SANTA CRUZ, May 31, 2013 — Change is difficult, especially when it comes to Canadians and their entrenched attitudes on what they perceive as not only their game but the intrinsic link between the sport and their national identity.
Hockey is a rugged affair and Canadians view themselves as examples and extensions of that toughness, so it is no surprise that Hockey Canada’s decision this week to ban body checking from peewee levels of youth hockey has proven to be so controversial.
In youth hockey, peewee precedes bantam, which is where the elite players typically begin to separate from the pack and when they become eligible for the CHL’s bantam draft. Sports Radio North of 49 has been all over this story since it broke and, while opinions vary, there exists a strong sentiment that it somehow softens the game. Canadians like their hockey rough and many feel that this ruling in some way emasculates them.
Hockey people overwhelmingly agree that this change was long overdue and that with all the knowledge available today on head trauma, it is the only responsible thing to do. Many parents have already taken their kids out of organized hockey and more are considering it due to the inherent violence the game requires.
The fact is that most peewee players will not play past midget and many will not play past bantam. By introducing body checking at bantam, where players are beginning to develop and learn the game, peewee players will be less at risk for concussions.
Some feel strongly that even in bantam, body checking ought to be allowed only at the triple A level, as the players who will be playing there will most likely move on to junior or college. There can be no legitimate case made for putting kids at risk who are not going to continue on with organized hockey or who are not considered elite prospects. The elite players have to learn how to give and receive hits, the rest do not.
Contact is inevitable in hockey, even with body checking taken out of the game. In organized women’s and girl’s leagues, where body checking is not allowed, there are dozens of concussions every year. The ice and boards are unforgiving surfaces and, with young players being better conditioned all the time, the speed of the game has increased.
The dimensions of the rink have not changed, but the agility and athleticism of the players have. While contact cannot be avoided in hockey, the potential violence of the big hit can be reduced and that is just what Hockey Canada has done.
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