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Body Contact in Minor Hockey: All or Nothing?

Seldom do you ever hear any debate about the legal age to drink, drive, vote, buy nicotine or now marijuana. They all have different ages, yet no one seems to question whether they are best for society.


The same cannot be said about determining the age at which body contact gets introduced into competitive hockey.


With the exception of voting in Federal elections, laws regarding age of majority are provincially regulated and enforced which means there is a lack of uniformity.


The same CAN be said about determining the age at which body contact gets introduced into competitive hockey.


I am Generation X and was born in 1970. My generation knew all too well about the lack of uniformity in those ages of majority back when Hull was a city.


When I played minor hockey, body contact was introduced in my minor bantam year which was the year I turned 13. In today’s vernacular, it would be termed U14.


There was uniformity between Ontario and Quebec on that point which allowed Gatineau and Hull to be in a league with Ontario teams and play in tournaments in other jurisdictions.


I always wondered why we had to wait that long as I also played lacrosse in house league and competitive streams, and both had legal cross-checking and body contact at the age of eight.


After my playing days ended, the age for introducing body contact was pushed back to minor peewee or what would be U12 today. There was nothing scientific about that decision.


Concussions and their lasting effects had not become a focal point. The argument was that it was better to have the kids learn at an earlier age to not only better protect themselves, but to allow them to develop their skills in a contact environment where they will ultimately need to use them. It was believed that it was too much of a shock to have full contact appear once players had gone through puberty and growth spurts.


As the speed of the game increased, the number of injuries did as well, and this caused a re-evaluation. Players had also became so focused on the body contact aspect of hockey that other skills had suffered.


The Canadian program of excellence started in 1982. Canada enjoyed it’s “Golden Years” in World Junior Hockey glory winning five straight gold medals from 1993 to 1997. Though it

might have been a coincidence, it’s not hard to trace the effects of an earlier focus on body contact to our longest Gold Medal drought in World Junior competition from 1997 to 2005.


In July of 2004, the NHL competition committee was formed to try to generate greater excitement in the game. The game of hockey had become so boring that during the lockout, the competition committee introduced rule changes such as no red line and trapezoids below the goal lines to help speed up the game and increase the entertainment value.


The return to action after the lockout led to a much faster game, focussing not only on skill, but on physicality. The lockout ended the clutch-and-grab era of hockey. It did not end violent collisions. If anything, it started a whole new breed of contact hockey.


Concussions subsequently found their way into the spotlight when the game’s best player, Sidney Crosby, missed 48 games in 2010-11 and another 20 in 2011-12 recovering from concussion-related symptoms from a collision he suffered in an outdoor classic against the Washington Capitals.


Since then, there has been a lot of debate from the medical community, academics and politicians about what would be the best way to proceed. Everyone wants to find the optimal age to introduce body contact that will allow the game to prosper while keeping kids safe.


I am not educated in the science of brain injury. Do I believe that concussions can be reduced or eliminated? Reduced perhaps. More importantly, I have seen kids that I have coached alongside my son suffer concussions that they never properly recovered from because they were not properly diagnosed or treated.


Properly diagnosed and treated, I believe kids can safely return to play contact hockey the same way Sidney Crosby did.


The approach to introducing contact into hockey has always seemed to be an all or nothing approach. Is the age of majority the real concern or is the rapid change or shock to the system going from nothing to everything?


I would suggest that it’s the latter. Here is an approach that I think combines both schools of thought:


1) USE A TOP-DOWN APPROACH


I know this is easier said than done, but this needs to be a federally-regulated decision. Uniformity is sorely lacking to the point that teams in Ontario can’t play teams in Quebec or attend tournaments in each other’s provinces due to age limits on contact hockey.


With provincial hockey bodies governing the decision on what the appropriate age is to introduce contact into hockey, the likelihood that there will ever be any uniformity is virtually zero.


All provinces and territories should be invited to be part of the solution on the understanding that whatever is agreed upon will be implemented across the board.


I would suggest that uniformity is more important than the age that is agreed upon. Uniformity leads to consistency in training, education, development and officiating.


Right now, the highest levels of hockey in Canada converge at the age of 15 and suddenly are allowed to compete against one another. They have all been playing in different streams with different rules, training, education and officiating.


How does that serve anyone’s purposes?


Provinces wouldn’t like relinquishing their control over the situation. However, since most of the decisions are likely motivated by the need to avoid being accountable for a bad call, perhaps they will take comfort in relinquishing that aspect as well.


They would all be responsible for the implementation of the guidelines as well as being part of future changes. Provinces would not be eliminated from the equation.


2) PHASED APPROACH – U10 & 11


Hopefully, we can all agree that there are different forms of body contact in a hockey game and that some are more dangerous than others. Here are the types I see:


a) Clearing the front of the net

b) Puck battles in corners or front of the net

c) Rub-Outs or Pinning

d) Hip Checks

e) Head-on or Shoulder collisions


I would suggest that kids should be taught a phased introduction to contact hockey.


