Article: Autumn Mcdowell – Sports Editor
Concerns raised over taking bodychecking out of pee wee hockey
Image source: cottagecountrynow.ca
According to many hockey fans, bodychecking is simply part of the game.
But with an increase in the number of high profile concussion cases in various hockey leagues across the country, Hockey Canada has made the controversial decision to take bodychecking out of pee wee hockey.
While the overwhelming majority of provinces supported this rule change, Saskatchewan was the only province to vote against the ban, believing that bodychecking should be implemented earlier in a player’s career, as opposed to later.
According to Blair Watson, executive director of Hockey Regina, many hockey fans in Regina, including parents of players, are against the decision.
“Hanging around the rink, it’s almost unanimous that [people] do not want checking taken out, they just feel that it is part of the game,” he explained. “A lot of the feedback is that they should be teaching it at a lower level where the size differences are minuscule. In atom, the difference between your smallest player and your biggest player might be, top end, three or four inches and 20 pounds. Once you get to bantam, the difference between your smallest and largest is 12 inches and 100 pounds, it’s a little bit different.”
While Saskatchewan was the only province to vote against the ban, they are also the only province that requires coaches to take a mandatory bodychecking course. If more provinces made this clinic a requirement, Watson believes the vote may have been different.
“Saskatchewan is actually ahead of the curve. This bodychecking course has been mandatory in Saskatchewan for a number of years for our coaches coaching in novice all the way up to midget,” said Watson. “At least one member of the coaching staff has to take the checking clinic.”
While the decision was made largely with the concern for player’s health and safety in mind, according to Sarah Hodges, the University of Regina Cougars women’s hockey head coach, eliminating bodychecking will not eliminate injuries.
“I don’t think it will do anything to make the game safer,” Hodges said. “We have concussions and injuries in our games because players move fast and collisions will always happen. Many other injuries come as a result of illegal hits.”
Although many fans believe that the decision will cause negative effects to the game, there may be some positive’s to the checking ban.
For Rob Nestor, a professor at the U of R – who recently taught a class on the sociology of hockey in Canada – he is admittedly torn on the topic. After having his own children pass through the pee wee hockey system in Saskatchewan, Nestor can see both sides of the argument.
“On the one hand, the elimination of hitting from pee wee means that kids may play the game longer as some kids were dropping out at that age for fear of injury. I live in a small town and we are often faced with dwindling numbers by pee wee age as many girls cease to play on boys teams once hitting begins,” he said. “The result of this is that we often then have to combine with other towns in order to have enough players for a team, which means additional travel and therefore additional costs. With the elimination of hitting from pee wee, it is likely that more girls will continue to play the game for two more years.”
However, like many other parents’ concerns, and the concerns stated by Watson, Nestor feels that waiting until bantam age to begin hitting could be more dangerous due to the sometimes-extreme size differences between players.
“In my opinion I think hitting should begin at the novice age and be taught just like any other skill,” Nestor said. “Players should be taught not only how to give a hit but also how to receive one. In other words, it should be taught like any other skill. I think that this would remove the novelty of being allowed to hit at a certain age as you get older.”
Nestor’s opinion could begin to explain the results of a recent poll available on the Saskatchewan Hockey Association (SHA) website, where an overwhelming 71.6 per cent of people voted that they do not like that bodychecking was removed from pee wee hockey.
Unfortunately for these voters, Watson feels that the possibility of bodychecking returning to pee wee in the future is very slim, in fact, he is concerned that bantam will be the next program to have it eliminated.
However, there have been some options put forward to stop the elimination of bodychecking from continuing to higher levels.
Back in 2007, the SHA put forth a motion that would allow each provincial branch the option of introducing body contact as early as the atom level.
While the board of directors at Hockey Canada ultimately refused this option, Nestor believes that there may be other options that leagues could adopt that would allow for bodychecking to remain part of the game.
“Another option might be for leagues to decide to allow hitting at earlier ages for more advanced skilled teams,” Nestor suggested. “For example, at the pee wee age players in Tier 1 leagues might be allowed to hit while lower tiers do not. It will be interesting to see what spring leagues do next year as they do not fall under the authority of Hockey Canada.”
Although the concerns of players, fans and parents could eventually help hockey remain the game that Canadians fell in love with many years ago, for Watson, the future of contact in hockey looks grim unless other provinces begin view bodychecking the same way that Saskatchewan does.
“We are one of the only provinces to look at checking as a skill,” he said. “Rather than trying to rip someone’s head off.”