Gunter

Common sense takes a hit in bodycheck ban

By Lorne Gunter, Edmonton Sun

Peewee players are pictured in this file photo. (QMI Agency files)

Peewee players are pictured in this file photo. (QMI Agency files)

Why the one-size-fits-all ban on bodychecking in peewee hockey?

Last weekend, the national council of Hockey Canada voted to ban all bodychecking in minor hockey for 11- and 12-year-olds beginning with next winter’s season. This could easily become one of those well-intentioned decisions that ends up having unintended consequences worse than the alleged problem it is supposed to be solving.

Think of the difference in size between an 11-year-old boy (first-year peewee) and a 14-year-old (second-year bantam). Now imagine the difference in impact of two 11-year-olds colliding on the ice vs. two 14-year-olds.

If bodychecking is introduced in peewee (as was the case before last weekend’s rule change), players have a chance to learn how to give and receive bodychecks before most of them are physically large enough to do real damage.

The new rule won’t prevent the accidental physical contact that is the cause of many peewee injuries now. But it could well leave players unprepared for the intentional checking they will face in bantam, when the results of not knowing how to position oneself to dish out or to take a hit are much more dire.

To its credit, Hockey Canada also passed a mandatory bodychecking training program for novice (ages nine and 10), as well as for peewee. It merely banned bodychecking from game play.

This is a smart move. Still, nothing prepares players for in-game body contact like, well, in-game body contact.

When our son was in his final year of novice, as well as in his first year of peewee, he and his teammates took checking lessons at a couple of practices. These were well-thought-out and well-led exercises. Yet nothing got them ready to hit and receive as well as checking during a real game.

It’s entirely possible that delaying the onset of checking until bantam, when players are bigger, stronger and faster, will actually increase the prevalence of injuries and head traumas at the bantam level by as much or more than the amount it reduces such injuries at peewee.

Hockey Canada’s move might well simply transfer the problem up a level.

In making its decision over the weekend, the sport’s national governing body made much of a University of Calgary study showing nearly a three-fold increase in risk between peewee hockey in Alberta, where bodychecking is permitted, vs. Quebec, where hits are outlawed before age 13.

Slightly more than 1,000 players in each province were tracked for an entire season. Researchers found 73 concussions among Alberta players, compared to just 20 in Quebec. Meanwhile there were

14 severe concussions in the west vs. four in la belle province.

Still, does that justify banning bodychecking at all Peewee levels? Why not ban it at the recreational level where 80% or more of players play, but leave it at the upper levels — known in most provinces as “AA” and “AAA?”

Or leave it up to local hockey associations to set up hit and no-hit divisions. Let parents select which is better for their kids. All-or-nothing policies such as Hockey Canada’s are blunt instruments incapable of assessing individual skill or preparedness.

Do I think this will ruin our game and leave us unprepared to face the national teams of other countries when these players get older? Not at all.

But I would not be hard to convince that this is just another politically correct, safety obsessed, sentimental reaction that will do little to solve the problem.

It strikes me as mostly an overreaction driven by emotion and a desire by Hockey Canada to be seen as taking action.

 

Poll

Should bodychecking be banned at the peewee level in Canada?


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