Not all of these are likely to cause concussions unless they are done incorrectly or illegally. Reckless or dirty play is kryptonite to a concussion protocol. Regardless of age, a player intent on hurting another will likely succeed if he is motivated enough.


Concussions should not be the only focus of choosing an age at which contact should be introduced. Spinal cord and knee ligament injuries can keep a player out for much longer with long-term impacts.


From the earliest competitive hockey ages, players should be taught how to engage and compete for space out on the ice by using their bodies. This would consist of clearing the opponent from the front of the net. I would see no problem with house league allowing this level of contact as well. Kids from house league ascend to competitive hockey every year and vice versa.


Why not have some overlap?


Using your body to move a player from your goalie’s field of view is not a dangerous play if done correctly and legally.


In this phase, you can only engage the other player physically when he doesn’t have the puck. It’s an introduction to physical play with the least amount of risk of injury.


3) PHASED APPROACH U12 & 13


Puck battles in the corners and in front of the nets where players aren’t moving are also less likely to cause injury if they are taught and enforced correctly.


This would not impede a player’s skill development from a skating or puck-handling perspective either. Much like the approach for U10 & 11, the competition is done in a static position only. It would also be permitted in house league hockey to allow for ascension to the next level without much of an adjustment.


By now, this would also allow for some self-selection in terms of wanting to play in the competitive stream. Some kids find out the hard way that they don’t like the physical contact of competitive hockey. If merely competing for space in front of the net or for the puck in static positions is enough to turn him off, then he would likely want to steer clear of competitive hockey.


In this phase, players would continue to not be allowed to hit moving targets with or without the puck which should largely alleviate the fear of serious injury.


In terms of a teaching and officiating curriculum, it would seem feasible to do so across the board and assume everyone is learning at the same rate.


4) PHASED APPROACH U14


The current age of introduction for body contact in most jurisdictions is the U14 season. Quebec is notably more conservative.


Rather than introduce the entire body contact spectrum to players at once, they will have been competing in static positions for as many as four years now.


The next phase would be adding the ability to rub players out while moving. This would separate competitive from house league.


This would allow kids to finish checks along the boards and pin their opponents while allowing nothing in open ice. We wouldn’t be talking about taking runs at players. The two-step charging rule would still be in effect as would head contact and leaving their feet to complete a check. However, it would show players what it felt like to get hit while moving to learn how to brace themselves for contact or make someone miss.


Again, this is an opportunity for players to self-select. If this level of contact is an issue, then they should probably return to the house stream the following season.


This can also easily be taught and enforced to provide consistency and uniformity. National standards on these skills are needed to ensure provinces can compete amongst themselves.


Kids will have gone through the initial puberty stage and had growth spurts which would also hopefully have allowed them to develop more of an understanding of the danger involved in hitting an opponent.


In addition to the benefits of player safety, skills will be developed at the previous levels without being able to simply focus on using your body to compensate. A player who lacks the ability to skate or necessary puck skills will not be able to compete effectively at the higher levels regardless of their size or strength.


5) PHASED APPROACH U15-17


Now that players have been playing with contact for as many as five years to one degree or another, it’s time to allow for the introduction of full contact.


By now, they should all have acquired the skills to compete in static positions for space on the ice, win puck battles in static positions, rub players out and pin them effectively along the boards. They should also have learned how to make the opponent miss which is just as big a part of player safety.


Rather than having to learn all of this at the age of 12 or 13, they have it already and are largely fully grown and will be in a much better position to learn how to engage someone in open ice either through hip or shoulder checks.


Not only will the players be more equipped to ascend from age group to age group, but the right players will also more than likely be playing at those levels both from a skill and desire to play physical hockey perspective.


There shouldn’t be anyone at this level finding out that physical hockey isn’t for him. It most likely would have occurred to him at previous levels.


With the proper curriculum and commitment to training, educating and developing not only the players, but the coaches and officials as well, the graduated approach seems to offer some relief from the methodology and thought processes that have been used up to now.


In closing, I think that Hockey Canada and the provinces have become so focused on picking the right age to introduce contact hockey that they may be missing the bigger picture.


Is it the age at which you introduce contact hockey to kids or is it the way you do it? Does it all have to be done at once or can it be spread out? Can kids absorb all there is to know about contact hockey at once?


I am for a centralized phased approach with the provinces being the ones executing the plans rather than designing them.


By Pat Maguire | Sens Nation Hockeky

1 ความคิดเห็น


scottmacmillan70
scottmacmillan70
17 ส.ค. 2566

This is the most thought out strategic approach to contact hockey that I've seen...I vote for you to implement it & Hockey Canada hire you to do so ASAP along with the Feds approval! Great article.

Scott M.

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