As a National Hockey League linesman, Don Henderson enforces rules for a living. He favours a safe game, especially for his twin nine-year-old boys. That’s why he agreed to sit on a Hockey Calgary committee and produce a series of recommendations on bodychecking and how it should be handled at the peewee level.
But while Mr. Henderson and his committee peers suggested a compromise approach, allowing bodychecking only in high-end peewee play (Divisions 1 to 3), Hockey Calgary’s board of directors opted to go a different way, calling for the complete elimination of bodychecking among 11- and 12-year-olds beginning this September.
The Hockey Calgary proposal will be presented to the city’s 24 minor hockey association presidents in late June, then voted on. What bothers Mr. Henderson is that the committee’s full report won’t be in play.
“I want change. The game needs to be changed to be safer,” Mr. Henderson said Monday. “I really thought our recommendations would go as a package. What they [Hockey Calgary directors]did was a complete right turn.”
The committee’s pitch was to reduce injuries by reducing the number of players exposed to bodychecking in games. The committee also included more than a dozen recommendations, including mandatory coaching education, the teaching of bodychecking techniques in practices, rule changes (an incoming player without the puck can not bodycheck a puck carrier below the goal line), baseline medical testing of all players and arena modifications. (This involved the painting of a light blue “danger zone” on the ice along the side and end boards as a warning track for kids.) Hockey Calgary president Todd Millar insisted the committee’s work was reviewed and would be passed along to the various association presidents. In the end, he said, some of the recommendations simply weren’t feasible.
“[Painting a blue danger zone on the ice]is not that easy. We don’t control the rinks and there are costs involved.” Mr. Millar said.
Hockey Calgary boasts more than 13,500 players and is the only minor hockey organization in Alberta to consider banning bodychecking at the peewee level where kids grow and develop at different rates. The decision to take a hard-line stand was made in the wake of a medical report compiled by Carolyn Emery of the University of Calgary.
Dr. Emery compared peewee hockey injuries in Alberta with those in Quebec over a five-year period. Quebec does not allow bodychecking in peewee games. Ontario has eliminated it from all levels in house league programs while some B.C. regions have removed it in recreational play. USA Hockey has also banned bodychecking in peewee. The results of the Emery study showed “Alberta players were at a threefold greater risk for all types of injuries, including concussion (less than 10 days lost) … and severe concussion (10 or more days lost).”
“The highest level of injuries occurred at peewee 1, 2 and 3,” Mr. Millar said. “We’re asking that everyone get informed.”
Asked if he was worried about possible legal action should a Calgary peewee player get injured playing in a tournament against provincial teams that do bodycheck, Mr. Millar replied: “I’ve also been asked if we’re at risk now [for allowing bodychecking] Parents sign waivers. They have to make that decision.”
Mr. Henderson had wanted the committee’s work included as a packaged recommendation since it entailed lengthy conversations with Toronto Maple Leafs’ general manager Brian Burke and former NHL head coach Dave King. “We felt this could have the chance to become the gold standard,” Mr. Henderson said. “Recommendations were made; not all were followed.”
PLAYER ONE: Missed a month after an illegal hit in a preseason tournament. He had another bump to the head in midseason and missed a couple of games.
PLAYER TWO: Out for between 7 to 10 days. Nobody noticed a hit or collision, but he didn't feel well after the game.
PLAYER THREE: Sidelined for about a week . He was hit during a game, and at practice the next day complained of a headache.
PLAYER FOUR: Out for more than a month. A player ran into her, and she hit her head on a post.
PLAYER FIVE: Out indefinitely. Suffered a concussion late in January during practice when he took a knee or skate to the head in an accident. Has not played since.
PLAYER SIX: Out 7 to 10 days. He was hit at the Bell Capital Cup tournament. After the game was over an opponent plowed into him.
PLAYER SEVEN: Out since mid-December after an illegal hit from behind sent him flying into the boards. He has not recovered.
PLAYER EIGHT: Out for approximately a week as a precaution. It is unclear how he was hurt.