Hockey Calgary motions to make game safer for kids

On March 29, Hockey Calgary announced that board of executives had put forward a motion to remove body checking from peewee level hockey, therefore delaying it until bantam level play.

A second motion was also formed that would see body checking removed from Bantam in the 2013-2014 season. Peewee level players are 11 and 12 years old. bantam level players are 13 and 14 years old.

If passed at Hockey Calgary’s annual general meeting on June 23, the new rule would come into effect starting in the 2012-2013 peewee season. A total of 70 votes will be counted, with 18 coming from the Hockey Calgary board of executives, and the rest coming from the various hockey associations in the area.

The exact motion, as seen on Hockey Calgary’s website, states: “Effective the 2012-2013 season, body checking will be removed from the age category of peewee.” However, in the rationale for changing the rule, it is explained that “body checking will be taught in practices to allow development in a safe controlled environment.”

Since the announcement, it has become clear that those involved in minor hockey across the city are divided on the issue.

Grace Lane, president of the Westwood Hockey Association in Calgary, said that the responses she had heard from people in the Westwood organization are varied.

“I think we have about 50 per cent who are in favour of the motion as written, and the other 50 per cent vary from saying that hitting should start earlier, or that it should only be at the higher levels,” she said. “Even on our board of directors it is tough to come to a consensus, as we have people who completely agree with the motion and then there are people who think it’s ridiculous.

“If you talk to people about it, you get a lot of feelings. Hockey is emotional because people are so passionate about it, so they can’t help but come from an emotional place when they’re making a decision.”

Lane said that she thinks Hockey Calgary has done a good job with what they were tasked with and said that she would encourage people to read the report fully and make an informed decision. The report, which includes details of a five-year study of over a thousand Calgary minor hockey players, is available on Hockey Calgary’s website.

If the vote goes ahead body checking could be outlawed at the Pee Wee level in order to make the game safer.
Photo by: Jessica Rafuse
Todd Millar, president of Hockey Calgary, also said that he hopes people will take the time to consider the results of the study and make an educated decision.

The study, which was done by Dr. Carolyn Emery of the University of Calgary, found that peewee players who were involved in a league in which body checking was allowed were three times more likely to receive game-related injuries.

“Everyone has a strong opinion on the topic, there’s no question about that,” Millar said. “We believe that there has been significant interest on the topic and enough reason for Hockey Calgary to go forward.

“For those that are looking at the decision and pondering about it, what we’ve been encouraging all of our members to do is visit the Hockey Calgary website and go through the research. Don’t make a decision that’s just based on your instincts, but rather make an informed decision as a result of reviewing the data.”

Millar said that he supports the motion, and thinks that the members of Calgary’s hockey associations will vote in favour as well.

“It is our belief that we will receive successful ratification of the motion and proceed accordingly,” he said. “At the end of the day, I’m pretty hard pressed to not support clear studies that have proven that the likelihood of injury at the peewee level is less if players are not involved with body checking.

“That is a compelling reason to keep our children safe in the game of hockey.”

 What about practice?

While the motion to remove body checking from games is a debated issue, so is the idea of keeping body checking as part of practice. Lane said she thinks that for players who are having difficulty picking up the skills of hockey, body checking is one less thing to have to worry about during games.

“To have to focus on hitting makes the game more difficult to learn for some players, which makes possibility of injury higher,” she said. “So I think keeping it in practice sessions is a good thing.”

Kelsey Johnson, whose 11-year-old son Carter currently plays at the peewee level for the Chestermere Lakers, said that leaving body checking as part of practice but leaving it out of the game would be a waste of time.

“Having coached different levels of minor hockey, I know that everything you do in practice is designed to be used in a game,” he said. “If there’s not going to be any body checking in a game, I’m sure not going to practice it. I have better things to be doing than practising something I’m not allowed to use.”

Johnson said that he thinks body checking is an important element of the game, especially at the peewee level.

“A nice, hard body check to separate the player from the puck is a good thing,” he said. “I think it’s an important part of the game and something that the kids look forward to.

“My kid couldn’t wait to get to peewee to start legal hits, and I know for a fact that he would be pretty disappointed to have been allowed one year of body checking, and then have it removed the next.”

Johnson said that he thinks there should be two tracks of hockey, one hitting and one non-hitting, so players who don’t want to hit can avoid it altogether.

Lane also touched on the potential for having two different leagues.

“I think perhaps maybe what Hockey Calgary is missing is a more overall look at the program as opposed to just body checking, and by that I mean they should look at the recreation hockey program,” she said. “Currently in rec hockey there are no practices, so it’s not an in-depth program, so it comes across as being for people who don’t take it seriously.

“Why not have a program for people who really want to develop their skills but don’t want to hit – have the practices and more ice time and all of that – without the hitting,” Lane said. “Then players could make up their own minds as to what stream of hockey they would prefer to go into.”

Lane added: “I think that having a committee looking at just body checking was too narrow of a focus.”

Whether divided or not, the motion will go to a vote at Hockey Calgary’s annual general meeting on June 23.

If passed, the rule would see body checking removed from peewee in the 2012-2013 season, followed by body checking being removed from bantam in 2013-2014, except for at the elite level and Divisions 1-3.

The rule would then carry forward into the 2014-2015 season, and remove body checking at the midget level except for at the elite level and Divisions 1-3.

afaulkner@cjournal.ca