. There is plenty of body contact but a player can’t ‘finish’ a check into the boards or follow through on a hit. I don’t know if Hockey Canada is planning on doing the same rule switch.

  3. Here’s what Hockey Canada should do:

    Instead of having leagues with two age groups (11 and 12, 13 and 14, etc.), make leagues with one age group.

    This will reduce size difference.

    It will also mean that kids start bodychecking at the same time. Now when a kid turns 13 he not only has to play against 14 year olds, he has to play against 14 year olds who have been hitting for a year, when he has never taken a check in his life.

    This will make a far bigger difference for injuries then the change just made.

    • Hockey Canada, and every other governing body for that matter, already does this.

      • I believe he means you won’t have bantam being 13/14 as it is now. You will have Minor Bantam at 13 play all together and Major Bantam (my words) at 14 all together so you DON’T mix 13 and 14 year olds. That doesn’t happen all over Canada currently.

        • Every league I have experience with already splits them like that.

          The only feasible reason I could see for combining two ages like that would be a lack of population to support two leagues.

  4. Finally, Canada! Canadian hockey has actually been suffering a long time because of the grinder mentality as you may call it. Canadian teams hasn’t been considered the best because of their grinders on the 4th line, they have won in spite of the those knuckleheads.

    It’s not about hurting people, It’s about stealing the puck. Doesn’t Don Cherry and his followers understand that every other country also could have suited up a lot of bullies over the years, but they all realized It’s the wrong way to play the game?

    I love tough players, but they have to be able to actually play and not just intimidate and fight. The reckless idiots has to go, please don’t let them hone their “skills” from age 6 or whatever and turn into the next Boone Jenner, Patrice Cormier or some other douchebag. If you can’t help your team by either scoring or prevent scoring, you’re not a hockey player but a bully on skates.

    • Have you ever watched boone jenner or Patrice cormier play hockey, how dare you call them douchebags….hitting is part of the game and yes, sometimes injuries occur and yes there are some bad plays but certainly not boone jenner so go f yourself you jealous a hole.

    • Obvioously backstrom never played or had a bad experience…hitting is a skill…it is and always has been part of the game….so what they are saying is lets not teach a skill anymore because we the Hockey Gods at Hockey Canada have no idea how…..sad what they are doing….teach all the skills….it was good enough for Orr, and Howe, and Richard and Gretzky and messier and and and….of course they were awful players right? LOL…..what a joke….

  5. I think it’s a great decision, and a positive step away from the undue (in my opinion) influence of the pro game on minor hockey.

    There are the cries that it will make it more dangerous later. Hm, maybe we should take hitting out of those levels too.

    But, but, “it’s part of the game.” Well, no, for the vast majority of players, it really isn’t.

    It’s certainly part of the pro game, the bantam-midget-junior levels, and college, and some small percentage of adult leagues.

    It’s not part of the game for pre-bantam minor players, rec league players at all levels, and thousands upon thousands of gentlemen’s league players. So, what % of players truly need to “know how to take a hit”? After minor hockey, maybe 2%?

    We wouldn’t dream of arranging school curricula to suit those who score in the 98th percentile on standardized tests, to the detriment of everyone else. Why should we risk the health of all participants to serve the development needs of the outliers that will play in hitting leagues?

  6. I used to be against this down here in the states (I didn’t know any better being fresh out of college), but after coaching Peewee hockey this spring, this is probably one of the best decisions USA hockey has ever made. I have 1st year peewees who are not even 5 foot yet, and the tallest on my team is roughly 5’7. I know for a fact, the littler skaters on my team would have quit already had there been checking still.

    The biggest problem that I can attest and agree with is the lack of correctly teaching body contact. I joined ice hockey at a late age (Bantam from roller) and the program I played for had their checking clinics for two weeks. Unfortunately, we were on the ice only twice. How was that a safe and effective way of teaching how to remove a skater from the puck without killing them? (Answer; it wasn’t). My folks signed me up for another clinic (this time 3 on ice sessions) through a hockey camp so I would learn how to properly give and receive a body check.

    Two on ice sessions is not enough, and using your body needs to be taught through progressions from squirt age kids to bantams and even on wards (Squirts would learn how to mirror a player and angle, pee wees would move on to bumping and more advanced angling for example) so kids are able to pick checking up in Bantams and have a few years experience with the foundation of body positioning and how to safely give and receive body contact.

  7. From what i can see here, is most of you have a child that would no longer play hockey if checking was in place. Should we take takle out of football? how about rugby? Lacross? For a hundred years, the game has been played without any interference. Why do we feel the need to change the rules to allow for smaller kids, or kids that dont want to play physical hockey? (or is it the parents that dont want to see young Billy getting hit) We already have a league for kids and parents like this….HOUSE

  8. Let’s remove all contact from all sports. Let’s make sure that the ski hills only have a 15% incline and ban skateboards outright ! What the hell is wrong with you people ? Most hockey is non-checking anyway. The problem has NEVER been body checking. The problem has always been poor officiating and dirty hockey. Separating a skater from the puck is alot different than separating a skater from their head. Body checking in the modern context has been about hurting the other guy, not separating him from the puck. And THAT is a problem with officiating and coaching.

    And this mindless comment:
    “(I’m told a lack of minority stars in the game makes hockey distant to certain immigrant families in Canada as well, but I can’t find the appropriate data to corroborate that. Anecdotal evidence at this point.)”
    Are you thick or something ? Enrollment in hockey is down because immigrants don’t skate !!! This is self evident. You wnat corroborating data ? OPen your damn eyes !! Hockey isn’t part of their culture and since no attempt is made by new immigrants to integrate anymore….. well, nuff said.

  9. I would seriously like to see a breakdown of the costs of this new “mandate” I would like to see how much this bloated organization called “HOckey Canada: has grown? Why were they so afraid to take this to a vote? Hockey Canada is owned by the IIHF. With Bob Nicholson being voted Vice President of the IIHF. Hockey in Canada is dyeing and will die. The numbers will fall in half as players seek to play sports that yes cost less but are true to the integrity of the invention of the sport. Once again we have created a financial monster in a Hockey Beaurocracy that is costing Canadians and hard working parents money hand over fist so these “hockey Gods” and those doing studies that have personal axes to grind.

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