Pros and cons of bodychecking in peewee hockey
Published Sunday, May 12, 2013 7:00AM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, May 12, 2013 11:18AM EDT
Hockey Alberta recently banned bodychecking for peewee hockey players across the province, and Hockey Nova Scotia is considering a similar move, and the issue is up for debate this weekend at the organization’s annual meeting in Halifax.
CTVNews.ca looks at some of the widely-held views on the pros and cons of bodychecking at the peewee level (ages 11 and 12).
Pros of bodychecking
It prepares young players for the rough and tough game they will encounter at older levels, teaching them how to both take, and give, a check: According to former Calgary Flames star Theo Fleury, this was essential to his success in the NHL. In response to the controversy, he recently tweeted: “Being small and having had body checking in minor hockey I learned how 2give and take a body check. Hockey is a game of contact, leave it in."
It teaches kids to play head's up hockey: A coach's mantra to players is often: 'Keep your head up.' And a young hockey player learns that lesson sharply when he or she fails to do so and is levelled by another player as a result. Fleury said his size forced him to learn the lesson early, and well. "Taking body checking out of minor hockey teaches kids that they don't need the one fundamental rule. Skating with your head up," he tweeted, adding that a ban on bodychecking in peewee hockey would result in a higher number of concussions.
Playing in a bodychecking environment can actually prevent injuries: According to Kelly McClintock, general manager of the Saskatchewan Hockey Association, bodychecking should be taught at an even younger age -- as early as eight or nine -- to help children transition safely into the levels where contact is part of the game.
"Our view is, start it younger, teach it as a skill just like any other skill and there's less likelihood of there being any injuries," he told The Canadian Press from Regina.
It's an integral part of the game and hockey just isn't as fun without it: Hockey Alberta's decision to ban checking for peewee level players triggered an angry backlash on social media: "Ridiculous. Bringing up our youth players to be sissies. Taking the spirit out of hockey," read one tweet.
The cons of bodychecking:
Injuries are much more prevalent when bodychecking is permitted: Paul Carson, vice-president of hockey development for Hockey Canada, said a recent study that looked at Alberta, where checking is allowed at the peewee level, and Quebec, where it is not, found some interesting results. In particular, the rate of injury was three times higher in Alberta than in Quebec, he said.
Hockey Alberta said the results showed a ban on checking at the peewee level would eliminate 400 concussions and more than 1,000 injuries each year in the province.
"There is overwhelming evidence that body checking is the single most consistent risk factor for injuries and concussions in youth ice hockey," board chair Rob Virgil wrote in a recent statement.
Implementing bodychecking at a young age doesn't actually lead to fewer injuries at higher levels: Carson said the study comparing Alberta and Quebec also looked at injury levels at the Bantam level (ages 13 and 14), and found "no significant difference in injuries" between the provinces, "which would suggest that being predisposed to bodychecking in peewee is not necessarily advantageous to the Bantam level hockey player," he said.
It encourages youngsters to develop checking skills over more fundamental skills, such as puck-handling or shooting: Carson said bodychecking is often viewed as a "tactic" rather than just one of the many skills a player should have in their arsenal. When it is over-emphasized, players often become less well-rounded than they would otherwise, he said.
"When you look at it as a tactic of intimidation or forceful play then we have some concerns," he told CTV News Channel. "As a skill, bodychecking is one that allows players to combat one another for a loose puck but not necessarily try to intimidate or hurt individuals or overpower them without paying any attention to the puck."
It can result in concussions, which often lead to additional head injuries: Dr. Andrew Lynk, a physician in Nova Scotia and the incoming president of the Canadian Pediatric Society, hopes the ban will be implemented at the peewee level and eventually extended to Bantam as well.
"We know that kids with one concussion seem to be susceptible to getting secondary concussions, so it can actually end or shorten your hockey career," he told The Canadian Press from his office in Sydney. "At that age, the adolescent brain is making huge changes ... so it is a sensitive time, for sure."